Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Small Island (continued)

Posted by nliakos on June 17, 2006

I’m on Chapter 30 now, more than halfway through the book. The book depicts English and American racism during the 1940s, as seen through the eyes of Jamaicans Gilbert and Hortense and also from the perspective of the Englishwoman, Queenie. It is appalling to imagine (yet I know it still exists today, albeit more hidden). Take this excerpt from Chapter 30, where Gilbert describes his fruitless hunt for a job in London:

I yearned for home as a drunk man for whisky. For only there could I be sure that someone looking on my face for the first time would regard it without reaction. No gapes, no gawps, no cussing, no looking quickly away as if seeing something unsavoury. Just a meeting as unremarkable as passing your mummy in the kitchen. What a thing this was to wish for. That a person regarding me should think nothing. What a forlorn desire to seek indifference. (p. 260)

It makes me wonder how Gilbert could preserve any sense of self-esteem at all, yet he continues to believe in himself and to describe his experiences with humorous irony. How realistic is this? And what about people who, unlike Gilbert who grew up in a majority black culture, were raised in a racist white world (as in the U.S.)? What happens to their sense of themselves?

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