Magazine 2017
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
*Arundhati Sethi  
Eventually the master left, in a kind of way; eventually, the slaves were freed, in a kind of way” (SP 80).  
At first sight A Small Place written by Antiguan- American writer Jamaica Kincaid appears to be a mere sliver of  
a book containing an ordinary portrait of a tiny and obscure Caribbean island that the writer belongs to.  
However, as one enters the text, one realizes that it has in fact, packed within it, a powerful and almost breathless  
critique of a debilitating colonial enterprise as well as an equally oppressive neo-imperial world politic and the  
inevitable linkages between them. Even more interestingly, Kincaid makes use of “tourism as the template” to  
carry this critique (Ferguson 79). This book then in a sense addresses, in varying degrees of sarcasm, irony and  
even blunt reproach, both travel and travelers and their unique relationship with their exotic tourist destination  
in this case being her native island Antigua. Thus right from the beginning, the narrator primarily addresses the  
figure of the modern tourist who is just about to descend onto the island of Antigua. She seems to take the  
tourist/reader by the arm, on a guided tour per se. However, it is to be a tour of her island and on her terms.  
An important feature of the narrator’s tour of Antigua is that while she certainly illuminates the tourist/reader  
about the nuances of the island, a parallel object of the narrator’s gaze is the tourist himself. Thus, while in most  
travel narratives, the traveler is the one possessing the power to see, while his presence escapes all scrutiny, in  
A Small Place this gaze is inverted and makes visible the tourist and his gaze. Thus, the narrator simultaneously  
presents the psyche of a typical First World white male tourist as he explores the new space of Antigua, as well  
as her narrative, which constantly combats the tourist’s superficial gaze.  
Thus the two accounts seem to be co-existing from statement to statement. Initially the narrator’s voice is  
muttered almost as asides, but gradually it begins to spill onto the center stage and takes over the text. And as  
she constructs the particular gaze of the modern tourist, this figure also begins to embody an uncanny specter  
of a much older and seemingly disconnected historical pathology. To understand this overlap, one must note  
that, “Tourism, like postcolonialism, has its roots in colonialism, both as theoretical construct and as a perceptual  
mechanism” (qtd in D’Hauteserre 237). Thus, what becomes clear is that though the text is written in the last leg  
of the 20th century addressed to a tourist of a globalized, transnational and free economy, about a decolonized  
and independent Antigua, the text is not merely putting to question the postcolonial malady of neo-imperialism  
but is “also exposing (its) nefarious, centuries-old point of origin” in colonialism (Ferguson 79). So when the  
narrator marvels at the unique Antiguan quality of not possessing a usual sense of time, it is not actually in a  
berating tone. Their refusal to comprehend and accept an artificially truncated categorization of “Time into the  
Past, the Present, and the Future” reflects in fact a far more insightful understanding of history (SP 54). And  
Kincaid uses this Antiguan consciousness to reveal the inerasable tie between the colonial past and the post-  
colonial present.Thus, the tourist then is a sort of a modified extension of the early colonial traveler and his  
imperial gaze.  
One of the crucial effects of this gaze according to Ashcroft et al has been that “landscapes of the colonized  
world have been used as cultural manuscripts on which meanings have been inscribed, erased, and overwritten  
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in the broad geopolitics of Western superiority” (qtd in D’Hauteserre 237 ). It is important then, to trace in what  
way does the tourist’s gaze effect the natural and social landscape of Antigua. Firstly, it seems to be a rather  
superfluous and fleeting gaze in the form of mere glimpses through his car window. There is an obvious  
distance and detachment between his privileged and exclusive positioning vis-a-vis the community at large.  
