Study Guide

Little Bee (The Other Hand) Contrasting Regions: Nigeria and England

By Chris Cleave

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Contrasting Regions: Nigeria and England

I looked down at his newspaper. The headline on the new page said ASYLUM SEEKERS EATING OUR SWANS. (1.116)

The headline Little Bee reads is borrowed from real life. (Read all about it in Chris Cleave's interview with Bob Hughes.) In the interview, Hughes argues, among other things, that the British tabloids are responsible for much of the anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK.

So, I am a refugee, and I get very lonely. Is it my fault if I do not look like an English girl and I do not talk like a Nigerian? (1.35)

Little Bee is caught between worlds. She is wanted in neither England nor Nigeria, and is a mix of the cultural influences of both places. Due to the dire circumstances under which this hybrid identity is formed, she isn't enjoying the possible benefits it might afford her.

Yevette: "Dere's freedom as in, <em>yu girls is free to go</em>, and den dere's freedom as in, <em>yu girls is free to go till we catches you</em>. Sorry, but it's that second kind of freedom we got right now, Lil Bee. Truth. Dey call it being a <em>illegal</em> <em>immigrant.</em> (3.31)

Little Bee finds out from her Jamaican friend Yvette that they've been released from the detention center by mistake. Most likely, her official release from the detention center would have been followed by deportation to Nigeria. As a result of the error, Little Bee is in England, but has no documentation whatsoever.

Truly, there is no flag for us floating people. We are millions but we are not a nation. We cannot stay together. (3.388)

Little Bee and people like her are caught between regions – she doesn't belong any more to any one country, and isn't really wanted in any country. Yevette suggests that there are communities of people like herself and Little Bee, but Little Bee's experience as a refugee/undocumented immigrant is limited to her two years in the detention center, and the few days she spends in England before being deported. Her knowledge of the immigrant and refugee experience is really limited.

"This is f***ing bulls***. This is a classic Nigerian scam. Come on, we're going back to the hotel." (4.213)

When Little Bee and her sister ask Andrew and Sarah to help them on the beach, Andrew thinks they are scamming him. He has the same reaction when Little Bee calls him from the detention center two years later. This points to a stereotype that all Nigerians are scammers because of the prevalence of "Nigerian scams," like ones reported by, and others.

Little Bee had fled southeast on bleeding feet from what had once been her village and was shortly to become an oil field. (4.141)

Sarah is telling us the story Little Bee is telling her, the beginning of Little Bee's journey to England.

I put up a high fence around the affair. In my mind I declared it to be another country and I policed its border ruthlessly. (6.150)

Sarah uses a geographical metaphor to describe how she felt about her affair with Lawrence. Her marriage to Andrew and her affair with Lawrence are two different countries and she tries to pledge allegiance to them both. She seems to carry over this metaphor to the geography of her life. At the end of the novel, she begins to embrace Nigeria and yet (probably) still keep her ties with England.

And then I realized it. I said to myself, Little Bee, there is no <em>them.</em> This endless procession of people, walking along the great river, these people are <em>you.</em> (9.57)

In the movements of people of many races and nationalities that Little Bee sees on the London street, she begins to see the possibility of finding a place to belong in that big city. She realizes that, wherever we are from, we are all made of the same stuff, and we are all interconnected through the very fact of our humanness.

The way, since Africa, that I had been running between worlds – between Andrew and Lawrence, between Little Bee and my job – running everywhere except to the world where I belonged. Why had I never run to Charlie? (10.49)

Again, Sarah uses the geography metaphor to describe her relationships in the world. Though for very different reasons, Sarah feels the same type of alienation Little Bee does, this sense of floating between worlds without a solid place to belong. Maybe Charlie becomes the one country that Little Bee and Sarah can belong to and be at home.

I saw they did not show us the position to adopt in case we were deported to a country where it was likely that we would be killed because of events we had witnessed. (11.101)

Little Bee comments on the irony of being read safety instructions while she's on a plane being deported back to Nigeria where she might be killed. This begins the setting switch, from England to Nigeria.

"Lawrence found out what flight they were putting you on," she said. "He's not entirely bad, at the end of the day. We couldn't let you go back alone, Bee. Could we Batman?" (11.112)

By helping Sarah find Little Bee, Lawrence shows that maybe he really does love Sarah. He's willing to live apart from her in order to keep her with him.

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