Small Island: Hortense vs. Society
A person’s self image, whether conscious or subconscious, strongly affects how that person perceives the world around them. It influences an individual’s self-esteem, self-worth, and overall happiness. Unfortunately, the self-image can sometimes cloud a person’s vision in seeing the reality of things. In Andrea Levy’s Small Island, Hortense is a woman who grew up in Jamaica leading up to World War II, where schoolteachers were English and being a citizen of the British Empire was something she took pride in. The way she perceives her social status, as a child, is what influences all of her actions throughout her life. It isn’t until Hortense leaves her familiar world that she begins to see society is not interested in her upbringing, but on the color of her skin. While Hortense views herself as an educated and elegant woman, society places her amongst the lower class.
Growing up in Jamaica, Hortense is told that the father she never knew was a very important man whom everyone respected and admired. “My father was a man of class. A man of character. A man of intelligence. Noble in a way that made him a legend” (31). In reality, Hortense was likely born out of wedlock and was being taken care of by her mother and grandmother. She was later raised by a family in exchange for her grandmother’s freedom and was told the family was related to her father. Unaware that her father was a white man, Hortense also views herself as a higher class of darker skin, stating numerous times, “My completion was as light as [my father’s]; the colour of warm honey” (32). Her false view of her father and herself is what distances her self-image with who society sees. As she gets older, she decides to get an education to become a teacher and pushes herself higher above the average citizen. Hortense believes she deserves the best, so when she finally arrives in England in her white gloves and large suitcase, she can’t believe the run-down, single...
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