What if you're an "incredibly unattractive, fat, pastrylike-fleshed man"?: teaching Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place.
Literature (Study and teaching)
Frederick, Rhonda D.
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Name: College Literature Publisher: West Chester University Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Literature/writing Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2003 West Chester University ISSN: 0093-3139
Date: Summer, 2003 Source Volume: 30 Source Issue: 3
Product Code: 8425000 Literature NAICS Code: 71151 Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers SIC Code: 8999 Services, not elsewhere classified
Named Person: Lorde, Audre; McMillan, Terry

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Drawing from Audre Lorde's ideas on power and language, extant essays about Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place, and the text itself, "What If You're an 'Incredibly Unattractive, Fat, Pastrylike-fleshed Man'?" develops a strategy for teaching A Small Place that emphasizes how students might learn to read it, despite and because of its provocative style. This essay describes how Frederick taught students' unmediated responses to the text to introduce a discussion of how Kincaid places them as readers. She supported this emphasis with a close reading that paid particular attention to the author's multiple definitions of "tourist" and of "white people," as well as to Kincaid's shifting subject position. Finally, Frederick tested the resultant interpretation by using it to analyze Terry McMillan's How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Guiding students through this process allowed her to foreground Kincaid's writerly strategies and concerns--specifically her concerns with power. ********** When power enters the playing field, [mainstream students'] desires for a common humanity often give way to something else. Irritation. Impatience. A wish that "they'd just get over it" so that everyone could just get on with their lives, not having to bother with trying to work out where they fit in this overwhelming picture of global oppressions. (Lindsay Pentolfe Aegerter, "A Pedagogy of Postcolonial Literature")

People need self-consciously to shape the direction of their desiring and to struggle against the decline and deformation of the possible. (Peter McLaren, "Critical Literacy and Postcolonial Praxis")

Sadly, to sell itself, the Caribbean encourages the delights of mindlessness, of brilliant vacuity, as a place to flee not only winter but that seriousness that comes only out of culture with four seasons. So how can there be a people there, in the true sense of the word? Derek Walcott, "The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory")

During my first year of full-time teaching, I designed an introductory Caribbean literature course. My desire was to expose students to the literature and to extend their knowledge of the region beyond its beaches. To introduce some of the extra-literary issues that informed our primary readings, I assigned Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place among other texts. This text, more than any other, forced me to ask: "what kinds of productive pedagogical strategies can result from teaching A Small Place to students at a U.S. university, students who are likely to be 'tourists'?" In thinking this question through, I learned something about my role as teacher and about my pedagogical methods. Through reading A Small Place, I hoped my students would be open to another perspective and that such openness would allow them to be able to interrogate their own subject positions, to initiate a reorientation of their (presumably) Western worldviews, and to foster a recognition of the workings of oppression. However, I found that--initially--students were angry, defensive, or otherwise closed to Kincaid's text. These attitudes necessarily challenged my teacherly goals. (1)

Such "diversions" put me in search of advice on how to teach through them. I found several useful essays, ones that shed light on my students' responses and enabled me to solidify my own approach to teaching Kincaid's essay. In "A Pedagogy of Postcolonial Literature," Lindsay Aegerter confesses to be being worn out by "mainstream students'" less-than-positive responses to A Small Place and similar texts, and integrates into her classes reading assignments (identified as "pre-readings" in the essay) that discuss colonialism, racism, economic exploitation, and their impact on oppressed peoples. These pre-reading assignments are designed to prepare students for Kincaid's provocative style and content; additionally, they might assist students who "have a tendency to see themselves ... in opposition to the literature--as the enemy--rather than recognizing that in postcolonial representations of contradictory subjectivity ... there is a space for at least momentary alliance" (1997, 149). Finally, Aegerter encourages teachers to identify and foreground points of alliance where students can empathize with post-colonial and multicultural writers' ideological positions.

In "Critical Literacy and Postcolonial Praxis," Peter McLaren diverges from Aegerter's emphasis on points of identification. Such an identification lacks an analysis of power, particularly as it is imbricated in language and in "specific forms of practical competency-literacies--that ... have been pressed into the service of the dominant culture" (1992, 7). McLaren claims that literacy restrains when it "is merely functional. It harnesses ideology to social relations of domination, encouraging individuals to form their values, politics, and reading of the world in static, reified images produced by the dominant culture" (10). He develops this idea of stasis when he says, "if we conjure only those ideas we already have the words to express, then our presence in history remains more or less comfortably static. Part of this crisis is reflected in the unavailability of subject-positions in which students are permitted to practice forms of radical critique" (16). By encouraging students to appreciate "others'" views merely through recognition of their own "otherness," we teach the functional kind of literacy that McLaren describes. It is the possibility for more than functional literacy that I find intriguing. Whether or not students radically change their positions, I believe it is important for them to witness ideas that they do not "already have the words to express."

