Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 13: Gilbert Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One day, Sergeant Thwaites asks Gilbert if he can drive. Gilbert lies that he can’t; he spent his entire childhood driving the delivery car for his mother’s cake business, and when he went to Kingstown for night school, he had to drive his Elwood’s produce truck, which broke down so often that he never got to go to school. He joined the RAF to escape menial work like this and was assured that he’d be trained as a “wireless operator/air-gunner or flight engineer,” but so far his entire regiment has been doing grunt work behind the front.
When he immigrates to England later, Gilbert will attempt to find professional work and be thwarted. This repeated experience links his time in the RAF to his life as an immigrant. It also suggests that British reluctance to give professional work to immigrants isn’t a matter of job scarcity but a desire to preserve white status and prevent immigrants from feeling like they belong.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
Gilbert protests to Sergeant Thwaites that he wants to train for a posting to the front, but the officer dismissively tells him that it’s wartime and he must do as he’s told. Gilbert remembers Elwood’s assertion that “the English are liars.”
Although Gilbert will never fully subscribe to Elwood’s views (or take his advice), he frequently remembers his cousin in times of trouble, or in moments of acute disappointment in Britain.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon