No motherland, no fatherland, no tongue - Jamaica Kincaid’s "A Small Place" and the quest for Antiguan identity

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

22 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2.1. What Is Postcolonial Literature?
2.2. Language and Representation
2.3. Culture
2.4. Authority

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography
Primary Literature:
Secondary Literature:

“The ways in which black people and black experiences were located and subjugated in the dominant system of representation were the result of a practice of cultural power, knowledge and normalization.”

Edward Said, “Orientalism”[1]

“Literature is necessary to politics above all when it gives a voice to whatever is without voice, when it gives name to what as yet has no name, especially to what the language of politics excludes or attempts to exclude.”

Italo Calvino, “Right and Wrong Political Uses of Literature[2]

“A People to Mold, a Nation to Build”

Antiguan Motto of Independence, 1981

1. Introduction

In the Caribbean world, where culture and language had been implemented and enforced for centuries, literary representation and expression of a pure, own cultural identity has become the core of postcolonial literature. Its criticism promotes the necessity to deconstruct and question the absolutism of Eurocentric cultural hegemony and reconstruct one’s own history separated from the latter. Whether or not this is practicable in reality – as all post-colonial literature is influenced by the colonial power, be it only through the use of the colonial language – at the heart of this endeavor lies the painstaking search for a ‘common identity,’ a definition and an awareness of self.

One theorist who has greatly shaped postcolonial criticism is Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. She questioned the usability of a Western mindset when analyzing an outsider literature, e.g. postcolonial literature; particularly in gender questions. She emphasized the inadequacy of Western academic conventions on which postcolonial literary analyses are relied upon. In her most influential essay on this topic named Can the Subaltern speak?[3], Spivak analyzed the possibility of self-representation and articulation of the economically oppressed or, as she calls it, subaltern, in literature. The subaltern’s subjectivity is being excluded by the system of representation, as he, the subaltern, has been denied the economical and educational means to formulate and express this subjectivity. The subaltern, by definition, thus is dependent on others to speak on his behalf.

Literature on the Caribbean, as Caribbean historiography, has been shaped by white, rich and powerful men: it mostly told the story of someone who had all means – economical, political and cultural, so basically all resources denied to the subaltern - to retell the tale in his favor. Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place[4] provides a deeply satisfying response to until-then existing chauvinist, Eurocentric and often-times racist representations of Antigua and its people. The book describes Kincaid’s native Antigua with highly critical perspectives on its colonial history, on its exploitation by the British, on its corruption after independence, and on the continuing exploitation through tourism today. The book, which made Kincaid persona non grata on Antigua for years after it was first published, is not afraid to attack all of those whom the “I”- narrator considers responsible for the deplorable state of affairs, both in the past and the present.

A Small Place consists of four parts, in which the narrative ‘I,’ a native of Antigua with a biography very similar to Kincaid’s own, introduces the reader to the island. The first part concentrates on tourism, which is seen as a prolongation of colonialism, with the tourists merely replacing the British colonial power. The second part explores the island’s colonial past, slavery, memories of the narrator’s childhood under English rule, and the effects of colonial history still visible in Antigua today. Part three denounces the political corruption of the post-independence Antiguan government, and part four analyses the effects of colonialism on the minds of people who have come to believe they are living on the periphery of history.

Using Spivak’s thesis as the theoretical framework, I will analyze Kincaid’s contribution to giving the subaltern a voice, and to formulating an Antiguan identity. In this paper, I am going to point out Kincaid’s contribution to this endeavor, which, in my opinion, is bigger than an initial reading of the text, which is entirely addressed at a ‘you’, a second-person tourist reader, would suggest. Where does A Small Place lead her reader, and where does Kincaid leave him?

To prove my point, and thus the success of Kincaid’s book, I will first give a short introduction to the theories of postcolonial literature, and point out how Kincaid has indeed been heavily influenced by them, and by Marxist ideas. Further, I will analyze her exceptional language, which is the first thing to strike her reader. With this I hope to lighten how, in her opinion, self-representation and representation of others was formed on Antigua. To learn how Kincaid thinks Antiguans understand themselves, we must first elaborate how she understands others. After, I will discuss her concept of culture on Antigua, and its indispensability for the creation of identity. In the last subchapter, I will critically analyze Jamaica Kincaid’s authority to write a criticism on the capitalist West as a member of the Diaspora living in Maine.

2.1. What Is Postcolonial Literature?

First and foremost, postcolonial literature is concerned with the political and cultural independence of peoples formerly subjugated in colonial empires. Its works are composed by the (formerly) colonized. Its texts seek to rewrite the broken history of the past, which had been formulated and presented, one-sided and biased, by the colonizers: it had been the history of successful men and their conquest of the exotic lands, their victory over the child-like naïve slaves and their descendents. Postcolonial literature advocates the articulation, definition and celebration characteristics of one’s own culture, basing it on concepts of resistance and “Otherness.”[5]

To understand the particular characteristics of Caribbean post-colonial literature, one must be well aware of the special historical experience of the Caribbean. As the slaves had been abducted from all over the African continent, their experience has been shaped by being uprooted, by separation and, as the slaveholders knowingly sought to disperse people from the same community, by the loss of identity. Imprisoned, enslaved and held with people from various cultural backgrounds with a multitude of languages, they provided little resistance to the colonizers, to their implementation of a European concept of culture, and to Christianization.

There are two major theories which outline the formation of cultural identity in the Caribbean. The first position defines cultural identity in terms of one, shared culture, with people with common historical experiences and shared cultural codes. Thus it defines the people in the Caribbean as “one people,” with stable, unchanging and continuous frames of reference. This concept of cultural identity, which was established by writers such as Frantz Fanon or Aimé Césaire at the beginning of last century, has played a crucial role in the forming of a new consciousness in former colonies and in Western perception of them. The “rediscovery of oneness” is the object of what Frantz Fanon called a “passionate research,” which enables the colonized to gain self-confidence and respect towards others, both integral components to fostering a healthy self-conception.[6]


[1] Said, Edward: Orientalism. Penguin, London, 1978, p.55. In Orientalis m, which many critics acknowledge to be the founding work of postcolonial theory, Said decried the "subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture". He argued that a long tradition of false and romanticized images of Asia and the Middle East in Western culture had served as an implicit justification for Europe's and America's colonial and imperial ambitions.

[2] (last checked: Feb 19, 2005)

[3] Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty: Can the Subaltern Speak? Speculations on Widow Sacrifice. IN: Grossberg, Lawrence and Cary Nelson (eds.) Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Macmillan, London, 1988, pp 271 -313.

[4] Kincaid, Jamaica: A Small Place. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1988.

[5] Ashcroft, Bill; Griffith, Gareth and Helen Tiffin: The Empire Writes Back. Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures. 2nd edition, Routledge, London, 2002., p. 220.

[6] Ippolito, Emilia: Caribbean Women Writers: Identity And Gender. Camden House, Rochester, NY; 2000, p. 19.

Excerpt out of 22 pages


No motherland, no fatherland, no tongue - Jamaica Kincaid’s "A Small Place" and the quest for Antiguan identity
University of Hamburg  (Insitut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
"I Could Tell You Stories" American Autobiography 1960 to the Present
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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541 KB
Jamaica, Kincaid’s, Small, Place, Antiguan, Could, Tell, Stories, American, Autobiography, Present
Quote paper
Ayla Kiran (Author), 2005, No motherland, no fatherland, no tongue - Jamaica Kincaid’s "A Small Place" and the quest for Antiguan identity, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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