Postcolonial and multicultural writers often write out of their differences from dominant culture; they also articulate the various ways they have been made marginal to that culture. Drawing from their challenges to racial and ethnic stereotypes, their cultural differences, and differences that have been effaced and/or perverted in traditional narratives, these writers often break down divisions between the literary (non-fictional and fictional) and the "real." (Breaking such barriers demonstrates how important creative expressions of experience can be, particularly for students who believe that literature is merely entertaining.) Overemphasis on moments when reader and writer are "the same" can reduce, or worse, continue to efface differences that motivate postcolonial and multicultural writings and may re-establish boundaries between literary and extra-literary worlds. If read in this context, emphasis on identifying points of congruence re-presents differences as "things" to be negotiated and eased, rather than the "fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic" (Lorde 1984, 111). If students are directed merely to see themselves in the work of Jamaica Kincaid, I worry that they might "overlook" important differences between their experiences and those Kincaid seeks to articulate.

In offering an alternative to empathy, I intend to shift emphasis from points of identification between privileged students and postcolonial/multicultural writers and ideologies to investigations of "new ways of being in the world" (Lorde 1984, iii), ways that might productively engage intersections between the world and the classroom. The difficulty in making this shift is manifest; nonetheless, I believe that an attempt even a somewhat successful attempt--at a different kind of reading/teaching strategy is more productive than teaching students to fold difference into their already familiar worldviews. If it is true that "how we talk about our world largely shapes our understanding of why things are as they are, which images of 'that which is not yet' are possible and desirable, and what needs to be done for matters to be otherwise" (McLaren 1992, 15), teaching methods designed to placate students' angry responses advance an understanding of the way things are rather then the ways they could be.

Pre-readings designed to minimize the impact of A Small Place can make for a less stressful classroom. However, there are other approaches and I am particularly interested in those that advance critically engaged analyses of Kincaid's text. Audre Lorde makes this point quite effectively. In "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," she asks, "what does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable" (1984, 110-11). (2) Speaking explicitly to white women and about women of color, Lorde argues that:

A stark schematic of this quotation can highlight its import. When speaking of oppressions, women still bear more of the burden of responsibility than do men; similarly, women of color continue to bear more of the responsibility than do white women. Stated as such, it is clear that these responsibilities are burdens, ones that lock women and women of color into constructs that confine them as well as work against substantive change. In other words, systems of patriarchy and white supremacy "understand" women and people of color as "others" and as those especially charged with identifying oppressions. Under such a model, oppressed peoples are "understood" even when they try to resist: they are angry people with "chips on their shoulders" they blame "everyone else for their problems," and they practice "reverse racism" (Aegerter 1997, 142, 143). Lorde suggests that this kind of "understanding" is limiting and affirms patriarchy and white supremacy as the only ways of being in and interpreting the world. In "Master's Tools," she argues that this mindset must be challenged in order to make room for oppositional worldviews. Lorde persuasively argues that "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change" (1984, 112).

Drawing from Aegerter, McLaren, and Lorde's essays, I developed a strategy for teaching A Small Place. Importantly, I also drew from Kincaid's text as well as my knowledge of Caribbean and African American literatures. I sought to let A Small Place teach students how to read it, largely by using Kincaid's writing strategy as a critical resource. I encouraged and taught students' unmediated responses to the text to introduce a discussion and analysis of how Kincaid places them as readers. I supported this emphasis with a close reading of the text, one that paid particular attention to the author's multiple definitions of "tourist" and of "white people," as well as to Kincaid's shifting subject position. Finally, I tested the interpretation that resulted from this method by using A Small Place to interpret Terry McMillan's novel How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Guiding students through this process allowed me to emphasize Kincaid's writing strategies and her writerly concerns--specifically her interest in issues of power. This process also helped students improve their reading and interpretive skills; it assisted their evolution into critical readers. I do not believe I can force students to be conscious of "where they fit in [an] overwhelming picture of global oppressions" (Aegerter 1997, 142), but I can instruct them on the skills necessary to begin this process.

Notwithstanding students' dramatic first reactions, I found this teaching strategy singularly productive. I learned that teaching A Small Place is not merely about teaching one of Kincaid's works; neither is it only about teaching a piece of post-colonial literature. It is about both of these things, but as I am interested in a pedagogy of change, A Small Place offers students a different and generative strategy of reading, interpreting, and understanding themselves, as individuals and as scholars. In the end, my method acknowledges McLaren's idea that "the task of the critical educator is to enable individuals to acquire a language through which to reflect upon and shape their experiences" (1992, 8).

