Small Island

Text

The room was pitiful in the grey morning light. I thought it tumbledown last night but daylight was happy to show me more of its filthy secrets. Plaster missing from a bit of the wall. Jagged black lines of cracks everywhere. A missing handle on the chest of drawers. No basin in the sink. And there were lacy white patterns on the windowpane. Frost. I was taught by my headmistress, Miss Morgan, that frost is to be found on the outside of a window in England, but my curious finger got fastened to this stuff. Sticky with cold it melted under my warm fingertip on the inside of the room! For the useless fire roared with fierce heat only when I stood right on top of it. One inch, that was all. one inch back and the heat no longer reached me. Two inches, and I was in need of my coat. Three and it was as wintry as it was on the street. This room would not do. I could hear Celia Langley laughing on me. ‘The Lord surely moves in mysterious ways, Hortense,’ her mocking tome exclaimed.

But I paid her no mind. I opened my trunk. The bright Caribbean colours of the blanket the old woman had given me in Ochi leaped from the case. The yellow with the red, the blue with the green commenced dancing in this dreary room. I took the far-from-home blanket and spread it on the bed.

Miraculous - it was then I heard a bird sing. Oh, so joyful. Finding colour through a window its spirit rose to chirrup and warble. ‘Don’t laugh on me, Celia Langley’, I said. ‘Just watch me, nah.’ I determined then to make this place somewhere I could live - If only for this short while. For England was my destiny. I started with that sink. Cracked as a map and yellowing I scrubbed it with soap until my hand had to brush perspiration from my forehead. Pulling the stinking tin potty from under the bed, ‘You next,’ I told it. But then there was a knock on the door.

Commentary

The 2004 novel Small Island explores the destiny of newly arrived Jamaican immigrants to London in the 1950s. The contrast between the colour found in nature in the Caribbean, described earlier in the book, and the cold, grey and dilapidated bed-sit environment of west London is brought directly into focus by Hortense's arrangement of her blanket in her lodgings.

Themes

Physical / Emotional States
Labour
Identities
Human Relationships

Dominant Representational Strategies

Elements

Dwelling

Type
Residential
Detail
Apartment
Historical Terminology
Lodgings
Specified Social Level
Poor

Activities

Type
Hygiene and Upkeep
Intellectual, Cultural and Spritual
Detail
Cleaning
Arranging
Thinking

Rooms

Type
Multifunctional Living Space
Historical Terminology

Inhabitants

Type
People
Detail
Adults
Female

Objects

Type
Coverings and Hangings
Furniture
Equipment
Detail
Supporting, Storage and Display
Tools, Utensils and Appliances
Heating

Bibliography

Direct Cross-References

Small Island

Levy, Andrea 2004

Book, JA2009

Indirect Cross-References

Names
Levy, Andrea
Date(s)
2004
Country
United Kingdom
Historical Region
Description
Format
Book
Type
Genre
Novel
Publication
Levy, Andrea, Small Island, Headline Review, London, 2004, p.225
Copyright
Copyright 2004 Andrea Levy/Headline Book Publishing
Location
Record ID
JA2008