Small Island Andrea Levy

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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 Queenie, but when she was a child (‘Before’) – (use of time as an aspect). This is also the use of characterisation to tell the story, because the perspective lends a naivety to the telling of the story, the most prominent example being when Queenie 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 realise that - however 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 Queenie’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 Queenies 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 womens 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 40s. The issues of race are shown in the way that the British act around the foreign people at the exhibit. Graham tells Queenie that the African people are ‘not civilised’; that the woman won’t understand him. He doesn’t think that they 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 Queenie 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 Queenie, 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 Queenie views the black woman the same as her family does also shows that Queenie has a journey to go through in order to 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...
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