Confronting the Dominant Narrative and Exposing the Reality of the Native
Submitted by: Amanda Jarrett
Jamaica Kincaid provides a voice for non-Western societies. A Small Place is considered a prevalent piece of postcolonial literature, in which she introduces her readers to Antigua. Kincaid begins by indulging the reader in a beautiful description of Antigua through the eyes of a tourist by administering images of sunny skies and slews of greenery.
She quickly deteriorates this image of perfection by pointing out the differences between the treatment of the tourist and a native, the colonizer and the colonized. Kincaid intervenes with different ways of seeing by exposing this truth to the reader: the dominant narrative—the Western, colonial perspective of postcolonial states—is ignorant of the realities of Antigua.
This ignorance lies within the inherent hierarchy in the production of knowledge, which further perpetuates the power-relation of the colonizers over colonized states. She further interrogates this way of seeing by examining three separate components: culture, economy, and politics. Kincaid discusses the cultural aspects of seeing through examining the significance of publishing in the United States and in the English language.
Tucker and Akama’s text, Tourism as Postcolonialism, furthers this argument by observing the power of language and how truth is shaped by the hierarchical structure of language. On the economic side of Kincaid’s text, she examines the ways in which colonialism has caused the poor economic state of Antigua through her display of the flourishing hotel business of the Mill Reef Club that shows the discouragement of Antiguans to become anything other than servants.
Additionally, Tucker and Akama’s text will aid Kincaid’s argument by explaining the ways in which tourism further exemplifies the power-relations between colonial states and postcolonial states. Lastly, she explores the multiple facets of corruption within Antiguan government by discussing the illicit means of income of some ministers along with the government’s inability to repair the library.
This is where the text of Life and Debt compliments Kincaid’s observation of the effects of colonial powers on the political system of Antigua. By elaborating on these aspects of seeing, Kincaid displays the complicated and negative effect of colonialization on Antigua.
Kincaid observes the cultural aspect of seeing through two lenses: the location of publication and the language of the publication. Firstly, Kincaid published her book in the United States. In doing so, she understood that the only way to represent the voice of Antigua was to present it through the dominant expression of Western culture—the English language.
A Small Place needed to be published in a large place, where, even though its voice would still be suppressed, it would still be heard within the realm of the dominant. She uses her citizenry in the United States to her advantage to enable the destitute narrative of Antigua to be given a voice at all. If Kincaid attempted to publish A Small Place through a non-Western state, it would have been entirely quelled by dominant narrative due to control over the production of knowledge.
This mode of expression—the publishing the book in and of itself—is Kincaid’s unique strategy of demonstrating the structural power-relation between the colonizer and postcolonial states. It showcases the deep causes to Antigua’s current dependence on the exploitation of their own culture and the inability to form their own since Great Britain’s occupation.
This leads to Kincaid’s second scope of the cultural aspect: the language of the publication. The main instrument of experiencing a culture is through the various forms of expressing language. Kincaid’s book echoes this sentiment by delivering a powerful and packed dialogue: “For 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?” (Kincaid, 31-32).
Specifically, Kincaid is saying that in order for her to be heard, she must express herself not in the language of her native peoples but in the language of the colonizers. Through this expression, she points out the irony of using the English language as her primary mode of communication. She demonstrates that in order for an oppressed group to have their voice understood, it must be delivered using the language of the those who control the dominant narrative.
In doing so, Kincaid indicates that she is being subjected to this language use because it was imposed on her by the ones who enslaved her people. That even though the masters have left their slaves, the master’s essence of cultural impact cannot be erased. But the slave’s version of history and culture have been written over due to the English language because, as Kincaid says, “the language of the criminal can contain only the goodness of the criminal’s deed” (Kincaid, 31).
By expressing this paradox, Kincaid displays the truth behind the cultural impact colonizers have on postcolonial states. With the inability to circulate her knowledge outside the Western world and write in her native tongue, she demonstrates the ways in which colonial power still controls much of a postcolonial state’s culture due to their impact. Tucker and Akama compliment Kincaid’s work by stating that “language has become the medium through which a hierarchical structure of power is perpetuated, as well as being the medium through which conceptions of “truth,” “order,” and “reality” have become established.” (Tucker and Akama, 2-3).
The truths that are known in Antigua have been produced by colonial powers are perpetuated through tourism because it reinforces the dominant truth and ignoring the native’s reality, which is that Antigua no longer has its own culture. Kincaid states that “In places where there is a Minister of Culture it means there is no culture” (Kincaid, 49). With this aspect of seeing the ways in which the dominant narrative interacts with the native, Kincaid intervenes by saying that the culture of the postcolonial state cannot be heard or understood fully due to the West’s control over the production of knowledge.
The second way of Kincaid’s text interrogates the different ways of seeing is through the observation of the economic impact colonial states had on Antigua. She exposes the ways in which the reliance on foreigners has crippled Antigua’s domestic economy and examines how tourism has perpetuated it. In Antigua, the government is known for depending on foreign investment.
There are “Syrian and Lebanese nationals [who] regularly lend the government money” (Kincaid, 62). These people own a very large amount of commercial property within Antigua. Kincaid goes on to detail how these foreign nationals build and lease buildings for the government—the same buildings the government cannot pay to build themselves.
