Monday, January 18, 2010

Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place review

I finished Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place tonight. It is just how I remembered it; a very angry book. She is angry over everything; the British, the tourists, the corruption of the government, everything. It is a hard book to read, especially as a white North American (or European) the ones she most mad at. I don't think I really got anything new out of it this read through. I mean, I understand why it's taught in the post-colonialism literature classes. It is the definition of post-colonialism. She describes the fact that she has no culture, no voice to speak with that is her own. Everything she uses is from the British, the colonizers. She wonders briefly what her life would be like if there had been no British colony. Her ancestors were the slaves brought to the island to work in the sugar fields. She then laments her people for not being able to build on what had been established after the British finally leave and Antigua gains independence. She clearly states the problems that plague many former colonies. So, it is a good book to read to understand the mindset of the people living in the former colonies of Britain. Of course, every colony is a bit different, but I think the book gives a good general description of how it mostly goes when the colonizers leave.

The book consists of four small parts with an illustrated page between each of them. The first part may be the hardest to read. It deals with the tourist and specifically targets the North Americans and Europeans. She actually sort of attacks the reader, by writing this part in second person point of view. She uses 'you' in the first part, I think, to elicit a response from the readers. Perhaps to somehow hold us accountable for the tragedies of colonialism and slavery. I really disliked the first part and nearly put the whole book down and walked away. I am not one of these generalized 'yous' she speaks of and I was really angry at her for casting me in this role. This is probably the effect she is going for; and if so, bravo she achieves it quickly. I hated it, but continued to the next part.

The next part is her attack on Britain. Okay, this is a valid grievance, but she is so bitter about everything British that I found it hard to get through again. What the British did was awful, no arguments there. But it's done and over and you can't really change the past. You can be as angry as you want, but will that really change anything? Maybe I just can not truly understand where she's coming from, because I've not been in her situation. However, the entire book really becomes one long rant on all the evils of the island and I can't connect with that thought-process. Perhaps, if she had written it like a novel, with a strong main character I could follow and love, who goes through these post-colonial changes, maybe then I could understand. Ranting does me no good. I am not you, I am not angry at these people.

After she attacks the British, she moves on to her own government. Antigua's government is pretty corrupt; which she links directly to the British colonizers. She claims that the British of the island taught her people how to behave corruptly. There is some truth in that, no denying. She really hammers the point home that nothing gets done on the island without someone profiting from it. She's disappointed that the government of the independent Antigua is really no better than when the British were running things. It may even be worse; and she can't stand that fact.

She does conclude with a small bit of admiration for the beauty of the island, but that doesn't save the book. On the back of the book, the description states, "Her language soars above her anger and her outrage". No it doesn't. I don't think it ever gets above the anger. There was barely any spot without anger and outrage in it. Again, that is obviously the point. It's a book designed to generate anger. Maybe she hopes this will make people think about these situations, or maybe she is just mad and wants everyone to know.

Anyway, her anger and such toward the British made me decide that the next author will be a Brit. Charles Dickens I think, you can't get much more British than him. Until then.

Note: If you wanted to leave a comment and found you couldn't, I have reconfigured the blog and now anyone can leave comments.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place

First, one quick afterward to The Outsiders. For those who don't know it was made into a fantastic movie in the 80s directed by Francis Ford Coppola. There was also a brief tv series in the 90s. Here's a link to the tv series episodes. The quality is not the best, but the series isn't available on dvd. Okay, now on to the next author, Jamaica Kincaid.

Jamaica Kincaid was born in 1949 as Elaine Potter Richardson on the island of Antigua. She lived with her stepfather, a carpenter, and her mother until 1965 when she was sent to Westchester, New York to work as an au pair. In Antigua, she completed her secondary education under the British system due to Antigua's status as a British colony until 1967. She went on to study photography at the New York School for Social Research after leaving the family for which she worked, and also attended Franconia College in New Hampshire for a year. Her first writing experience involved a series of articles for Ingenue magazine. In 1973, she changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid because her family disapproved of her writing. Through her writing, she befriended George W.S. Trow, a writer for the New Yorker, who began writing "Talk of the Town" pieces about her. As a result, Kincaid met the editor of the magazine, William Shawn, who offered her a job. Kincaid later married Shawn's son, Allen, a composer and Bennington College professor, and they now have two children.

Jamaica Kincaid is a writer I have a hard time with because she is so angry in her work. I can't relate to the anger of a post colonial society, because I did not grow up in one. She is so bitter toward everything English and angry at her fellows for not being better off Independent. Antigua became self-governing in 1967, but did not achieve the status of an independent nation within the Commonwealth until 1981.

Within the structure of the British educational system imposed upon Antiguans, Kincaid grew to "detest everything about England, except the literature" (Vorda 79). She felt first-hand the negative effects of British colonialism as the colonists attempted to turn Antigua "into England" and the natives "into English" without regard for the native culture or homeland (Kincaid 24). The effects of colonialism serve as the major theme for A Small Place in which Kincaid expresses her anger both at the colonists and at the Antiguans for failing to fully achieve their independence. She feels that Antiguans failed to adopt the positive aspects of colonialism, for instance a good educational system which might help the population to better their lives. This inability to promote the importance of education and hope for the future is symbolized in the failure to rebuild Antigua's only library, St. John's, which was "damaged in the earthquake of 1974" and years later, still carries the sign "REPAIRS ARE PENDING" (Kincaid 9)

This information comes from this website It has more relevant info if you're interested.

I'm looking forward to reading this short book again to see if I can get past the anger and hear what she is trying to say. Or if anger is all she is trying to express. We'll see.

Monday, January 11, 2010


The opening of the novel introduces the reader to the narrator of the book, Ponyboy Curtis. He is fourteen, his parents died eight months ago and he is living with his two older brothers. The book is written entirely in first person point of view, so the reader is always in Pony's head and sees the world through his eyes.
The first event in the book is Pony walking home from the movies and getting jumped by some Socs. This immediately establishes the main conflict of the book; the fighting between the Socs and the Greasers. Pony is quickly rescued by the gang; Two-Bit, Johnny, Dally, Steve, and Pony's brothers Sodapop and Darry. But Darry yells at him for not using his head. This establishes the secondary conflict; the family conflict. Darry and Pony argue frequently, because they just don't understand each other and poor Soda is often in the middle playing peacekeeper.
Later that night; Pony, Johnny, Dally, and Two-bit wind up at the drive-in movies. Pony and Johnny ingratiate themselves with a couple of higher class girls, which will lead to the events in the next part of the story. The girls, of course, have boyfriends that they ditched because the boys were being dumb and drinking. When they go to take the girls home, the boyfriends come along and almost start a fight. These girls are important because Cherry and Pony seem to connect straight away. They find they can talk about their respective groups and learn a bit about how the other half lives. Of course, talking to the girls upset their boyfriends and when Johnny and Pony are out by themselves, the Socs find and jump them.
Johnny and Pony had fallen asleep out in the vacant lot by their houses, by the time Pony wakes up and makes it home, it's way past midnight. Pony and Darry get into a huge shouting fight and Darry hits Pony, sending him running out into the night. Pony finds Johnny and they go to a nearby park to cool off. Pony had just about decided to go home when the Socs pull in looking for the boys that picked up their girls. Side note: Madras shirts are checked patterned shirt of various colors. I had to look it up.
It's been established that Johnny had been beaten and frightened by these four or five Socs before and now carries a switchblade. When one of the Socs starts to drown Pony in the fountain, Johnny stabs the Soc with his knife and kills him. The other Socs run away. Johnny and Pony go to Dally who tells them about a place to hideout. The spend a week in the abandoned church until Dally comes to update them on what the police and gangs are doing. Johnny has decided to turn himself in rather than run for the rest of his life, also sparing Pony a life on the run estranged from his brothers. However, when they get back to the church to get their stuff, it's on fire.
This is the plot device used to get the gang all back together, while providing some extra drama. I mean, really, where did this school group come from and why were they up there to begin with. And then there's missing kids to find inside the church, because naturally when an adult says don't go in there; that's the first thing they're going to do. So the greasers save the kids and are injured and rushed to the hospital.
Here is where the story gets emotionally rough. Because I loved Johnny, he and Pony were my favorite characters. Rationally, I know that Johnny almost had to have something like this happen to him. He would've gone to jail for killing that Soc, because the Socs and their families had all the power. Jail probably would've killed Johnny. So the back injury was a way out of that, but it was also a prison sentence itself. It would've trapped him at home with no way to leave when his parents fought. And his father is an abusive asshole; so he would've probably killed Johnny sometime. So as much as I cried and felt bad; dying was really the only way out for Johnny. It might have been the only way out for Dally too. Dally had been getting wilder and more dangerous throughout the book and when Johnny died he just snaps. He obviously wanted to die; he'd been around cops often enough to know that if he pulled a gun, even an unloaded one, they'd shoot him. And then there's poor Ponyboy who kind of shuts off his feelings for awhile to cope with all the tragedy.
Throughout the novel the two conflicts keeping growing until they come to a head and then only seem to kind of resolve. The tensions between the Socs and Greasers ignites when Johnny kills the Soc. And then climaxes with the rumble where the Greasers win and make the Socs leave the East side. The family conflict explodes with Darry hitting Pony and Pony running away. When Pony comes home and sees how upset Darry was, he realizes that everything Darry yelled at him about was because he was worried about him. They come to a better understanding, even though they still fight. Soda even explodes at them about being put in the middle of the fighting, and the other two swear they will not fight as much. Of course, both the Socs laying off the Greasers and Darry and Pony taking it easy, are only temperary truces that won't last forever. However, for Ponyboy at the end of the book, they'll have to be enough.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Day 2: Beginning Notes

