Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 22: Hortense Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hortense imagines Celia laughing at her as she looks around the cheerless room and then quickly bundles up to protect herself from the cold. She starts scrubbing the room and tiding up, only to be interrupted by Queenie. Hortense resents that Queenie enters without a formal invitation and starts instructing her in English phrases, even though Hortense is very proud of her proper English.
Queenie is trying to be friendly to Hortense, but by assuming she’ll be ignorant and grateful for any assistance offered, she’s patronizing her. Hortense will never feel as comfortable with Queenie as Gilbert does, which is a reminder that, for all her open-mindedness, Queenie still retains some of her imperial assumptions. In addition, even good intentions, if expressed unwisely, are not perceived as such.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Queenie questions Hortense about her marriage; she’s surprised to find that Hortense has only been married for six months and spent most of that time away from her husband. Queenie offers to show Hortense the neighborhood shops, and Hortense agrees so the other woman will leave her alone. Before leaving, Queenie asks curiously if they have films in Jamaica. When Hortense replies haughtily that there are many cinemas, and that she enjoys Shirley Temple films, Queenie laughs at her.
It does seem a little silly that Hortense loves children’s films; but by laughing at her, Queenie’s behaving rudely and in a way she probably wouldn’t toward an English person. Queenie’s always careful to treat Gilbert with respect, but she doesn’t apply this caution to Hortense. It’s possible she behaves this way because Hortense is a fellow woman, or because her respect is reserved for immigrants who seem more “assimilated” or knowledgeable, like Gilbert.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon