English 2033 Cultural Studies
Dr. Lindsy Lawrence
24 March 2013
Small Island: Mixing and Modifying Racial Roles and Ideas
Small Island is a 2004 novel by Andrea Levy which tackles the mammoth issue of racism and hybridity. The novel focuses on the diaspora of the West Indy immigration influx, and features a backdrop of the Second World War. Small Island alternates between four voices (two Jamaican and two British): Queenie, Hortense, Gilbert, and Bernard. An interesting aspect of the novel is how Levy transitions between a “before” period and 1948. Levy uses the “before” period to provide exposition and background information for the characters, while 1948 represents the present for each of the characters. Levy puts forth an amazing unbiased narrative with Small Island by stripping down both racial and gender roles. An outstanding feat of Levy's is how without her characters internal narration informing us of their race, we as readers probably would not know whether they are black or white. Small Island is a little gem of a book, and Levy craftily nudges her readers into making discoveries concerning their own racial prejudices.
The first section of Small Island begins with the very haughty young Jamaican woman named Hortense. Hortense is coming off the ship from Jamaica, and she is expecting her new husband, Gilbert, to be there awaiting her arrival. Gilbert, though, is nowhere to be seen. This leads Hortense to attempt navigating the English streets to try to find her and Gilbert's home. Upon arriving at Gilbert's address, Gilbert excitedly (and sheepishly) greets Hortense with excuses as to why he was not at the dock to pick her up. Gilbert carries a very heavy Jamaican accent; and while Hortense believes her English is pristine, she does not realize that the English people she encounters cannot understand a word she says.
From this point Hortense has an awkward meeting with Queenie, who seems to be slightly protective towards Gilbert. Gilbert...