Susan Eloise Hinton was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was sixteen when she started writing her first novel. The Outsiders was published in 1967 by Viking. The Outsiders received a lot of attention and gained her almost instant fame. After a three year battle with writer's block, she finally started writing a new story. And in 1970, she got married. That Was Then, This is Now was published the following year.

Rumble Fish was published in 1975 and was the book Hinton was most proud of as literature. Four years later, Tex was published in 1979. Tex would be the last book S.E. Hinton published for nine years.

Four years after Tex was released, quite a few major events took place in S.E. Hinton's life. In March of 1983, the movie The Outsiders was released. The following August, Nicholas David,her son, was born. Two months later the movie Rumble Fish was released.

In 1985 the movie version of That Was Then, This Is Now was released. Three years later S.E. Hinton became the first person to receive the YASD/SLJ Author Achievement Award. Taming The Star Runner was released in October of that year. It was the first book that S.E. Hinton had published that wasn't in first person.

In 1995, Big David, Little David was published. It was written for children around the kindergarten age. The Puppy Sister, also published that year, was a fantasy book written for Elementary school level children.

Her latest two books are Hawks Harbor, her first non-teen or kid book, and Tim's Stories, a collection of stories with intertwining characters.

The Outsiders is set in 1965 Tulsa, Oklahoma; although neither of those fact are stated explicitly in the novel. It is the coming of age story of Ponyboy Curtis who is fourteen when the novel begins. He is a greaser, a kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Someone without much money who runs around with a gang and fights with the Socs, the rich kids. Sometime before the novel starts, Ponyboy's parent are killed in a car accident and he and his brothers are left alone. Darry, the oldest at 20, is raising Sodapop, who's sixteen, and Pony. Soda has dropped out of school and started working to help Darry with the bills.

There is an underlining fear that the two youngest brothers' could be taken away by the state if there's too much trouble, so the brothers' are careful to stay out of the worst of the trouble in the neighborhood. Of course, trouble finds Ponyboy and that's most of the plot of the book.

Ponyboy is not like the other greasers. He is very smart and sensitive. Great things are expected of him and Darry puts a lot of pressure on Pony to do well in school so he can go to college. Darry gave up his college dreams to raise his brothers and he wants Pony to get the chance he had to forfeit. This means Pony has to do his best to get a scholarship, because they couldn't afford it otherwise. The rich/poor dichotomy is very evident in the novel. The gap between the haves and have nots is large and the social antagonizing is displayed throughout the book. Pony is about the only character to realize that things are rough all over, that people have problems no matter where they are, that there isn't too much difference between soc and greaser.

The novel also deals with some tough issues. There's the social lines that can't really be crossed. There's the violence, Pony is jumped in the first pages of the book and makes reference to the fact that Johnny had been jumped really bad awhile ago. Then there's the fight at the fountain and the shooting. Then running away from family and police. Child abuse, underage pregnancy, dropouts, skipped classes, robbery, jail are all topics that come up in the novel. It's no wonder that teachers love to use this as a reading assignment there's so much touched on in such a small book.

This book has probably stayed on the classics list for two main reasons. Teens can relate to the characters and themes; and Teachers can teach the book and add a multitude of topics to their discussions that can be related to the novel.

Tomorrow, I start really reading the book. So expect in depth summaries and criticism. Until then, adieu.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Project : Books called Literature

Week One. Day One.
This is a blog for literature lovers and students of the written word. The goal of this project is to read one (or more if I get on a roll) literature book per week for six months. I'll read the book over the course of the week and write a brief summary, then an in depth review/critique of the book. One goal is to discover what makes a book a classic. Why are some books read over and over in literature classes and others never read at all? I plan on reading and reviewing both well known books and ones that are not read as often. The first book is The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Almost every junior high school student in America has to read this book. Why is it considered a classic? We'll find out.