Mary Louise Pratt, a professor at NYU and travel writer, coined the term “travelee” to describe travel writers who write about their native lands. Jamaica Kincaid, native to Antigua and an established travel author, wrote the 1988 essay, A Small Place, describing her feelings towards tourists and British colonialists and her native land of Antigua. Born in 1949 in British colonized Antigua, Kincaid and her family lived in relative poverty.
Antigua gained its independence in 1981, so Kincaid spent her childhood under the British colonial cultural systems. Kincaid is an example of a travelee who wrote postcolonialism works expressing her anger towards the injustice and exploitation colonialism caused and its continuing effects on the Antiguan people. Her work resulted in a passionate account of how tourists are the modern day colonialist who comes to a nation for exploitation and selfish means just see what they want to see, destroy everything, and leave.
Using nostalgia, broad accusation generalizations, and vivid descriptions of the past and present of Antigua, Kincaid emphasizes how she feels tourism is a continuation of British colonialism, which is seen through how the individual person feels, the way the nation sees itself, and globally how the nation fits into the world. Kincaid feels imperialism stripped her of the ability to have her own culture and feel Antiguan pride. As she puts it, “isn’t it odd that the only language I have in which to speak of this crime is the language of the criminal who committed the crime” (31).
The term criminal is a strong way to refer to the British colonialists to prove her point. Kincaid’s anger towards British colonialists in this argument is validated. She has to explain the pain she feels in the voice of the people who destroyed the Antiguan language. In a deeper meaning, language is an identity, when language is eradicated, so is the culture behind it. Forcibly imposed British culture wiped out the Antiguan culture, even the street names were named after British heroes. Antiguans were forced to learn the history of their oppressors from every aspect of culture including education, religion, and leisure.
Colonialists took everything unique from Antiguans leaving them with “[orphans with] no motherland, no fatherland, no gods, no mounds of holy ground, no excess of love which might lead to the things that an excess of love sometimes brings, and worst and most painful of all, no tongue” (31). Kincaid justifiably expresses this anger, for everything was taken from her; her identity she never got to know, a chance to have nationalistic Antiguan pride, her own native tongue, and a chance to see history through Antiguan perspective.
Although Kincaid is justified in her anger towards colonialists, she is angry at the effects of the continuation of imperialistic views, not at tourists specifically. Kincaid only uses the tourists as the scapegoat to inflict emotion in her readers. It is her goal to make the reader feel the guilt of years of inequality and oppression. Though tourists are not the guilty party, they are a modern and relatable classification to relate to readers. The pleasure of the tourist is built on the struggles of others, but the tourist refuses to see the reality and struggles of the native people of Antigua.
Kincaid is particularly provocative when she writes, “you [the tourist] make a leap from being that nice blob just sitting like a boob in your amniotic sac of the modern experience to being a person visiting heaps of death and ruin and feeling inspired by the sight of it” (16). Tourists travel to get away from their normal lives and to see the landscape but are ignorant of their actions related to the destruction of the landscape, people, and similarity to their normal life. As Kincaid points out, “When you sit down to eat your delicious meal, it’s better that you don’t know that most of what you are eating came off a plane from Miami” (14).
This exemplifies how small nations, much like Antigua, are economically exploited even on a global scale by larger nations. The food came from a small island, was sold to a bigger nation, and then sold it back and bigger nations made a profit off of it. Kincaid uses irony, provocation, and confrontation to make her point. Tourists are an outlet for Kincaid’s anger towards the inequality of the world she knows. She was born in an imperialistic Antigua, and although Tourism is not the same level of inequality as imperialism, the principles are the same.
The people of the higher class can escape and leave, but t people who are lower in the class system are trapped. In a provocative statement, Kincaid writes, “[Antiguans] are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go… [the Antiguans] envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom”(19). Tourists choose Antigua for their escape from their mundane, problematic, or stressful lives, yet they escape to a place with many problems, which Kincaid resents.
Antiguans are socially and economically trapped on their island, which is now catered to tourists. Educational progress in Antigua is halted to adjust for the desires of the tourists. The highest educational praise in Antigua is for the completion of the Antiguan Hospitality Training Institute, which is a hospitality training school in Antigua. The praise of servants is parallel to imperialistic slavery. The government will not invest in the educational system of the library or schools, but they will invest in the training of servants needed to accommodate the tourists.
