On Seeing England for the First Time
The effect of imperialism on small colonies is sometimes intrusive and constrained. Jamaica Kincaid devotes her essay, Seeing England for the First Time, to her profound mysticism she has towards England as she grows up on the island of Antigua before it becomes an independent country. With descriptive language, Kincaid reveals her frustration for England within the classroom and at her home through use of imagery and satire.
The earliest memories of England Kincaid has is when she was in school as a child. Kincaid opens her essay with sarcasm by saying that England looks “[gentle, beautiful, delicate, like] a very special jewel; [laying] on a bed of sky blue- the backdrop of the map- its yellow form of mysterious, because though it looked like a leg of mutton, it could not really look like anything so familiar as a leg mutton because it was England”. Kincaid creates imagery that seems appreciative at first, but then quickly becomes sarcastic. She goes on about how special and elegant England appears to be, but really, it is just as ungraceful as a piece of cooked meat. However, the rest of the world does not recognize this about England because England’s reputation is known to be agile, leading Kincaid the frustration that England does not get the enmity it deserves. She then continues her sarcasm by saying, “England was a very special jewel all right, and only special people got to wear it. The people who got to wear England were English people…..[they wore it] in places where they were not welcome, in places where they should not have been.” By sarcastically saying that England is a jewel that only special people got to wear hints that being English is like being in an exclusive club that an average person could not be a part of because only the privileged wear things like jewels.
As English people carry themselves with that jewel, Kincaid describes them to wear it in places they were not welcome, revealing that England is intrusive and rude. As Kincaid goes on about describing her classroom experience with England, she reminisces hearing her teacher compare England to Jerusalem by saying it is the place to “go when you die but only if you have been good.” The city of Jerusalem is the holy land where people seek righteousness, and to compare deceitful England to such an orthodox place is absurd. However, being ruled by England, the educational curriculum teaches that England is a place where people got “a sense of what’s meaningful [and] meaningless”, proving that England people are brainwashed to falsely think that a country like England is also a place of virtue. Kincaid’s frustration roots from seeing people be infatuated with England when in reality, England is invasive, disrespectful, and mendacious.
Although Kincaid sees England for the first time in the classroom, English culture is all around her, even in her home. Each morning before she leaves for school, Kincaid describes eating “a breakfast of half a grapefruit, a bowl of oat porridge, bread and butter and a slice of cheese, and a cup of cocoa”. Even with the food she eats, Kincaid is showing how her life is closely intertwined with the English lifestyle. The lengthy description of her typical morning meal mocks the lavish English lifestyle and proves that her life is heavily influenced by English customs. She describes each box or article of clothing to have “Made in England” labeled on it, which plays as an ironic, subtle reminder that while Kincaid and her family live in a colony owned by England, they do not actually live in England and are not apart of their exclusivity, despite how intrusive it is. Kincaid realizes that while the English lifestyle is all around her, she will still, thankfully, never be English. With this knowledge, it is impossible to not feel smothered and annoyed with the invasive and disrespectful English culture that she grew up with.
There is no escaping from the English lifestyle. Although Antigua is isolated from England, one cannot get away from its demanding customs. From constantly learning about England in the classroom, only to come home to the expectation of behaving, dressing, and eating like an English person, there is no room for individuality or Antigua its people. Kincaid does not fall into the ignorance of those who blindly follow England’s demands, but she develops her own opinions of England that it is invasive, brainwashing, and disingenuous as it smothers Antigua without allowing it fight back for its native originality. Jamaica Kincaid’s frustration for this is revealed
through satire, as she manufactures the idea that imperialism is detrimental as it transforms indigenous countries to the monarch’s customs.