By discussing this, Kincaid begins to unpack the multiple ways in which the Antiguan economy is reliant on foreign contributions. The film Life and Debt takes this further discusses how Antigua has struggled to establish a stable market due to their inability to create a self-reliant economy. The establishment of hotels and casinos in Antigua invites foreign business and tourism into the economy, which determined the status of Antiguans within their own nation.
A specific example that Kincaid highlights in her text is the Mill Reef Club. There is hotel training “That teaches Antiguans how to be good servants, how to be a good nobody” (Kincaid, 55). This position of servitude is a look at the power-relation between colonial and postcolonial states. This in and of itself perpetuates the narrative of the colonizers over the colonized because it repositions natives into their original state of servitude before independence.
The Antiguan will never be able to evolve their economy if they are only ever taught how to serve others in this brutal cycle of the “ideological orientation” and “Western philosophical values” that are imposed on them as the periphery (Tucker and Akama, 4). Kincaid demonstrates within her text how the positioning of the natives to the tourist amplifies their servitude and further perpetuates this idea that Antiguan’s will never be more than servants and their economy will never be more than a contribution to the pleasure of foreigners.
Kincaid even states that “The government is for sale; anybody from anywhere can come to Antigua and for a sum of money can get what he wants” (Kincaid, 47). This economic aspect of Kincaid’s way of challenging the dominant narrative allows for her to disclose the true causations of the perpetuation of economic disparity in Antigua.
With the cultural suppression and the economic disparities Kincaid unmasks, she also points out the political corruption. This interrogation in the ways of seeing challenges the dominant narratives notion that the postcolonial state’s issues are its own when in reality they were caused by colonialization. Kincaid recognizes this within her text and even feds into the dominant narrative’s expectations—Antiguan government officials use unwarranted means for income such as drug trafficking, offshore banks, and running large houses of prostitution (Kincaid, 59)—but calls out how that narrative conveniently refuses to look below the surface at the true causation of corruption.
Kincaid says that “The people running the government were not always such big thieves; nor have they always been so corrupt” (Kincaid, 68). Kincaid goes on to explain that they were not originally corrupt and that “They have absorbed […] the degradation and humiliation” from colonialization as part of their everyday lives (Kincaid, 69).
The political corruption in Antigua did not originate there. Kincaid purposely calls out the West for causing the current state of corruption. One song in Life and Debt, Circumstances by Buju Banton, adjacently describes the situation of the Antiguans: “Circumstances made me what I am.” This supports Kincaid’s argument because it perfectly describes that fault of the colonizers for the current state of Antigua and how the people are in the position they are because of them.
More specifically, she uses the example of the library to highlight the perpetuated power-relation observed in the political corruption. The library used to be beautiful and ornate, but is now “the dung heap that now passes for a library” (Kincaid, 43). Unfortunately, ever since the earthquake, the library never got repaired. The Mill Reef Club wanted to keep its standing of a potential donor to the fixation of the library, but never truly intends to fulfill that role.
Instead, the Mill Reef Club wishes to expand St. John’s into little shops for tourists to occupy. This situation is symbolic of the priorities within the government and their ability to enforce. The raggedness of the library represents to government’s inability, or lack of interest, to repair and improve the domestic economic and political state of Antigua.
Kincaid describes how she goes and asks separate ministers about the state of the library and why it has not been repaired. As she begins her telling of the events, her writing—as well as her reality—has been deflected and her questions never directly answered. Although, in an indirect way, they were: Antigua is “Governed by corrupt men, or that these corrupt men have given their country away to corrupt foreigners” (Kincaid, 55). Kincaid’s interrogation of this political aspect of seeing exposes the falsehood that the dominant narrative tries to reiterate. She demonstrates the ways in which colonialization has affected the political state of Antigua, which then shows the power-relation between the colonizers and the postcolonial state.
In conclusion, Kincaid uses her text, A Small Place, as a way to contest notions of the dominant narrative. She strategically pulls on examples from many different ways of seeing through the cloudy dominant narrative to the clear skies of the native’s narrative. She confronts the ways in which Western—dominant—culture attempts to overshadow other narratives.
Kincaid additionally squashes the dominant notion that says the economic and political issues within Antigua are entirely their fault and instead displays the ways in which colonialization has caused their current state. Kincaid presents this so much so that it calls into question whether or not Antigua truly is a postcolonial state. The physical strings may be severed, but the marks from the hooks are still heavily evident.
Her text provides an insight to a narrative that is not typically heard. Kincaid encourages her reader to look beyond the veil of the dominant narrative and look to understand the ways in which an item came to be. Her narrative and its circulation significantly exposes the West’s attempt to control the distribution of knowledge and how it is reproduced. Kincaid exposes the truth behind the dominant narrative and therefore forces it to truly understand its consequences.
Akama, John. “Tourism as Postcolonialism.” The SAGE Handbook of Tourism Studies, edited by Tazim Jamal and Mike Robinson. by Hazel Tucker, SAGE Publications Ltd, 2009, pp. 505–521.
Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1988.
Life and Debt. Dir. Stephanie Black. Perf. Belinda Becker, Buju Banton, Horst Kohler. Tuff Gong, 2001. DVD