Slaves of the colonial period are not much different than the servants of postcolonial Antigua. As Kincaid observes, “in Antigua, people cannot see a relationship between their obsession with slavery and emancipation and their celebration of the Hotel Training School” (55). Slaves were forced to work for colonialists due to the structure of the government and their inability to do anything about the persistent inequality. Servants do not have much of a choice in the matter of educational aspirations as well, for they do not have a better option for schooling than the
Hotel Training School. Governmental bias towards tourists halts the ability for Antiguans to progress in higher education and obtain jobs in the fields of mathematics and science. To capture the essence of the lack of progress, Kincaid states “to the people in a small place, the division of time into the past, the present, and the future does not exist” (54). Kincaid is hurt by the corruption of the self-providing corrupt members of government who only care for a gain of personal wealth by the revenue from the tourism industry. As Kincaid points out, “… the] Prime Minister would want an airport named after him, why not a school, why not a hospital, why not some great public monument” (1).
Tourism brings in the most money for the Antiguan government, so it is inevitable that with a corrupt government more resources are put into the industry which makes the government more profitable, even if it halts the progress of the native people the government is supposed to cater to. The root of Kincaid’s anger is lies within the unjust system of inequality within every political and social entity within her nation and has justification.
Deep levels of embedded cyclical corruption which followed colonialism cannot be changed in Antiguan society, this is prevalent through Kincaid’s symbol of an old Antiguan library. Post-earthquake, the library lies in a pile of rubble. Kincaid describes this sight as “the dung heap that now passes for a library in Antigua” (43). Her resentment is justified in the fact that the corrupt government will not fix the library because it is not profitable or attractive to tourists. Capitalistic hunger is all the government seeks, and the way they make the most money postcolonialism is through tourism.
Not even the Mill Reef Club, a prestigious Antiguan social club consisting of upper-class British members, will fix the library, even though some members were interested because of their “repair-of-the-old-library-or-nothing position” (44). The library is not an important for tourists, so no elevated power establishment would fix it. It is difficult to reverse the high levels of corrupt power controlling countries with systems of inequality and connections. Kincaid poses the question “Have you ever wondered why it is that all we seem to have learned from [the government] is how to corrupt our societies and how to be tyrants”(34).
The ideals of the tyrants of colonial Antigua carried over to the current government leaders and societal structures. All of Kincaid’s arguments reflect back to her underlying anger at the system of inequality present in Antigua. Despite her outward negative view of tourists and colonialists, Kincaid holds a conflicting view of colonialism seen through the powerful institution; the physical symbol of the library. A paradox exists between the place where she learned the language she hates and the cherished memories of the library.
In her essay, Kincaid describes the feeling the library gave her using every sense, which gives her a full body experience and makes her feel whole. She remembers “the smell of the sea”, how you could “hear the sound of its quietness”, feel “the heat of the sun”, and see “its beautiful wooden tables” and “beautiful painted yellow color” (42). The ironic realization Kincaid makes later in life is that the British are the ones who put the library there. She is grateful for the library but it is a reminder of what she hates about the British. Kincaid calls the library a “fairy tale” (42).
This paints the image of the reason the British came to Antigua, to make a profit off of the exploitation of the native land and people for a profit on sugar, thus increasing her conflicting view of the British and tourists. This formative part of her life, Kincaid later detests. The British took the ability for Kincaid to experience history through her eyes, and not the victors. A Small Place’s title fits Kincaid’s method of assigning a vague description to her arguments in order to generalize her opinions and assumptions regarding tourism, Antigua, and colonialism.
At first glance, a reader would not know what island Kincaid was writing about. On many small islands which were controlled by colonialist nations the same problems exist. The small island nations are small both in size and significance to the colonialist nation. Colonialists did not care about the emotions and problems of the natives, and neither do tourists, which is the reason why Kincaid can make the claim that tourists are “ugly human beings” (14). The title of the essay reinforces the idea that tourism and imperialism cannot be divided, and tourism is a continuation of colonialist oppression and ideals.
Kincaid’s purpose is to get the readers of her essay to change the way they think about the massive tourism industry. The tourist, as described by Kincaid, is the driving force behind the continuing damage from the colonial era. Although the British colonialists did the damage, the demand for tourism is continuing this process. History is very much active, and Kincaid is living it. Her anger is justified, but misguided. She is really mad at the inequality in Antiguan society caused by the colonialists, not about tourists. To provoke change and emotion in the reader, she pushes her anger toward the tourist and directs her essay at the reader.
She writes to make the reader feel guilty for all the horrible actions caused from the inequality of her country. The main point of Kincaid’s essay is she believes tourism is a continuation of imperialism and that is the main point of her anger, which is misguided. Her goal is to be provocative and make generalizations which are applicable to anyone. Kincaid is attempting to end the cycle of destruction and trying to get readers to look at Antigua the way she sees it. She wants to end the ignorance of tourists in hope of a better future for the world, especially her own small world in Antigua.