Even a cursory reading of Kincaid's oeuvre supports the assertion that she is interested in evoking strong reactions from her readers. This idea is most apparent in A Small Place where she uses 81 pages to deliver critiques of English colonialism, tourism in Antigua, racism, corruption in the Antiguan government and local corporations, and local peoples' responses to these issues. Yet what appears to be the most provocative aspect of the essay--at least in a U.S. context--is the author's use of the second person singular pronoun "you." She defines this "you" as a tourist, as North American "or, worse," European (1988, 4, 5), as white (male and female), and as "incredibly unattractive, fat, [and] pastrylike-fleshed" (13). It is not surprising, particularly with regard to the last two descriptions, that students who identify as "tourists," as "North Americans" or "Europeans," or as "whites" are angered by A Small Place. (3) But it is significant to note that Kincaid's writing prevents readers from distancing themselves from the text and her criticisms; on the contrary, it firmly places readers where Kincaid decides they should be. I want to emphasize these points because I begin my teaching of this text by focusing on the relationship between writer and readers. Unless readers of A Small Place are Antiguan (or of Antiguan descent), they have to be "incredibly unattractive, fat, pastrylike-fleshed" people; Kincaid does not allow them any other option. As a consequence, I behave the author's narrative actively works against a strategy that encourages students to find "points of identification or congruence between [their] own lives and those being represented in their reading" (Aegerter 1997, 143). Because Kincaid uses the second person singular deliberately, it is our task as readers to determine why she does so and to identify what purpose it may serve. To this end, I guide students through a close reading of A Small Place. In addition to the previously mentioned reason, this close reading can move students beyond their initial reactionary and defensive postures. A close reading of Kincaid's essay reveals multiple definitions of "tourists" and of "white people" and offers attentive readers insight into the author's narrative goals.

I would posit that mainstream students have rarely questioned--and have rarely been asked to question--the centrality of their own beliefs. I believe this is why, when oppressed peoples articulate their concerns, such students can respond with statements like: "can't she get beyond all that, everything happened so long ago" (Kincaid 1988, 34). Only in the absence of this kind of self-critique can mainstream students believe that "everything happened so long ago" For others, however, "everything" continues to have an effect. It is in this context that I find A Small Place singularly instructive. Kincaid's use of tourist discourse (what some might describe as "brochure discourse" or "the language of tourism") seduces readers, particularly potential "Spring Breakers" from the U.S.; then her content demands that they consider the position in which she places them. She makes her U.S. readers part of and witness to the world--and world-view--of an African descended, culturally Antiguan, naturalized American who is profoundly disturbed by what she perceives. But they are not yet agents in this world. Kincaid's artistry, then, lies in her ability to destabilize readers' established ways of knowing themselves. (4) As a teacher, rather than comfort students and restabilize their subject positions, I want to teach them to treat Kincaid's rage as a language, and one that is best suited to speak her experience (McLaren 1992, 9). I begin our analysis of A Small Place at the stage where "you," "tourist," and readers are rendered most simply.

Although I find it productive not to simplify either A Small Place or my approach to teaching it, for clarity's sake I want to describe my process as twofold. First, by treating the essay as "text"--genre, form, style, technique, reading strategies, etc.--I can facilitate the development of students' critical skills. Second, by focusing on Kincaid's content, I can manifest Lorde's idea that there are different ways of seeing and responding to the world, one of which is Jamaica Kincaid's. I want students to use--rather than simply react to--the view that Kincaid provides them. By "use" I mean that students must add her perspective to others that engage oppressions to get a broader picture of the issues and to facilitate the kind of change Lorde suggests. Again, although I conceive of my teaching strategy in parts, I do not want to suggest that they are separate. It is vital that students understand that Kincaid's form informs her content, and vice versa.

Kincaid's accusatory "you" is evidence of a distinction between author and reader. In the essay, she describes tourists as "white," "ugly," "empty," "stupid," "fat," and as "rubbish." But, significantly, careful reading will reveal that she makes a distinction between white people who remain at home and white people who travel abroad. She makes further distinctions between white North Americans and white English people. These distinctions suggest that Kincaid is not solely interested in attacking white people or otherwise making them "feel bad." Although the author occasionally resorts to name calling (I cannot interpret the following references to white people as "blobs" and "boobs" as anything other than this), I argue that she chooses her descriptive adjectives to draw attention to the process through which whites, North Americans, and English people become tourists and benefit from the exploitation of Antiguans.

Ultimately, through her arresting language (and through shifting subject positions that I address below), Kincaid foregrounds power relations and the implications of such power. It is in this context that I ask students to reflect on where Kincaid's "you" places them. The author contends that "you" never consider "that the people who inhabit the place in which you have just paused cannot stand you," that "they do not like you" (1988, 17). She continues by imagining the trajectory of this line of thinking:

It is important to remark on where the shift occurs in this quotation, between "you feel a little out of place" and "but the banality of your own life...." Kincaid notes tourists move from a suspicion of being disliked (and presumably some intuition about the causes of this dislike) to their interest in their own boredom.

Directing her comments to the above-mentioned people, Jamaica Kincaid says that "you are not an ugly person all the time.... From day to day, you are a nice person" (1988, 14). She continues by mapping the process through which a "nice person" becomes a "tourist," suggesting that the transformation results from a modern ennui. She says that

Rather than identify, examine, and then attend to the issues that cause feelings of "displacedness" in their everyday lives, nice white people leave their homelands and possessions--escape their lives--and become tourists. This interpretation suggests that the problem is not merely that nice people leave home; rather it is the "simple-minded" way in which they do it. I use the phrase "simple-minded" deliberately, for Kincaid argues that North American and English peoples abandon complex selves and complex lives to become, simply, tourists. To further this argument, Kincaid lists some issues that make nice peoples' home lives complex:

