Study Guide

Little Bee (The Other Hand) Language and Communication

By Chris Cleave

Language and Communication

No, it is not the Queen's crown and scepter that rule in your land. It is her grammar and her voice. That is why it's desirable to speak the way she does. (1.6)

Little Bee is very concerned with the English language. While in the detention center, her idea that learning Standard British English will give her entrance into British society gives her a kind of brittle hope. If she can talk the talk, maybe she'll be able to make it.

Learning the Queen's English is like scrubbing off the red varnish from your toenails the morning after the dance. (1.7)

As in many former British colonies, English is the official language of Little Bee's home country, Nigeria. Nigerian English is a hybrid of Standard English and African languages. As Little Bee discusses, it's much more ornamental and experimental than Standard English. So, she actually feels as though she's betraying her own language when she learns Standard English. But, most contemporary linguists will tell you that it's not necessary to give up one language in order to learn another.

I learned your language in an immigration detention center, in Essex, in the southeastern part of the United Kingdom. Two years, they locked me in here. Time was all I had. (1.7)

Little's Bee's study of Standard English was a bittersweet antidote to the boredom and monotony of life in prison. If she hadn't felt like she was having to trade one English for another, learning the new English might not have been so uncomfortable for her.

Imagine a young woman cut from a smiling Save the Children magazine advertisement, who dresses herself in threadbare pink clothes from the recycling bin in your local supermarket and speaks English like the leader column of the <em>Times</em>, if you please. (1.34)

Little Bee feels that her African appearance, mixed with her "proper" English, makes her a bizarre Frankenstein-esque hybrid.

"I think my ideal man would speak many languages. He would speak Ibo and Yoruba and English and French and all of the others. He could speak with any person, even the soldiers, and if there was violence in their hearts, he could change it. (3.76)

Little Bee has great faith in the power of communication to cure the world's ills. She's something of a foil for Andrew in that regard. For Little Bee, language and communication mean hope for peace in the world. Conversely, Andrew, a man who lives off words, completely loses faith in their power to make a difference.

"So I stood outside the door and shouted, <em>Do not be afraid of me! I am only a human being!</em>" (7.167)

Little Bee finds Andrew in a place where language can't reach him anymore. Nothing Little Bee can say will produce anything but horror.

"I said I thought maybe I would carry on Andrew's work. You know, read through his notes. Find out a bit more about detention centers. Maybe even, I don't know, write the book myself." (9.163)

This reminds us a lot of Kathryn Stockett's 2009 bestseller <em>The Help</em>, which shows how telling and publishing forbidden stories can help create more just societies. Sarah too becomes a foil for Andrew and his loss of faith in the power of words.

I smiled at Sarah. "Let us go and collect stories." (11.150)

Sarah and Little Bee's work interviewing victims of oil company atrocities in Nigeria is really dangerous. But, at this point, both women are determined to help as many other people as possible. Collecting stories is also part of continuing the work Andrew started before he died. Continuing his work is a kind of living changing memorial to him and the good intentions he had in his heart.

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