Small Place," Jamaica Kincaid fulfills Rushdie's call for postcolonial writers to carve territories for themselves within language to overcome their oppression and perceived inferiority. Kincaid achieves this first by writing about what she knows best: the postcolonial environment of her native country of Antigua. In "A Small Place," Kincaid analyzes the way colonialism has impacted the development of social, cultural, political, and economic institutions in Antigua. The author emphasizes her personal experience on the island. In so doing, she carves a niche in the "small place" that is the island. With a special focus on the tourism industry, Kincaid achieves Rushdie's call for a focused territory that can be used to overcome oppression and perceived inferiority. "A Small Place" is also about social structures and hierarchies, including gender, race, and power. Language becomes the most powerful weapon to be used against the continued oppression of people living in a postcolonial universe.
Kincaid describes herself as an insightful and thoughtful young person. One of her earliest childhood memories is itself a narrative about the legacy of colonialism and social oppression. Kincaid recalls the time Princess Margaret came to visit the island. Although the young girl could not possibly be using critical theory to analyze post colonialism with the context of the princess's visit, she did have a sort of spiritual or psychological awakening. Being among all the local admirers of the princess, young Jamaica felt out of place. She was here beginning to carve herself a niche in her mind, and later, a niche in her environment. Young Jamaica Kincaid distinguished herself from her family and peers by becoming self-aware and critical of the way the government and mass-market tourism colluded to impede the social, economic, and political progress of Antiguans.
The encounter with Princess Margaret also showed that Kincaid saw through the methods used for social and political oppression. As she begins to learn more and more about the history of her island, and of colonialism more generally, Kincaid starts to become aware of social injustice. She begins to arm herself with language to overcome oppression and perceived inferiority. The first thing that Kincaid begins to notice around her, in the "small place," is the corrupt government. Just as the citizens around her lauded the princess when she arrived, the citizens also condoned the government because it was so successful at propaganda. Kincaid, however, did not fall for the duping that the government was doing. Tourism videos were luring wealthy foreigners to Antigua, where they could exploit the local culture and economy. It was the new form of enslavement and colonization. Kincaid knew and understood this fact. She brimmed with anger when she thought about Princess Margaret and all she represented: false promises and the truth of oppression.
According to Kincaid, Antigua is only superficially free. The people have been brainwashed into their nationalistic identity, but that nationalism was falsely created by the British. It is the British that socially engineered the Antiguan culture. There was no Antigua before the British brought over slaves from Africa. The descendants of those slaves, like Jamaica Kincaid, have no choice but to embrace the pre-packaged identity that the British were handing to them. Otherwise, who were they? It was far too many generations removed from the motherland to return to an African heritage identity. As a result, Kincaid has to find a way to forge her own identity in Antigua. Her intelligence and awareness make it difficult for her to do so. Whereas her family and peers are able to easily embrace the pre-packaged identity, Jamaica Kincaid must find her own path separate from colonial oppression.
Information and literature are her tools to extricate herself -- and Antigua as a whole -- from oppression. Kincaid is keenly aware of the Japanese car scheme on the island, for example. She frequently comments about the ugliness of the cars, and how tourists will not think too deeply about them. In reality, the cars represent further duping of the public into buying cheap cars that do nothing to improve the quality of life for the islanders.
Kincaid's anger forms the tone of "A Small Place." Using Rushdie's model, anger is Kincaid's niche storytelling mode. She speaks directly at the reader, who she presumes to be a white person from a wealthy country who undertakes tourism for the very reasons she describes. The reader is put on the defense, as Kincaid hurls some insults. Her angry niche is an effective literary style. She writes, "An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist, an ugly empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that, and it will never occur to you that the people who inhabit the place in which you have just paused cannot stand you, that behind their closed doors they laugh at your strangeness," (p. 17). Her disdain for tourism is inextricably linked to Kincaid's hatred for the colonial past of Antigua. Kincaid links the current state of tourism to colonial enterprise. After all, the tourists that she sees on the island are from Canada and the United States as well as Europe. They are largely white, and many will relate to what Kincaid is describing. Kincaid pushes her readers, challenges them to think critically about how tourism can destroy the soul of a people by transforming them into caricatures of themselves. Tourists come to Antigua and think the natives are cute and want to take their photos. Their behavior is despicable, and exactly like the behavior of the English when they first arrived. White people come to the island, and enslave the natives. The natives work for too little money to extricate themselves from the situation or to empower themselves. Slavery continues. The government might not be officially the English crown but it acts in the same way to oppress the people. Businesses are owned by foreign companies and not by locals. "Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives -- most natives in the world -- cannot go anywhere," (p. 18).
There are also darker issues that Kincaid addresses in her diatribe against tourism. For example, Kincaid notes that the legacy of the British was to create a system whereby money talks. Much of the land, Kincaid points out, is owned by foreigners including Middle Eastern investors. Tourists who come to Antigua are not supporting the local economy as they would like to believe. They are condescending people, suggests Kincaid, because they think they are doing locals a service by eating their food and buying their trinkets. In fact, the tourism money is going to foreign businesses and interests abroad. Kincaid suggests that the tourists say home. "There must have been some good people among you, but they stayed home. And that is the point. That is why they are good. They stayed home," (35)
Kincaid's niche as a writer is to pen memoirs that bring to light the ugly truths that lie buried beneath the surface. She follows Rushdie's advice well, because she feels comfortable expressing her anger in ways that can encourage readers to take action. Perhaps readers will not visit Antigua, and perhaps they will. Readers who do visit Antigua are certain to see the country, and all of its neighbors, in a new light with greater awareness.
To overcome oppression and perceived inferiority, Kincaid is sure to support her views with facts and evidence as well as the credibility of her personal experience. Oppression is ultimately a mental choice Kincaid liberates herself symbolically in the act of writing. Writing establishes Kincaid as a literary soul, and as someone who makes valid contributions to the society…