Yet unlike these people, "tourists" often are not "whole." They want sun, fun, and pleasures, but they do not want to he reminded of the home--and problems--they left behind. In fact, they attempt to escape into Antigua's paradisiacal "reality." Geographer Bonham C. Richardson supports Kincaid's observations when he states that:

The Caribbean-as-paradise is a myth so strong that oppositional stories hardly register for Western tourists. But for the region's local residents, the myth is inextricably tied to racial, economic, and political exploitation; in addition, local peoples are not able to divorce the myth from other realities. Escapism and simplicity are luxuries that people from "a small place" like Antigua can little afford. They do, instead, immediately recognize the benefits that tourists reap, whether or not tourists are aware of them. Disparities become apparent as soon as tourists arrive at Antigua's airport. Kincaid observes, "since you are a tourist, a North American or European--to be frank, white--and not an Antiguan black returning to Antigua from Europe or North America ... you move through customs with ease. Your bags are not searched" (1988, 4-5). Although tourists desire simplicity, both Richardson and Kincaid make it clear that they move within contexts that are far from simple. But again I want to stress that the latter does not simply represent white people as simple-minded, but that she is most concerned with how and in what context they become so.

In her focus on power relations, Kincaid is less concerned with empathy than with more productive responses. The author uses the second person singular strategically to position readers in her world. This technique indicates that she does not speak to tourists who might share her opinion; her initial concern is not with readers who know what she knows. Rather, she seeks to identify the havoc wrought when tourists do not understand the implications of their vacations or their roles in various systems of power. My pedagogical approach to A Small Place seeks to maintain and employ the author's goals. I also engage Audre Lorde's call for a different ideological system, one that does not merely replicate patriarchal or white supremacist positions. However, these intentions do not eliminate student resistance; instead, my plan for teaching Kincaid's essay anticipates some of it. Rather than militate against students defensive responses, I put them in service of a close and critical reading of the text. This can move students from a reaction to A Small Place to an engagement with it. In the absence of this movement, students can read the essay uncritically and, therefore, overlook the author's critique of English colonialism, Antigua's neo-colonial government, local peoples' equivocal relationship to their past and present, and interrelationships among these. (5) Such students also are not open to the complexities of Kincaid's argument. When, for example, Kincaid makes explicit the similarities between tourism and slavery, students focused on her characterization of the tourist cannot see that, according to the author, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Referencing Antigua's inadequate sewage system (overwhelmed by the number of tourists), Kincaid says, "the contents of your lavatory might ... graze gently against your ankle as you wade carefree in the water." She immediately continues, "the Caribbean Sea is very big and the Atlantic Ocean is even bigger; it would amaze even you to know the number of black slaves this ocean has swallowed up" (1988, 14). Readers can see that there is a connection, but Kincaid does not map it explicitly. We explore the possibilities of such a connection--dehumanization of enslaved African peoples, emphasis on tourists over Antigua's local residents--in class discussion.

A Small Place has moments where the idea of shared, complex subjectivities can be seen. Kincaid claims that tourists and local people share a desire to change their lives--even if only for four days and three nights (1988, 1819). Yet this connection exists as an introduction to a more pressing concern; a larger economic/social context asserts itself here. Although similarities between "tourist" and "native" exist, Kincaid notes a central, and profound, inequality. "[Antiguans] envy [the tourist's] ability to turn [Antiguans'] own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for [themselves]" (19), and yet "some natives--most natives in the world--cannot go anywhere. They are too poor ... and they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live" (18-19). In noting this common desire to escape, Kincaid simultaneously recognizes that power and privilege exist as sources of their differences. I do not want students' "momentary alliance" or "empathy" to replace a recognition/examination of their privileged place of power (white-skin privilege, class privilege, and "first world" privilege). I want students to recognize the roots--and implications--of Kincaid's critique, and of her legitimate anger--possibly against them as individuals, but significantly against their unexamined role in oppressive relationships. Accentuating students' defensiveness and/or empathy maintains their central place within a nexus of representations, namely a discourse of tourism that merely understands the Caribbean as paradise and a discourse of colonialism that privileges capital (what money can buy), service (slavery and the tourist industry), and whiteness above all else. This type of interpretation assigns to the background Kincaid and the views she seeks to represent.

After I solicit their "gut responses" to the text (a solicitation that initiates the above-described interpretive process), I ask them to consider the author's techniques and goals: why would she employ such language?, what she could hope to achieve?, where does she position herself in the problems she identifies? I continue by asking them to look carefully at her word/phrase choices, encouraging them to hone their skills at close textual analysis. At each stage, students weigh their examined reactions to the text against those of their classmates and against Kincaid's; they also measure their close readings against their gut reactions as well as against the writer's goals. Although I guide students through these steps, I invite them to reach their own epiphanies about the text. Thus I assist them in becoming active participants in their own learning. Additionally, I believe that this process maintains A Small Place, Kincaid, and the communities of which she is part at the heart of the story; Kincaid-the-author is the agent to whom students/readers must respond.

