Friday, February 22, 2013

A Small Place, indeed

"You are a tourist and you have not yet seen . . ."

In the book A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid bitterly describes tourism from the perspective of a local in her native country of Antigua. From the beginning, we can feel the hostility she feels against these tourists who visit her country. Kincaid is fiercely protective of Antigua, specifically, the "old" Antigua. She says that tourism is a phenomenon that triggers feelings of envy and inequity among native people, who are “too poor to escape the reality of their lives” and “too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go.”
Kincaid personifies the reader as a tourist to the island. From this perspective, the island is a beautiful retreat; then Kincaid starts to reveal to the reader the "real" life on the island. This "real" life is a life of oppression. Present Antigua is little more than a third world country. Natives live in poverty, the government is corrupt, education is poor, and there is no such thing as middle-class. The poor are the poorest and the rich are extremely wealthy.
She explains that the country hasn't always been this way. Prior to gaining independence in 1981, Antigua was a British colony for hundreds of years. Although there were hardships growing up, Kincaid expresses her opinion that the "old" Antigua in many ways was better than its present state.
One thing I found interesting is the way Kincaid repeatedly addressed the reader as "you." In fact, some of the generalizations Kincaid makes about her readers are rather offensive, in my opinion. It's a very harsh reality to her - the dual society of new Antigua and old Antigua. I do believe she has a point about tourists and their...let's call it absentmindedness? Their blatant disinterest in integrating with local culture can be very annoying. Nevertheless, I do not agree that all tourists act this way. I believe it depends on the type of person you are, and how you prepare yourself when you travel. While it is true that some tourists simply have terrible attitudes and are very superficial about the places they visit, some of them actually pay attention to the details, and do not wander off on their own like travelers do simply because they are afraid .
I don't think tourists are the villians here - I believe that Kincaid has gone through tough experiences that have made her feel this way. It is unfortunate, because it sort of feels that she has a closed mind.
Honestly, I cannot judge her because I have not gone through her experience. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading this non-fiction because it opened my eyes to a new perspective regarding tourists and travelers.

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