Small Island Andrea Levy

How does Levy tell the story in the Prologue? Levy uses a number of different techniques and aspects of narrative in order to tell the story in the prologue of Small Island. She opens the story in the perspective of Queen, but when she was a child (before’) – (use of time as an aspect). This is also the use of characterization to tell the story, because the perspective lends a naivety to the telling of the story, the most prominent example being when Queen meets the African man – she is intimidated by him and is too young to hide it.

She is fascinated by him, and also attracted to him – but as a child doesn’t she realize that – forever Emily and Graham do, and proceed to tease her. There are underlining themes of ignorance, power and prejudice (of the British) in the prologue, which are part of the context of the time and place in which the story is set. Ignorance is shown immediately, when one of Quinine’s teachers tells her that ‘Africa was a country. She is not even a child, but a grown woman, and she does not know that a region belonging to her own empire is not in fact a country, but a continent.

Irony is also added because she is a teacher, so she should be teaching the next generation correctly, but ignorance has affected her knowledge. These themes are shown again when the family visit the different countries in the exhibit. Her mother rejects every delicacy each country offers to her; seemingly she was ‘not interested in the different woods of Burma or the big-game trophies of Malaysia’. Notice the word ‘different’ in that quote – the reason she is not interested is because they are different and unfamiliar – I. E. Not important to her.

The family (who in this case are used by Levy to represent the British in general at the time) are wary of these different and unusual cultures and characters – at one point Queens mother told her not to touch the Indian women, because of the red dots on their foreheads – ‘in case they were contagious’. If she was interested in her own countries empire, she would have known that the dots were a practice of the women’s religion. In the prologue, Levy focuses on issues of race and class, again using the context of what society was like before and during the ass.

The issues of race are shown in the way that the British act around the foreign people at the exhibit. Graham tells Queen that the African people are ‘not civilized’; that the woman won’t understand him. He doesn’t think that hey have been educated, which shows his ignorance and also prejudice towards people of a different race – he doesn’t think that they are worthy of being educated. Again the prejudice is shown when Emily and Graham tease Queen about kissing the African man. Kissing a person of a different race should not be seen as wrong or something to make fun of, but to them it is.

Then Graham again demonstrates the ignorant prejudice that the British have for the foreigners when he ignores the African man’s directions to the toilet, simply because he is black, and ends up having to Wee behind some bins’. Even Queen, if unknowingly, shows some views of inequality in her description of the black woman she sees, describing her as ‘a shadow come to life’. The image of a shadow is not only dark (depicting her skin) but is of something that is not really there, something that is left behind a body, so is second to it, less superior.

The fact that Queen views the black woman the same as learn that being white does not make you superior. And Levy delves into more complex ideas than Just racism. There is also a divide in class in the book, shown by the family’s treatment of Graham and Emily. Levy describes Fathers employees as outside girls’, ‘inside girls’ and ‘stupid boys’ – as if they have no names, therefore no identity – because effectively they belong to the family as their workers.

When her father first meets Graham he refuses to address him by his real name, simply because he ‘can’t be bothered with it’ – he is taking away Graham’s identity and his character, and Graham has no choice, so he ‘learned to answer to both’. This idea of Queens family being above their workers is extended when her father exerts his power once more by dismissing Graham’s dream of going to live in Australia with ‘Australia – you? You daft beggar. He can call Graham what he wants – whether it be Jim or beggar – because he is his boss and of a higher class.

And yet another example is Queen using Emily as a bin (in a way). She offers Emily her apple core – so Emily gets Queens ‘sloppy seconds’ so to speak, and is disposing of the apple for Queen. Levy uses Queens father as a voice for the issues of class and race in the prologue, but the irony in this is that later on, her father calls her a ‘daft ‘parrot’. This isn’t educated English, and contrasts with the African man’s polite etiquette and proper English – ‘It’s nice to meet you. So in actuality, Queens father acts like he is of a lower class than the foreign people, but thinks of himself as better than them.

Although the reader doesn’t know it, Levy has already started to create and background and add development to the story that will occur later – she is using the aspect of the starts and endings of stories in her narrative. When Queen meets the African man, we see already that she is fascinated by him – and it is hinted that she is also attracted to him. The fascination is shown by her detailed description of him that includes extensive use of hyperbole, simile and metaphor – for example – ‘His SSE, squashed flat, had two nostrils big as train tunnels. And the attraction is shown through her choice of language – she describes the man as ‘carved from melting chocolate’ – chocolate is an appealing thing, so the black man is appealing to her. Queen is using the most dramatic comparisons she can think of, because it describes how different and ethereal this man seems to her. This fascination and attraction later explains her attraction to Michael and the affair she has with him, so Levy is giving away a crucial part of the story before it has even really begun, adding to the narrative by establishing the story in advance.

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