Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 32: Gilbert Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Gilbert wonders if Elwood was right to say he should’ve stayed in Jamaica. He imagines his cousin laughing to see him in the rainy street, overcome by the “indignity and humiliation” of life in the Mother Country. He thinks about all the insults his friends have suffered. One tried to help an old women who fell in the street, only to have her scream at him and to be arrested for attacking a woman. Another was kicked out of church because of his skin color. He knows that when Hortense realizes the realities of her new life, she will lose her haughtiness and pride.
It’s important that Gilbert’s thoughts lead him not to self-pity but to anxiety for Hortense. Not only does this represent his outward-looking character, it shows that he truly does care about his wife, and that he actually values the proud demeanor that causes him so much inconvenience.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
Suddenly, a middle-aged woman runs after Gilbert, handing him a glove he dropped in the street. When she sees his distraught face, she puts a compassionate hand on his arm and gives him a candy from a bag on her pocket. Even after she leaves, Gilbert stands in the street for a long time, staring at the candy in his hand.
This moment is less a demonstration of the woman’s kindness than a representation of Gilbert’s isolation, which is so severe that even quotidian actions seem monumental to him.
Themes
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
Gilbert buys two portions of fish and chips and brings them back to Hortense so she can understand that a chip is really a fried potato. He tells her that the English eat the food directly out of the newspaper it’s wrapped in, enjoying her scandalized reaction to this barbaric behavior. As he puts the food on plates, he tells her his second lesson of the night: “not everything the English do is good.”
Gilbert has learned—and now teaches Hortense—not to depend on the British to fulfill the civilized manners for which they’re famous. From the way they eat to their closest relationships, Gilbert and Hortense have to insulate themselves from British society, rather than seeking to conform to it absolutely.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon