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Small Island – Andrea Levy

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    Small Island is a book written by Andrea Levy mainly based on race, War and prejudice in London in 1948, the story is explain through the point of view of 4 different narrators including flashbacks into their pasts. One of the narrators is Gilbert, who appears the charming fool a Jamaican newlywed who served in the RAF during World War II, hopes for a prosperous future in London, though his experience of racial discrimination tells him this won’t be achieved easily.

    This is shown when he is stopped from sitting next to Queenie and Arthur by the usherette and after heated words between them and American soldiers it leads to the death of Arthur (183-193), as well even after serving for England after he rejoins civilization he is still treated poorly His young wife, Hortense, is more naive.

    Arriving from Jamaica via the empire windrush, hoping to take up a teaching career, as well as trying to find her former flame Michael who left Jamaica to join the RAF after being caught having an affair so in a desperate need to continue her dream marries a Gilbert thinking life in England would be great however she is soon in despair over rude rejections and her struggle to make herself understood, literally and figuratively, by white working-class neighbors who don’t seem to comprehend the English she learned in her home island.

    However towards the end she and Gilbert bond more and eventually take in Queenies baby Michael to raise as their own after she plans to leave Queenie’s house and settle down with Gilbert Queenie is a tough, level headed survivor, with a good heart. Brought up on a pig farm in Yorkshire, from an early age she grows to hate the smell of the pigs, the squalor and the blood. With dreams of escape, she finally gets her wish when her kindly Aunt sends the train fare to London. Queenie is open-minded and hungry for new experience. She like Hortense goes to London with hope in her heart.

    Despite trying to better herself with elocution lessons, she can never quite shake her Yorkshire vowels. However an unexpected death forces her into the arms of the educated but rather uninspiring Bernard as to keep her dream Queenie believes that her dreams are lost to her forever. After Bernard goes to war she is forced to look after Bernard’s Mentally ill father and during this she sleeps with Michael a black serviceman she invites to her house who impregnates her, and after Bernard doesn’t return from the war she later invites a man she had earlier met Gilbert after he rescued her father in law o stay at her house along with his wife who would be arriving as well as a few other lodgers. Queenie and Hortense initially clash however unsurprisingly due to their similarity in life they eventually bond and become as close to friends as they could be which eventually ends in Queenie giving them the baby she had with Hortense’s former companion Michael.

    However after Bernard returns he blatantly shows unhappiness as black civilians living at the house “Did they have to be coloured” however Queenie seems to be the only white person in the book who doesn’t judge a person based on the colour of their skin Bernard is the husband of Queenie Bligh’s bank clerk husband who seems to be quite stuck up and racist and he is shown to be the complete opposite of Queenie, his dad Arthur who served in World War 1 suffers from shellshock leaving him to not speak after meeting queenie Bernard changes from being repressed and quiet to being quite lively and affectionate after marrying queenie whom he loves he reverts back to being his closed down self and leaves to go and join up with the army where he befriends a guy named Maxi however after his death Bernard who seemed the gentle and nonviolent type he got in a fight, and cheated on Queenie with a seemingly under aged prostitute and got what he thought was a life threatening syphilis however It seems to be just a simple Flu.

    And after two years away he then goes to see Maxi’s Family and then eventually returns home to the shock of queenie ”and I was collapsed sitting on the pavement” however Bernard simply replies Indeed when Queenie talks to him showing his ‘boringness’ which Queenie seems to dislike The story starts with a flashback to the past when Queenie was a child. Levy starts with this is as it starts with a showing of the racism as queenie calls the British empire exhibition as Africa due to the black people there showing that racism was imprinted onto children at a young age as well “go on queenie, kiss him, kiss him” is as if the black man has some sort of disease so Emily is saying I dare you to do it Quotes Gender “A wife must do as her husband say. You ask a judge. You ask a policeman. ” (Pg. 24)- This shows how women have little or no free will – implied with the word “must”.

    Adding to this by using titles such as “policeman” and “judge” (which both are positions of authority and power) Levy suggests that it is ‘law’ and there will be consequences if this ‘law’ is broken. “Everyt’ing in that trunk belong to you. What is hers is yours and if she no like it then………. a little licking will make her obey” (pg. 24)-This implies that during WWII women owned nothing outright and whatever they did have was owned by their husband Racial “A shadow come to life” (pg. 5)-This gives the image of black people being almost ‘half’ alive and not being as good as white people. “’She can’t understand what I’m saying….

    They’re not civilised. They only understand drums’” (pg. )- This is the assumption that all white people made that black people are inferior to them and have no concept of language; they can only communicate using primitive methods. “A monkey man” (pg. 6)-Levy is showing how black people were viewed as animalistic. This gives the image of them being savage, uncivilized and uneducated. “His lips were brown, not pink like they should be” (pg. 6)-Black people are abnormal and therefore inferior to white people. Alternatively it could show the naivety of people living Britain. “Big nigger man” (pg. 6)-This racism is worse as it is a child using it, showing how racism was deeply rooted in English society so much so that children would use it

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    Small Island – Andrea Levy. (2016, Sep 11). Retrieved from

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    What is special about Andrea Levy?
    Andrea Levy FRSL (7 March 1956 – 14 February 2019) was an English author best known for the novels Small Island (2004) and The Long Song (2010). She was born in London to Jamaican parents, and her work explores topics related to British Jamaicans and how they negotiate racial, cultural and national identities.
    What is the message of Small Island?
    Small Island is, at its core, a story of dreamers dreaming of better lives. The main characters all are in pursuit of something more than their current situation: Hortense wishes for a better life in England, Gilbert dreams of becoming a lawyer and Queenie wishes to leave the farm she grew up on.
    What is the plot of Small Island?
    Andrea Levy's Small Island tells the story of post-war Caribbean migration through four narrators – Hortense and Gilbert, who migrate from Jamaica to London in 1948, and an English couple, Queenie and Bernard, in whose house in London they find lodgings.

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