A Small Place, published in 1988, combines social and cultural critique, autobiography and history. Through poetic abstractions and fluid direct language, Kincaid reverses the gaze by revealing how tourism has contributed to poverty, underdevelopment, and exploitation in Antigua. Through language and discourse, the narrator unveils and disempowers “the tourist” who she sarcastically describes as “an ugly thing.”
An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist, an ugly, empty thing, a
stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste at that, and it will never occur to you that the people who inhabit the place in which you have just paused cannot stand you, that behind their closed doors they laugh at your
By writing back to the fictional tourist who she calls “a fat, ugly white man,” the narrator reverses the gaze, unveiling the voices of those who need to stay away from tourists’ sites. Her speech also reveals the anguish of those who become objects of the tourist’s curiosity. in this sense, culture is turned into a commodity to be traded or bargained.
Though the writer has a strong commitment in unveiling the incoherences of colonialism and neo-colonialism, the essay presents some ambivalence regarding the writer’s feelings towards the English language. For her, the colonizer’s language is the language of the criminal.
For it isn’t it odd that the only language I have in which in which to speak of this crime is the language of the criminal who committed the crime? And what can really mean? For the language of the criminal can contain only the goodness of the criminal’s deed? The language of the criminal can explain and express the deed only from the criminal’s point of view? (SP 12-13)
Kincaid abhors the English language, claiming that it might not be possible to bring the Other’s point of view through this medium. For her, language itself is so corrupted that it cannot give birth to an actual discourse of resistance. She needs to appropriate the language and subvert it to express herself.
However, Kincaid was educated under the colonial system and somehow she cannot disconnect her own identity from English language and British culture. Throughout the text, the writer attempts to come to terms with the alien language that has become her mothertongue. Therefore, her discourse towards language deals with a profound ambivalence, a contradiction that has been part and a parcel of her process of creation.