Thus, a possibility of a real engagement with the land and its people to allow an in depth understanding of the  
place is rendered almost impossible. Secondly, the island, a fairly habituated, living and throbbing social  
entity is emptied out by the tourist and viewed as a mere geographical space where “the sun always shines”  
and the climate is “deliciously hot and dry”(4). His description of the island for most of the part with its tropical  
air and blank blue sea without any acknowledgement of the people inhabiting those conditions seems to be  
like that of a “terra nullius, an open and inviting (virginal) space in to which the European [or North American in  
this case] imagination can project itself and into which the European (usually male) explorer must penetrate”  
Ashcroft et al 32). Thus, the landscape is rendered as a space rather than a place, “where space is defined as  
territory which is mappable, explorable” as opposed to place as “occupation, dwelling, being lived in” (Gauch  
10). Moreover, this mapping of the alien land is ultimately centered on his own self. Thus, the scorching sun  
is not understood in relation to the island and its inhabitants, but as a sunny change from his dull and rainy  
homeland. Similarly, the color of the sea to him is likened by his mind to the color of “the North Americansky”  
SP 13). The bad roads too offer the tourist a safe amount of otherness that he rather enjoys as a change from  
his usual streets.  
The narrator further voices the tourist’s imagination, pressing the self-centered vision of his exploration. She  
writes, “you see yourself lying on the beach… taking a walk on that beach, you see yourself meeting new  
people (only they are new in a very limited kind of way, for they are people like you)…you see yourself, you  
see yourself…” (13).  
Another crucial aspect of this gaze is a process of de-historicizing and de-contextualizing. Thus, the incongruity  
of the bad roads and the expensive Japanese car, or the latrine like school and hospital, at no point urge the  
traveler to uncover their context. Moreover, the discourse about history he does possess in the form of a book  
on economic history, is revealed to be a piece of twisted misinformation, full of self-glorification of the West  
and a complete blotting out of the colonial narrative of oppression. Given this scenario, the narrator, identified  
by many critics as Kincaid herself, being an expatriate and therefore possessing a diasporic insider-outsider  
perspective, is able to then reveal not just the way things are, as seen by the eye, but the way things came to  
be this way. And therefore, to combat this reductive and distorted mapping, she offers a powerful counter-  
mapping of this very space. Thus she engages in a detailed re-inscription of her landscape with the uncomfortable  
narratives of both the present and the past.  
One of the most prominent examples of such a re-mapping that we encounter is with regard to the ever present  
sea, outlining the island. The tourist’s sense of rapture towards this vast expanse of pristine beauty is shattered  
by the narrator. He views the sea as a beautiful yet empty canvas, holding only a godlike boy on a windsurfer,  
much like him, on its surface. The narrator sullies this very image of the sea by infusing both the rubbish of the  
present as well as the tragedy of the past beneath its glittering surface.  
The rather disgusting scatological imagery used to unsettle the previous vision of beauty is a rude reminder of  
a country quite in shambles, yet desperately trying to keep up appearances for the moneyed outsider, the  
White tourist. Moreover, without a moment’s pause, she dives into the even older depths of the sea, to reveal  
the long ago swallowed up bodies of her slave ancestors. Thus, almost suddenly, the picturesque sea that we  
beheld through the eyes of the tourist is transformed into a horrifying palimpsest carrying multiple narratives of  
its own land.  
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Moving on from sea to the land, while the narrator has already taken the tourist across the pitiable and unpaved  
roads, she also traces the few roads that are impeccable in their upkeep. This random and haphazard infrastructural  
phenomenon is once again given meaning by the narrator through the two figures of power in the Antiguan  
cosmos – one being an immensely wealthy, contemporary drug smuggler, and the other being the Queen- a  
clear representative of their erstwhile colonial master. She also dwells on the names of many of the streets taken  
after a number of Englishmen that she refers to as maritime criminals, who were in fact valorized for their naval  
victories’ by the Empire. Even the electric and telephone poles  
lining these roads and the very cars running on these roads marked by power politics are shown to be  
manifestations of corrupt post-colonial eco-political alliances. Again, like the image of the sea, here too, there  
is an incongruity between the overt glamour of the expensive Japanese car model, and the noisy leaded  
gasoline that clamors from within it, creating “an awful sound, like an old car – a very, old, dilapidated car”(6).  