To get an idea of the issues at stake in A Small Place, and for Kincaid, I ask students to consider the promotional blurbs in and on the book's cover. I read her essay, among other things, as an Antiguan-centered response to Western depictions of this island as a tourist's "paradise." Yet the blurbs invoke the very "paradise" that the author critiques. For example: Kincaid's Antigua is a "damaged paradise," "[Kincaid's] language soars above her anger and her outrage, exquisitely evoking the elegant rhythms of her tropical island home," "[A Small Place] tells more about the Caribbean in 80 pages than all the guide books" (1988, back cover; my emphasis). The first of this list still understands Kincaid's country as a paradise, albeit a damaged one; the second blurb is explicit in its invocation of the discourse of tourism. Finally, the last declaration positions A Small Place as one among many Caribbean guide books. I draw attention to these blurbs, essentially designed to sell the book to potential readers, because many of them work against the text itself. I ask students to think about the rhetorical impact of the blurbs (potential tourists to Antigua might be misled by the cover and confused by the author's Critique of neo-/colonialism) as well as Kincaid's essay. This line of interpretation will emphasize writers' choices and intent, whether they seek to elicit particular responses or convey information.

I do not offer preliminary readings for A Small Place. By offering students no preparation, I seek to maintain the writer/reader positions that Kincaid's writing strategy creates. Her radical use of the second person singular marks A Small Place as a text that speaks and thinks from the margin, as opposed to one that speaks to the center from the margin. To set up this interpretation, I ask students to attend to Kincaid's discussion of white expatriates in the Antigua of her childhood, which supports this contention. Because of their belief in white civilization, Antiguans did not recognize racism in the behavior of the Czechoslovakian dentist-cum-pediatrician who "would send his wife to inspect us before we were admitted to his presence, and she would make sure that we didn't smell, that we didn't have dirt under our fingernails, and that nothing else about us--apart from the colour of our skin--would offend the doctor" (1988, 28). Neither would they perceive racism in the behavior of the Northern Irish schoolteacher who "told these girls over and over again to stop behaving as if they were monkeys just out of trees" (29). Instead, Antiguans saw these people as "ill-mannered," "un-Christian-like," "small-minded," and "like animals" (29). Kincaid states that her fellow Antiguans "felt superior, for we were so much better behaved and we were full of grace, and these people were so badly behaved and they were so completely empty of grace. (Of course, I now see that good behaviour is the proper posture of the weak, of children)" (30; my emphasis). The "posture of the weak," imposed upon (to facilitate subjugation) or learned by (to enable survival) formerly enslaved and colonized Antiguans, was "normal" in the Antigua Kincaid describes. However, in writing A Small Place, Kincaid chooses a decidedly different tactic. She chooses to be "ill-mannered," enraged, and out-of-order because being mannerly, peaceful, and orderly has been prescribed for, demanded and expected from people like her. Her style, therefore, must necessarily tell a radically different story--and tell it differently.

I hope students will appreciate their classmates' interpretations of A Small Place, even if each is wholly different. I hope that they acknowledge my informed reading of the text. I hope, too, that angry and/or defensive students come to reconsider their positions. But whether or not students realize any of my hopes, I concern myself with directing them through a thorough use of the text in support of their opinions. Teaching by example, I draw their attention to passages that sustain my interpretations. This pedagogy demands that my analyses be subject to the same textual rigor as those of students. An added bonus is that this textually based analysis heads off complaints that I impose my interpretations on the class, for I always point to A Small Place for confirmation. Accordingly, students who challenge my interpretations must do so by citing examples from the text.

Nevertheless, this textually based pedagogy sometimes fails. It is difficult, for example, to convince some students that Kincaid is not purely motivated by animosity toward white people. However, they have to work very hard to maintain this opinion and, in doing so, they still learn to use the text productively. Ultimately, even when I do not agree with my students' interpretations of Kincaid's essay, I respect and encourage their critical handling of it.

After devoting a significant amount of time to analyzing A Small Place closely, I turned our attention to Jamaica Kincaid, specifically where she places herself in her narrative. This investigation centers on how such placement can influence our interpretation of her content. (This line of questioning also helps them negotiate their own shifting subject positions, from self-interested reader to informed witness.) Throughout A Small Place, Kincaid shifts between insider (Antiguan) and outsider (Antiguan American) positions while maintaining her place as author. At times, it is hard to tell which subject position she occupies. We can find Kincaid-the-Antiguan in unambiguous representations of A Small Place and its people ("we Antiguans, for I am one, have a great sense of things, and the more meaningful the thing, the more meaningless we make it" [1988, 8]) and in the author's reference to a white-only club ("we Antiguans thought that the people at the Mill Reef Club had such bad manners, like pigs" [27]). Readers can also witness the author positioned as an Antiguan American in her harsh critique of tourism, the local government, and the continued English presence in the country, for her criticisms would have to take on a different caste if her survival depended on tourism, the government, and the local English elites.

