Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 19: Gilbert Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Gilbert arrives in London again, he’s proud to feel familiar and at ease, unlike the other Jamaicans on his ship who stare at everything. Stepping off the ship, Gilbert sees a sparkling brooch on the ground. He wants to pick it up, thinking that Hortense would like it, but as he bends down he realizes it’s a cluster of flies perched on dog excrement. Gilbert moves back and another man immediately steps on it.
Gilbert’s mistake with the “brooch” seems like a comical episode, but the moment of optimism, followed immediately by disappointment, actually foreshadows many of the frustrations Gilbert will face in the ensuing months—for example, his many hopeful job applications which are largely rejected based on his race.
Themes
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
Gilbert spends his first nights sharing a “malodorous” room with six other Jamaican men. They’re all sure that the arrangement will be temporary, and that they’ll find good jobs and apartments without delay. On the contrary, Gilbert spends two months there. It seems impossible to find a landlord who will rent to a person of color; they all tell Gilbert that other lodgers, wives, children, or neighbors would be “outraged if a colored man came among them.”
While Gilbert was comparatively welcome in England as a uniformed soldier, it appears that’s no longer the case. Faced with an influx of permanent, rather than temporary, immigrants, the English begin to mirror the behavior of the Americans.
Themes
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
In desperation, Gilbert remembers that he still has Queenie’s address. Hoping the house hasn’t been bombed to pieces, he rings her doorbell, which doesn’t work. Eventually Queenie answers the door, and although she’s surprised to see him, she welcomes him inside.
Queenie’s behavior continues to set her in contrast with those around her. Her open-mindedness makes her similar to the highly empathetic Gilbert; it also represents a shred of hope for improvement in the midst of a demoralizing period of his life.
Themes
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Redemption Theme Icon