The turning of a blind eye – a conversation between “you” and “I”
Woven between Jamaica Kincaid’s emotionally charged memoir of Antigua is a strong rhetorical message to her audience to try and be different than those of them – middle class North American/European tourists – who came before to her land. These tourists, an audience of which I am not a part, are effectively persuaded of this argument due to her sophisticated interplay of ethos, pathos and logos. Emotions (and, by extension, emotional language) founded upon a logical basis, can be a very strong persuasive combination, which works effectively in Kincaid’s work due to the fact that she manages to make herself seen as a credible narrator. We (her audience) are left, by the end of her tale, acutely aware of our flaws and of our ignorance of the several harsh truths we fail to see when visiting a place or a culture less privileged than us, such as Antigua.
Using “we” to refer to Kincaid’s target audience, one of the most interesting choices in her essay is her second-person narrative, wherein, from the start, we are led through a tour of Antigua with her narrating not only what we see, but also what we feel and think inside our heads. The use of “you” is one of the primary forms of pathos that Kincaid uses in order to persuade her audience. Especially within the first of the four sections of the book, a section that focuses specifically on the ignorance of the tourist, her use of “you” grows increasingly aggressive and accusatory. Initially starting off with rather docile sentences like “As your plane descends to land, you might say “What a beautiful island Antigua is” “ (3), she progresses onto more scathing remarks like “the thought of what it might be like for someone who had to live day in, day out in a place that suffers constantly from drought, and has to watch carefully every drop of fresh water . . . must never cross your mind” (4) bringing us (the audience, again) to our senses as she highlights what is a very realistic thought process in the mind of a more privileged tourist in a less privileged area. The aggressive “you” makes the audience feel targeted and blamed. Since blame naturally creates discomfort and pain, the language is a deliberate provocation of the audience’s minds. It creates a sense of being directly challenged and that forces us to think critically about what she’s saying. Moreover, she justifies these accusations through the aforementioned personal experience-credibility she asserts as well as the incorporation of proof and (quoted above) factual statements about conditions for Antiguans that prevent the audience from dismissing her strong words. In this way, ethos and logos combine to form a strong argumentative base that is effectively delivered through the usage of pathos (“you”).
Beginning with the first part of the book, which details our journey through her Antigua as a tourist, she highlights the immense privilege we have by contrasting it with actual facts about Antiguan quality of life: for instance, she talks of how American/European tourists pass through immigration without a hassle, but Antiguans themselves must wait in line, struggling to bring back essential clothes and food for their struggling families (4). She does not fail to pinpoint exactly how we, her audience, are ignorant. Delving deeper, apart from the facts about the roads and the lack of drinking water that she mentions during this section, she also provides very special “insider” information that only someone from Antigua could have known. An example of this is when she explains why Antigua is chock-full of near-broken, expensive Japanese cars. Her knowledge of even what type of petrol is used (and should be used) adds credibility to her words. She boosts her credibility further by sharing opinions locals have towards the tourists and calling out aspects of the tourists tourists know to be true – case in point, “behind their closed doors they laugh at you. . . you try eating their way, you look silly; you try eating the way you always eat, you look silly. . . you have an accent” (17). Kincaid succeeds in creating an image of her having been one of those selfsame locals she talks about in such lines. The audience knows now that she has been there. Refuting her statements becomes harder.
Kincaid continues this “one-two” punch of ethos and logos by providing explicit details about how car loans are easily available due to the corrupt ministers that hold monopolies over car dealerships in the region. She includes more details about past driving-license scandals (7) She has now created for us a logical connection between what we see on the streets and what could be causing it – this also sets up and foreshadows her later discussions about the rampant political power-abuse and exploitation in Antigua. In this way, since she talks about themes, instances and phenomena that she sets up earlier on in the book, the entire memoir is a coherent and logically flowing set of arguments. Her ideas do not come out of nowhere, but instead, from facts and evidence she has provided earlier on in her text. This, once more makes her details that much more believable and worth listening to, reminding us with a great degree of persuasion of the problems she speaks of – tourist/outsider ignorance, corruption, slavery and colonialism and their lasting effects. Her pathos-based use of “you” only strengthens the delivery of these truths and her argument becomes all the more robust – it cannot be dismissed as an emotional rant.
Jamaica Kincaid continues to strengthen her argument by logically and rationally accepting other sides of the story. “And so, ordinarily you are a nice person, an attractive person, a person capable of drawing to yourself the affection of other people. . . a person at home in your own skin . . . but you make a leap from being that nice blob. . . to being a person visiting heaps of death and ruin and feeling alive and inspired at the sight of it; to being a person marvelling at the harmony (ordinarily, what you would say is the backwardness) [of] these other people (and they are other people” (16). Kincaid uses repetition of variations of “nice person” repeatedly to emphasize the fact that she genuinely believes this audience is a regular, nice person back home. This recognition of the fact that bad tourists are very possibly great people back home rationalizes her anger and aggression by revealing that she is not cherrypicking parts of her audience’s identity to serve her purpose. She is recognizing the audience as a set of dynamic individuals who behave differently based on circumstance – logos. Therefore, her pathos/anger end up making a more compelling argument regarding the ignorance of the tourists instead of being a blanket statement devoid of reason. The pathos at play here from the aforementioned repetition essentially passive-aggressively hints at the “ugliness” (17) within her audience which she then talks about explicitly right afterwards as we can see. Her anger and her blame still comes through because of this, but she has now strengthened her argument significantly by accepting the counter-argument of her audience, the tourists’, circumstantial, fluid and human identities.
If Kincaid only used logic in this way for the first two sections of the book (which I have primarily discussed so far, the book’s whole argument would crumble in the second half. However, Kincaid makes sure to concede similar logical counter-arguments even when criticizing the colonizers of old later on in the book: “You imprisoned people. You robbed people. You opened your banks and you put our money in them. The accounts were in your name… there must have been some good people among you, but they stayed home” (36). Referring to the colonizers, she mentions the fact that the colonizers who came to Antigua were the worst of the lot, mirroring and reinforcing her statements from part one about tourists being “a piece of rubbish” (17). Kincaid remains rational throughout the work, which bolsters her credibility, which in turn supports her logical arguments which helps to reveal to the audience the brutal truths in her argument that otherwise might have been masked underneath the emotional language. Emotion becomes a strong point due to its synergy with logos and pathos, where it might have otherwise been a logical weakness in her argument.
Another way Kincaid’s argument is made stronger is that one does not have to be a white North American/European to understand the folly of being a privileged tourist, because many other ethnicities like myself, do have populations of privileged tourists, or people in general, who have, at some point, feigned the same ignorance as the North American/European white tourists Kincaid speaks of. All around the world are humans who are privileged and those who are not, and this recognition adds credibility to her argument since her argument makes sense even if it is abstracted from its exact, specific audience (middle class, white north american/european tourist). This alleviates any doubt that it was a deliberate targeting of white North American/European tourists – it is obvious that they just happen to be the culprits in the case of Antigua, but there are people who commit the same crimes elsewhere, all across the world, everyday. Her logos, pathos and ethos therefore still hit hard with their moral of not being ignorant anymore, whoever we are.
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