Some of my students argued that Kincaid's narrative fails, and it does so because of her "privileged" subject position. They noted how easy it was for the author to critique Antiguan tourism and its neo-colonial government because she lives and works in the United States. This is a valid criticism, to be sure; yet, I asked the students to consider whether Kincaid's freedom to speak these truths (as she sees them) undermines the veracity of these claims. Kincaid does take full advantage of her subject positions, yet she leaves readers to ponder, for example, whether Antigua's overwhelmed sanitation system somehow becomes under-whelmed because her privileged position allows her to discuss it. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize the author's shifting place in the narrative she weaves. What better way to show students that their own positions to the essay can similarly shift?

Finally, I move from our consideration of the author's subject position back to one of her narrative goals. A Small Place demonstrates Kincaid's investment in tourisization, or the process through which one becomes a tourist. She makes this interest plain when she declares, "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 that" (1988, 17; my emphasis). With eyes focused on paradise, Kincaid's tourists are blind to the limits of this vision. For example, Kincaid continues: "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 strangeness" (17).

Introducing another of our required texts, Terry McMillan's novel How Stella Got Her Groove Back, at this point both supports the idea of tourisization and allows students to test Kincaid's narrative strategy. (Bringing McMillan's text in here also gives students an example of how to "use" Kincaid's essay; the latter can provide a critical/interpretive frame through which Stella can be read.) Kincaid specifically identifies her tourists as white, but including Stella supports the notion of tourisization by tracing it in other contexts (class, national identity).

McMillan's novel details an African American protagonist's transition from a high-powered business executive to a tourist. Stella shares many characteristics with Kincaid's tourist, a fact that can be understood in terms of nationality as well as class. Speaking generally about African American tourists in the Caribbean, Ian Strachan argues that "although many of [them] are often quite deliberate about giving their money to an independent black nation with whom they share cultural and historical ties ... we should not make the mistake of thinking that others of them do not come in search of the same leisure, sun, gambling, and duty free liquor that white ... tourists take advantage of" (1995, 10-11). Strachan adds that:

In addition to the class privilege that radiates from the pages of McMillan's novel--Stella stays at an expensive all-inclusive resort in Negril, Jamaica. She consistently overtips "because [she believes] in the power of tipping" (McMillan 1996, 105), and she is liberal with her spending at home (254) and in Jamaica (216)--the novel still acknowledges whiteness as a very real feature of Caribbean tourism (Stella is one of only two African American guests at the resort). Yet Strachan's point is well taken. In his/her desire for sun and fun, "tourist" is largely defined by the ability to purchase both things.

In addition to the class privilege that white and black tourists can share, both sets of tourists are profoundly self interested. That which motivates Stella's trip to Negril is her desire to get her "groove" back. Since the novel features lengthy discussions of Stella's sexual exploits, readers can equate her "groove" with sexual satisfaction. McMillan's protagonist says that she is "losing [her] morals down here on this island and yet [she is] enjoying every single minute of it" (1996, 207). Importantly, while readers witness Stella's moral "decline" in almost lurid detail, we receive predictably familiar representations of Jamaica and Jamaicans: hot and beautiful oceans and landscapes (57); attractive, dark-skinned men with "white white teeth" (57) whose penises are described as "fire hoses" (44) or "big flapping dicks" (46). In its emphasis on sun, fun, and various forms of "relaxation," How Stella Got Her Groove Back provides a one-sided representation of the island. The flatness of McMillan's characterization draws readers' attention to who and, more importantly, what is central in the novel: Stella and her groove.

Perhaps unwittingly, McMillan recounts a moment when the protagonist almost steps outside of the tourist persona. It occurs when she (finally) travels beyond the grounds of the all-inclusive resort. Exploring Negril's countryside on horseback with her guide, General, Stella sees a "girl standing in her bra and panties inside the living room of the house, ironing something. Our eyes meet and there is something like disgust in hers for me. I sort of get it, but I go ahead and sit on a handmade wooden bench and drink my Ting while the General drinks two Red Stripe beers" (1996, 109). The speed with which McMillan glosses over this encounter invokes Kincaid when the latter states: "You see yourself taking a walk on that beach, you see yourself meeting new people (only they are new in a very limited way, for they are people just like you). You see yourself eating some delicious, locally grown food. You see yourself, you see yourself ..." (1988, 13). It is not an accident that this passage ends as it does; Kincaid could not be any more explicit. And on this point I anchor my argument that "white people" and "tourists" may be related, but not necessarily synonymous. The act of escaping their unexamined lives in addition to a profound self-interest defines the typical tourist. Both characterizations also make tourists blind to the implications/impact of their vacations. Kincaid's A Small Place focuses on the fact that tourism, as an industry, allows (encourages?) tourists merely to "see" themselves.

Kincaid and McMillan both identify tourists' self-interest by noting that they are not constitutionally unable to perceive complex issues, nor are they unable to locate themselves within different socio-political systems. The former claims that "the banality of your own life is very real to you; it drove you to this extreme, spending your days and your nights in the company of people who despise you, people you do not like really, people you would not want to have as your actual neighbour" (1988, 18). Kincaid raises issues of race and class chauvinisms here as part of what makes the tourist's life at home complicated; she also raises the idea of race/class privilege that characterizes a tourist's experiences.

