What is anger in literature?
That was the question of the day in class when we discussed A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid. Some called her angry, some vehemently disagreed, but we all read it. Well, at least I did, enjoying my first work of literature from the nation of Antigua & Barbuda.
A Small Place tells the story of the island of Antigua through the eyes of its author, Jamaica Kincaid, an Antiguan now living in the United States. It was originally an essay for The New Yorker, but was rejected, which I guess was good for Kincaid. We start in second person, with Kincaid narrating the arrival of “you,” the tourist, on the island of Antigua, and all of the wonderful activities – the beach, the food, the hotel – that you will experience. She then takes a turn towards with the pragmatic, detailing the island’s faults that are unseen to the tourist eye, including but not limited to: the island’s lack of proper sanitation and health care; the collapse of banking and local food production; hotels enforcing neo-colonialism by training native Antiguans to serve tourists; the corruption of the government, mostly of Syrian descent.
My initial reaction: Jamaica Kincaid is a frank and rational person, and expresses herself with flair and with evidence to support her viewpoints. I’m inclined to trust her, since she was born and raised in Antigua and all I know of the island is that my seventh-grade history teacher used to go there during school vacations to help build schools. What I see here is a fierce pride that doesn’t place blame with militancy, rather, through the strongly-pointed fingers of the writer’s steady hand. For some reason, I also imagine that hand in a white glove, but maybe that’s because I have images of colonial Britain in my head. Kincaid goes postcolonial without managing to go postal; she tells it like it is, and if people don’t like or agree with that, that’s fine, but it doesn’t take away from the validity and urgency of her work. The truths of the tourism industry are spot-on, and as a friend and classmate of mine pointed out, “there is a certain element of escapism at work here; the tourist goes away to this idyllic place to forget about the stress and inequality at home. But guess what? There’s stress and inequality here, too.” And yes, it’s not apparent, as the resort wants the tourist to believe, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. In this day and age, I would think that people would be able to believe that nowhere on our planet is there a nation that exists in a complete vacuum of splendor, comfort, and luxury.
I decided to look at some positive and negative criticism of Kincaid’s work to further my own knowledge on the subject.
There’s this stereotypical “angry black woman” image. Kincaid is not only a black woman but also an Antiguan expatriate, a fact that critics use to exacerbate this incorrect stereotype about her, stamping everything that comes out of her pen as the writings of an “angry black woman.”
This 80-page book packs a punch – but is it a physical punch or just a splash of metaphorical fruit punch to the face?
Also, I found this beautiful gif today and I just had to share it, so indulge me.