Tag Archives: “Inventing Human Rights”

A Small Book.

One book that rather starkly altered my sense of place in the world was Jamaica Kincaid’s “A Small Place”, a slim volume of essays about life in Jamaica (extended to the Caribbean as a whole), colonialism, and the latter’s profound impact on the former. This collection is what immediately occurs to me because despite its brevity (97 pages) and the time that has past since I read it (a little over two years), its message still holds strong in my head.
In each essay, Kincaid takes different elements of life in Jamaica (beginning with aspects as small as the weather and expanding her scope to colonialism, and the physical presence of the island) and shows exactly how far their true meanings are from what you thought they were. I say “you” because that is how she also phrases it⎯ her use of the second person is particularly powerful not only because of the rarity of its use in literature, but because it forces the reader to take the role of the “other” in the scenario, the white man, the colonizer, the tourist. She describes how the difference of each of these elements is from how they are seen by “you”, and how they are seen by a native Jamaican. The cerulean skies and brilliant sunshine are for the one a welcome change from the dreariness at home, for the other a cause of drought and economic adversity; the sign for Barclay’s Bank is for one a familiar landmark, the other a grim reminder of the island’s oppressed past. Perhaps her strongest point is when she expounds upon language; that while there is no other option available to her or most Jamaicans, the language she uses to speak, read, and write about the hardships of her nation’s past is that of the people who wrought those hardships upon it.
I can think of other books that have put me in a similar position of identifying with the “other”, which is in some cases even the villain of the story⎯ “Drown”, by Junot Diaz, “Miguel Street”, by V.S. Naipaul, “Invisible Man”, by Ralph Ellison⎯ but none have affected me quite so strongly with so few words.