As we move toward the end of our time with Kincaid's A Small Place, I expect students to appreciate the ways the author complicates her discussions of tourism, class, slavery, and colonialism. After working through the essay, students should also have the critical and interpretive skills necessary to judge the effectiveness of the author's narrative approaches as well as the text's content. When, for example, Kincaid describes tourists as "incredibly unattractive, fat, pastrylike-fleshed [men and women]," she might be speaking from personal prejudice. However, I ask students to consider the face of tourism pre-1988 (when A Small Place was published), the impact of the industry on Antigua and on Antiguan people, and the similarities between modern tourism and slavery. Add to these Terry McMillan's rendition of Stella-as-tourist and students are left with an unflattering representation of tourists, those who are oblivious to, but nonetheless imbedded in, very complicated circumstances. Students might consider Kincaid's rhetorical techniques particularly ineffective, but this position would have to derive from something more complex than reactive anger or defensiveness. In other words, their interpretations of A Small Place have to derive from "a variety of critical languages" (McLaren 1992, 17).

As McMillan's Stella quickly moves from "sort of" getting why the Jamaican woman looks at her with disgust to enjoying her Ting (1992, 109), Kincaid's "you" is equally disinclined to examine his/her discomfort. Yet where McMillan provides a character on which readers can heap criticisms, Kincaid offers "you." Embracing all readers within her "you" construct, the author animates thought processes and behaviors that have been normalized. Removing the mediating character, Kincaid makes it difficult and, I would argue, unproductive for readers to shift responsibility. Thus Kincaid raises consciousness about thoughtless (unthinking) behavior and about the connections between individual experience and social, economic, and political issues. Readers of A Small Place cannot merely "go on vacation" without acknowledging the contexts in which they circulate.

Moving away from the above-mentioned features of A Small Place, we turn our attention to paradoxical moments in the text. I ask, for example, that they consider what the author means when she reflects on her use of "the language of the criminal" to critique "the criminal's deed" (1988, 31-32). This request is not as simple as it appears, for at another point in the essay, Kincaid remarks that because "abusive language" was illegal in England, police had to use a dictionary of West Indian English to determine whether (and when) these immigrants' language was abusive (25). This anecdote reveals a complication of which the author does not appear aware: "the criminal's language" and West Indian English are not the same. I also contend that the author's language differs from them both, particularly as A Small Place successfully employs it to delineate the criminal's crime. Language, then, evolves and can "speak" from various positions, about various concerns. This is but one example of the kinds of critiques that can result from different approaches to this text.

I agree with Professor Aegerter that being subjected to students' resistance, as well as their preconceptions, can be tiresome. The teaching method in "A Pedagogy of Postcolonial Literature" is considerably less stressful for the teacher, but I see it as an attempt at using "the master's tools to dismantle the master's house." I am not naive enough to think that my way of teaching will be successful every time, but I do believe that it adds to diversity in a useful way, one that A Small Place makes clear. I hope attention to varied ways of knowing will lead to productive teaching methods and, possibly, productive "politics of daily living" (McLaren 1992, 15).

I want all students to be uncomfortable when reading A Small Place. Yet I want them to move from their discomfort to a textually supportable critique of the essay. If I am successful, students will become proficient at close textual analysis, and also be primed to engage texts that explicitly map the contours of imperialism, colonization, slavery, oppression, and white supremacy. I hope they can learn to move through this process without becoming bogged down by their own reactive responses; in fact, I expect that students will come to recognize that their anxieties drive Kincaid's rhetorical strategy. I, too, believe that the method with which I teach Kincaid's essay can be used creatively with other texts, for it engages Lorde and McLaren's desire for "forms of critical practice that can interrogate, destabilize, and disorganize dominant strategies of power and power/knowledge relations and that in doing so teachers may envisage a means of enlisting pedagogy in the construction of a radical and plural democracy" (McLaren 1992, 8). Such a strategy can shift focus from students' familiar ways of knowing to less familiar and--it is important to emphasize this--equally valid ones. I believe such a strategy is possible if one uses ideological views that are central to postcolonial/multicultural literatures to shape--rather than expand on--the classroom environment.


(1) I would be disingenuous if I did not mention that a few students read through their discomfort and recognized Kincaid's style as a strategy designed to inform and affect readers. While this essay is primarily concerned with students who were not able to do this, I want to take a moment to discuss the former group. These students tried to make sense of their initial discomfort with the text by interpreting it through the course's themes and readings. I valued their efforts because (as discussed below) I hope to guide students through the process of critical reading.

(2) Although in another context, Jamaica Kincaid comes to the same conclusion: "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? And what can that 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" (1988, 31-32).

(3) My students have said that Kincaid is "way too angry," that her anger "turned them off" or otherwise prevented them from accepting "her message." They sometimes absented themselves from her critique ("she's not talking to me, I'm not that kind of tourist"), or they were overwhelmed by it ("what can we do?"). Interestingly, many of these students re-read A Small Place looking for solutions to the problems Kincaid identifies (she offers few), as if her style would be more palatable if she told readers what to do.

