Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 28: Queenie Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
With the war effort becoming increasingly urgent, Bernard joins the RAF. Queenie feels responsible for his decision, as she suspects he feels bad for not contributing when he sees her volunteering every day. Even though she doubts her husband—a rail-thin clerk who “blew on his tea before he drank it” can be a good soldier—she becomes uncharacteristically proud of him, and is happy when neighbors stop her in the street to ask about her husband. When Bernard leaves, she wants to give him a tender farewell, but he stiffens when she hugs him and they part without saying anything. Afterwards, Queenie realizes that now she’ll have to wait even longer to have a baby.
Providing the couple with a common anxiety, Bernard’s enlistment allows Queenie to imagine for a moment the kind of marriage she really wants. Because she knows how wives of soldiers are “supposed” to behave, it’s easy for her to play the part, especially in public. However, in private moments, Queenie’s relationship still seems stilted and inadequate, and this dissatisfaction is reflected in her rueful wish for a baby.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
Now that Bernard is posted overseas, Queenie is singlehandedly responsible for Arthur. Because of his insanity, Queenie has always compared him to an apostrophe, “a mark to show where something is missing.” Now that she’s getting to know him better, she learns to read his facial expressions, and she appreciates his expert gardening skills. While all food is rationed and produce is scarce, Arthur grows huge vegetables in the backyard and takes over the cooking; he even waits patiently in the queues for food, so Queenie doesn’t have to do it. At night, they play Monopoly; Arthur always wins.
Until this point, Arthur has been largely on the sidelines; however, now he emerges more forcefully. With his patience and domesticity, Arthur is a stark contrast to Bernard’s controlling and overconfident masculinity. However, when it comes to contributing to the household and taking care of Queenie, Arthur does a much better job than Bernard ever could.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
Queenie’s friend at the rest center, Franny, asks her to host three officers she knows who need a place to stay while they’re on leave. Queenie knows Bernard would immediately reject the idea, but when she consults Arthur, he seems to agree. When the officers show up, shy and grateful for her hospitality, she’s startled to find that one of them is Jamaican, a handsome man named Michael Roberts. Watching them joke with each other and jump down the stairs for a night out on the town, Queenie feels very old.
In instances like these, it’s Queenie’s resentment of Bernard, rather than confidence in herself, that drives her to assert her own independence. Importantly, Michael, Hortense’s long-time love, seems to have reappeared in Queenie’s narrative, shortly before he ostensibly dies in a plane accident.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
In the morning, only Michael gets up early. Queenie offers him some tea while she cleans the kitchen; she’s flustered by his good looks and the keen attention he pays her, and she feel disheveled and dowdy. In the evening, while his companions go out again, Michael produces a rare orange and some American chocolates to share with Queenie and Arthur. The two men play poker, and Queenie is impressed by Michael’s kind attitude to Arthur and willingness to let him cheat.
Michael’s tenderness to Arthur is a noticeable contrast to Bernard, who never played games with his father and rarely seemed to notice him. In her husband’s absence, Queenie experiences models of masculinity centered around kindness and compassion.
Themes
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
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When Arthur goes to bed, Queenie asks Michael about his origins—like many English people, she initially thinks Jamaica is in Africa. He tells her that his mother and father are dead, and that he doesn’t miss home because he has no one left behind. He tells her that once he saw a tiny hummingbird—Jamaica’s national bird—in the middle of Piccadilly, and it made him feel familiar even though he was far from home. As he tells the story, he begins to caress Queenie’s hair.
Michael’s claims about his family are clearly untrue. On one hand, they reflect his own deep unhappiness with his strict childhood, even if he was the privileged child in the house. On the other hand, his disregard of Hortense shows that he never appreciated, or even noticed, his cousin’s love for him. In that respect, he’s much less sensitive than he seems to Queenie right now.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon