A Small Place

A Small Place Summary

Kincaid begins this text by speaking directly to "You," a North American or European tourist coming to Antigua for a holiday. She talks about the things you wouldn't notice as you eagerly rushed from the airport to your luxurious hotel, including the buildings in the center of Antigua like the school and hospital, all dilapidated, and the library that no longer exists. She begins to hint at the corruption that is present all throughout Antigua.

She calls tourists ugly people because they travel away from their homes to contrive entertainment and enjoyment from intruding on and ogling at others' everyday lives. Tourists marvel at the "simple" way local people live; meanwhile, these local people are often barred from holding any higher-up jobs that do not involve serving tourists in some way. It never occurs to you as a tourist, she says, that the local people watching you cannot stand you, thinking you are rude and envying the way you can escape from your own life to be entertained by observing theirs.

Next, Kincaid compares present-day Antigua to the Antigua of her childhood, when it was a colony of Britain. She narrates an image of Antigua with colonial architecture and foreign occupiers living cushy, ritzy lives at the expense of local Antiguans. She decries colonialism and all its destructive effects, claiming that the corruption in present Antigua is a result of poor behavior learned from their colonizers, who imprisoned them, murdered them, and ruled through bad government.

She tells the story of Antigua's old library, destroyed in the terrible 1974 earthquake and "pending repairs" ever since. She includes other stories about foreigners living on the island who were racist towards local Antiguans, though she and the other Antiguans did not realize that their treatment of them was actually racism. She includes stories of interactions with the Antiguan Minister of Culture, claiming that such a position exists only in nations that do not actually have any culture of their own.

In the last part of the book, Kincaid narrates the experience of people living in a small place like Antigua, measuring time in terms of large events—such as "The Earthquake" or "Emancipation"—that have affected them. She also discusses how slavery has impacted modern Antiguans, who have grown so accustomed to being deemed lesser than foreigners that they continue to be trained exclusively in service jobs designed to wait on white tourists.

She points out that Antiguans have become complacent with the corruption in their society and in some cases have brought it upon themselves; to prove this, she uses prime minister V.C. Bird as an example, who was constantly reelected as prime minister for 25 years despite the fact that his entire family was beginning to take over every part of the government. She also highlights Antigua's natural beauty, but she claims that because Antigua's beauty is constantly, perpetually present, it becomes a prison locking and concealing its people inside in their poverty.

Finally, Kincaid briefly recounts Antigua's troubled history, an island discovered by Christopher Columbus and settled by European colonizers, whom she calls "human rubbish." These colonizers brought slaves, and, though the slaves were eventually freed and the island eventually independent, foreigners still hold much of the power and Antiguan people are still metaphorically enslaved. The truth of Antigua's circumstances does not disappear just because the clear labels of "master" and "slave" have been cast off.