Moreover, while the government encourages the banks to give out loans for cars to drive around tourists  
like him, a decent house is still a dream for the common Antiguan. We must note therefore, that while the  
narrator is exposing the colonial traces embedded in the present day Antiguan scape, she is also constantly  
implicating the tourist/reader in the workings of this distant island.  
Next the narrator/guide and the tourist/reader pass by a constellation of colonial monuments. The tourist  
attempts to satisfy his conscience by regarding these leftover relics as empty architectural marvels or symbols  
of modernity and civilization that the West offered to this place. However, the narrator, by weaving in her  
memories of the past, goes on to reveal them as essentially monuments of an oppressive colonial control and  
endows on to them a deep political charge. For starters, we see the power of the State embodied in the  
Government House, which used to be replete with its foreign Governors, and visiting Princesses. A  
dominating structure, separated from the Antiguan community by way of a “high white wall” (25).There is also  
the library (quite run down by now and a store room for costumes a carnival troupe) which in a way stands as  
a commanding manifestation of the Ideological State Apparatus of the colonial enterprise.It fed the natives  
fairy tales” about their encounter with the colonizer “in all their greatness”, the “right to do things [they] you  
did, how beautiful [they] you were, are, and always will be…” (42). Simultaneously it also systematically  
distorted and erased my [the narrator’s] history” (36). Thus, it was essentially a parasitic structure engaged in  
a discursive and cultural imperialism.  
The famous Mill Reef Club is another such cultural monument housing ghosts of North American and European  
racism, exclusivity and hypocritical philanthropy. The Barclays Bank then becomes the economic pillar of this  
constellation. The transition for the Barclay brothers from slave trade to post-emancipation banking, was a  
smooth one, maintaining their profits all through. This transition between two distinct and monumental phases  
of history, without much change in the essential effect of power (except its overt guise) adds to Kincaid’s  
argument of an underlying link between colonialism and modern world politics.  
Moreover, towards the end of the book, the more modern, post-independent buildings like the Hotel Training  
School and the “ugly” condominiums owned by “foreigners” from Syria and Lebanon and meant for another set  
of foreigners, begin to merge with the older monuments. And the tragedy is that a kind of servitude to corrupt  
masters who are disconnected from the people, seems to have been drilled into the  
Antiguans over the centuries and has now settled into a voiceless acceptance of power.And therefore, the place  
that takes shape before our eyes is one still entangled in the crisscross of corrupt governance and dishonest  
business, of the native’s “pauperedness” and the prosperity of notorious foreigners. And thus it still appears to  
be an island whose destiny is not really its own. And thus, by the end of the book, Kincaid seems to have re-  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
inscribed her island’s scape with history, depth and a great deal of complexity. And yet, in her last intense  
chapter, she offers a desire for her home, to not be an “unreal” exoticized, intensified and otherized spectacle  
for the outsider’s gaze but recognized and understood as “simply a place” inhabited by a human ordinariness  
(Gauch 918).  
References :  
Kincaid, Jamaica. 1988. A Small Place. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York.  
Ashcroft, Bill. Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. 2001. Key Concepts in Post Colonial Studies. Routledge.  
Taylor and Francis E-Library.  
Ferguson, Moira. 1994. “A Small Place: Counter Knowledge with a Vengeance”. Jamaica Kincaid: Where  
the Land Meets the Body. University of Virginia Press.  
Gauch, Suzanne. 2002. “A Small Place: Some Perspectives on the Ordinary”. Callaloo. Vol. 25, No. 3. The  
Johns Hopkins University Press. 910-919.  
D’Hauteserre, Anne-Marie. 2008. “Post Colonialism, Colonialism and Tourism”. A Companion to Tourism.  
Ed. Alan A. Lew, C. Michael Hall, Allan M. Williams. John Wiley and Sons.  
Arundhati Sethi  
*Dept.of English,