Imperialism and Its Lingering Effects on the People of ‘A Small Place’

June 4, 2019 by Essay Writer

In A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid forces the reader to take on the role of a tourist as she brings them through the town of Antigua, criticising the moral ugliness of tourism and the negative consequences of European Imperialism as she does so. Through her description of the island’s infrastructure and the local’s daily struggles, Kincaid emphasises on the harm colonialism had brought about during its presence in Antigua and the lingering effect it still holds over the nation and its people. While the colonial rulers are long gone, they left behind a political culture of moral corruptness that has caused the country to remain stagnant in its development. By writing in second person, she describes her town from the reader’s point of view, beginning her work with “[i]f you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you would see” (3), and in doing so, implicates the reader in the crime of supporting imperialism, directly accusing them of taking part in the colonialism that has robbed her nation of its history and culture.

Kincaid’s description of her town hints at the deep-rooted corruption within the nation’s parliament – inherited from the colonial powers and their exploitation of the island and its people. Kincaid criticises the British for “getting rich [from] the free and then undervalued labour” (9-10), and then leaving this morally unrighteousness aspect of their history out of records, crediting their economical growth to “the ingenuity of small shopkeepers in Sheffield and Yorkshire and Lancashire, or wherever” (10) instead. A British education from the local “Pigott’s School” (7) – an establishment with a British name – with British books that teach the students British history, language and culture but leave out the details of its exploitation of places like Antigua not only strips the citizens of their own identity but also accustoms them to their suppressed and exploited status.

Similarly, the British’s promise of education, progress, and better living standards through colonialism and their actual underlying goal of financial exploitation is reflected in the action of present day Antiguan ministers, who use their position of power to line their own pockets instead of improving the lives of their people. Corruption and moral degeneration exist in every aspect of daily life, and is acknowledged by the people with a general sense of acceptance and lack of outrage. By asking the reader to ignore the “slightly funny feeling [they] get from time to time about exploitation” (10) because “[they] could ruin [their] holiday” (10), Kincaid shows how the daily suffering and hardship faced by the locals are unimportant and ignorable in the face of the tourist’s personal enjoyment – a reflection of the attitude of colonial powers.

Kincaid also criticises the government’s order of priorities through her description of the local infrastructure. She introduces this idea by making the reader question “why a Prime Minister would want an air-port named after him – why not a school, why not a hospital” (1), hinting at how making financial gains through tourism is viewed as more important than improving the quality of life for the locals. This topsy-turvy idea of importance is further developed later on, where the prime location in town is shown to be taken up by the “Government House… the Prime Minister’s Office and the Parliament Building” (10), while the spot with the most scenic view by the American Embassy. It is seen here that despite changes in times, a foreign power still holds more importance in Antigua. Meanwhile, while immigrant traders have the wealth to “lend money to the government” (11) and “build enormous, ugly, concrete buildings in Antigua’s capital” (11), the country’s school, hospital and library have been stagnant since Independence, and locals live in houses that are comparable to latrines. Similarly, the best road in the nation leads to the home of “the girlfriend of somebody very high up in the government” (12), while the second best was “paved for the Queen’s visit” (12). The embodiment of British imperialism is admired by the very same people it suppressed.

Overall, Kincaid illustrates the moral ugliness left behind by colonialism that continues to plague Antigua, criticising the deep-rooted selfish nature of colonial powers that leads to the disregard of local welfare in the face of their own financial growth. By forcing her readers to take on the role of an ignorant and irresponsible tourist directly, Kincaid allows her words to create an impact on a personal level, making her reader ponder over the effects of their actions over the inhabitants of previously colonised countries.

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