(4) Aegerter acknowledges this notion of destabilization: "defamiliarization is an effective tool in helping students to question previously held assumptions" (1997, 143). However, she then states that the price of this kind of reorientation is her own mental well being. I do agree that it can be frustrating to have to face students' anger and defensiveness semester after semester. Yet preliminary reading assignments, not to mention Aegerter's characterization of texts like Kincaid's as "antagonistic, accusatory, and oppositional to [students]," imply that Kincaid's take on the world and her anger are excessive, vaguely unjustified, and simply intended to attack readers. Professor Aegerter's pre-reading assignments and description of post-colonial ideologies also do not recognize Kincaid's skill as a writer. Finally, I believe that Professor Aegerter's teaching method maintains mainstream students--rather than Kincaid and peoples victimized by oppression--as central to the issues in texts like A Small Place.

(5) In their focus on self--their anger, their defensiveness--students often overlook Jamaica Kincaid's critique of Antiguans, a critique that takes up over half of the text. No Antiguan escapes the author's critical eye, from corrupt government officials to local people who fail to acknowledge links between tourism and slavery, signified by their celebration of the Hotel Training School where Antiguans learn to be "good servants" (1988, 50).

Works Cited

Aegerter, Linsday Pentolf. 1997. "A Pedagogy of Postcolonial Literature." College Literature 24 2 (June): 142-51.

Chowdhury, Kanishka. 1992-3. "Teaching the Postcolonial Text: Strategies and Interventions." College Literature (Double Issue) 19.3/20.1 (October/February): 191-94.

Cliff, Michelle. 1988a. "A Journey Into Speech." In The Graywolf Annual Five: Multicultural Literacy, ed. R. Simonson and S. Walker. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press.

--. 1988b. "If I Could Write This in Fire, I Would Write This in Fire." In The Graywolf Annual Five: Multicultural Literacy, ed. R. Simonson and S. Walker. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press.

Kincaid, Jamaica. 1988. A Small Place. New York: Plume Books.

Lorde, Audre. 1984. "The Master's Tools will Never Dismantle the Master's House." In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press.

McLaren, Peter L. 1992-93. "Critical Literacy and Postcolonial Praxis: A Freirian Perspective." College Literature 19.3/20.1 (October/February): 7-27.

McMillan, Terry. 1996. How Stella Got Her Groove Back. New York: Signet.

Mohan, Rajeswari. 1992-93. "Dodging the Crossfire: Questions for Postcolonial Pedagogy." College Literature 19.3/20.1 (October/February): 28-44.

Ojaide, Tanure. 1992-93. "Teaching Wole Soyinka's 'Death and the King's Horseman' to American College Students." College Literature 19.3/20.1 (October/ February): 210-13.

Richardson, Bonham C. 1992. The Caribbean in the Wider World, 1492-1992: A Regional Geography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Strachan, Ian Gregory. 1995. Paradise and Plantation: The Economy of Caribbean Discourse. Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania.

Rhonda D, Frederick teaches Caribbean and African American literature at Boston College. She is presently working on a manuscript that examines historical and imaginative narratives of Panama Canal migrants and migration.
women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap
   of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our
   needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the
   oppressed occupied with the master's concerns. Now we hear that it
   is the task of women of Color to educate white women--in the face of
   tremendous resistance as to our existence, our differences, our
   relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of
   energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.
   (Lorde 1984, 113; my emphasis)

They do not like me! That thought never actually occurs to you.
   Still, you feel a little uneasy. Still you feel a little foolish.
   Still, you feel a little out of place. But the banality of your own
   life is very real to you; it drove you to this extreme, spending
   your days and your nights in the company of people who despise you,
   people you do not like really.... (Kincaid 1988, 17-18)

one day, when you are sitting somewhere, alone in that crowd, and
   that awful feeling of displacedness comes over you ... you make a
   leap from being that nice blob just sitting like a boob in your
   amniotic sac ... to being a person visiting heaps of death and ruin
   and feeling alive and inspired at the sight of it.
   (Kincaid 1988, 16)

ordinarily, you are a nice person, an attractive person, a person
   capable of drawing to yourself the affection of other people (people
   just like you), a person at home in your own skin ... at home on
   your street, your church, in community activities, your job, at home
   with your family, your relatives, your friends--you are a whole
   person. (Kincaid 1988, 15-16)

in their quest to get away from it all for a week in the winter,
   white Americans want no experiences with black hostility, which they
   feel they already know from their own country. So groups of tourists
   can be typically loud and offensive while expecting deferential
   servility from their "hosts." Caribbean governments, with an eye on
   tourist profits, reinforce these expectations. It is perhaps
   needless to point out that this economically-imposed servility is
   galling in the light of the obvious (at least to Caribbean peoples)
   inequities mirrored in the juxtaposition of luxurious tourist hotels
   that are the domain of white tourists and wooden shacks occupied by
   local peoples. (Richardson 1992, 127)

black tourists are often very aware of their status as Americans and
   as a result view the rest of the world as backward.... Industrial
   scale tourism has simply done its demographic homework and begun
   targeting a new constituency, one which usually wants the same
   vacation packages as white consumers.... Class operates here above
   racial difference. (Strachan 1995, 11; my emphasis)
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