Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 29: Queenie Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Queenie and Michael have sex. It’s nothing like her previous experiences with Bernard, during which she usually “worked out what she could make for dinner.” For the first time in her life, she feels beautiful and takes pleasure in sex. In the middle of the night, he returns to his own room; he knocks on her door before departing in the morning, but she pretends to be asleep in order to avoid an awkward farewell.
Queenie’s night with Michael forms the culminating contrast between him and Bernard. Her positive sexual experiences firmly establishes her lover’s brand of masculinity as superior to her husband’s and also emphasizes the fact that she married Bernard for stability rather than love or passion.
Themes
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
A bit later, Arthur wakes Queenie up urgently. He’s found Michael’s wallet, which he must have left behind; inside are photos of an older couple and a young girl. Queenie worries that it’s his good luck charm, and he might not feel safe flying without it, so she decides to seek him out at the train station. In any case, she’s sure Arthur knows she slept with Michael, and she doesn’t want to spend the morning feeling ashamed in front of her father-in-law.
While Michael seems to have distanced himself from his family, the pictures he carries suggests he doesn’t want to give them up completely—even Hortense. Like all the Jamaican characters, Michael remains tied to his roots even as he seeks to establish himself within the Mother Country.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
Queenie has almost reached the station when she’s caught in an air-raid. She’s thrown across the street by the impact and loses consciousness, waking up in a cloud of soot with glass shards in her hair. Briefly, she wonders if she’s dead; then she realizes that she’s now “population,” just like all the people at the rest center. Eventually, a fireman helps her up and helps her to an ambulance; on her way, she accidentally steps on a severed hand.
The sudden bombing emphasizes that, during war, the line between life and death is very thin, even for civilians. It also shows that Queenie’s prosperity and security in Bernard’s house isn’t absolute, and can’t save her from becoming a member of the “population” that more fortunate Britons pity and scorn.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
Arthur collects Queenie from the hospital and takes her home, fretting over her ceaselessly. When he tucks her into bed, he kisses her cheek and speaks for the first time, telling her that he would “die if anything happened to you.” He sits by her bedside and watches her while she sleeps.
Like his son, Arthur is rarely emotive. However, he supports his rare declarations of feeling with care and comfort, actions which Bernard never takes.
Themes
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
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