Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 33: Hortense Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Meeting Queenie at her door to go to the shops, Hortense is horrified to see the Englishwoman’s dreary coat, at first believing it to be something she only wears indoors. For her part, Queenie is surprised to see Hortense dressed up in her best coat and freshly washed gloves. She reassures Hortense that she’s not ashamed to be seen with her; Hortense wonders why she would say this, given that Queenie is the one venturing out in a scruffy outfit with no gloves or jewelry.
This chapter will exemplify the difference not only between Hortense and Queenie as characters, but of the two societies they represent. It’s especially important that both women consider the other a liability—Hortense is embarrassed by Queenie’s disheveled clothes, while Queenie knows she’ll be judged for associating with Hortense because of her race.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Outside, Hortense is astonished to find that every Englishwoman is dressed like Queenie. Queenie explains the concept of a grocery store as if Hortense has never seen a shop before, but Hortense is too busy looking at the strange and uncouth people around her to be frustrated. When she asks the grocer for condensed milk, he can barely understands her; this perplexes Hortense, since her she had the best diction in her college. Requesting bread next, she’s disgusted to see him handle the loaf with his dirty hands, even wiping his nose while he holds it. Thinking that Hortense has never seen it before, Queenie explains what bread is.
Hortense developed her manners, mode of dress, and even speech aspiring to fulfill British norms of manners and propriety. Now, she’s realizing she conforms to those norms much more thoroughly than the British do. Given that, Hortense is technically more “civilized” than they are, so it’s especially ironic that the British continue to look down on Hortense.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Looking inside a draper’s shop, Hortense is surprised to see bolts of cloth lying all over the floor, many of them dirty and frayed. She explains to Queenie that in Jamaica, all the fabric is organized by color on neat shelves; in response, Queenie simply expresses surprise that there are draper’s shops in Jamaica.
Queenie’s inability to comprehend Hortense’s background, even though she’s a comparatively open-minded character, shows how deeply ingrained British prejudice against colonial citizens is.
Themes
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
In the hardware store, a child points at Hortense and shouts to his mother that she’s black. When they leave, some young men shout slurs at her from across the street. One of them throws a piece of bread at Queenie, but she just hustles Hortense away rather than confronting them. As they walk home, Queenie explains that it’s probably best if Hortense, “a visitor to this country,” steps off the pavement when an English person wants to pass. Hortense is disgusted by the suggestion that a woman should walk in the busy road.
Even though Queenie was annoyed when Mr. Todd told her how her tenants should behave, when she sees how prone Hortense is to harassment in the public sphere, she advises her to cave in to prejudice. This shows that even Hortense’s daily life hovers close to danger, and that Queenie isn’t immune to the pressures posed by her racist neighbors.
Themes
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
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Their argument ceases abruptly when they reach the house to find a tall, thin man standing at the doorway. Hortense has never seen him before, but Queenie is speechless and collapses into Hortense’s arms as she recognizes Bernard.
Queenie and Bernard’s reunion isn’t exactly romantic. In this way, it parallels the Hortense and Gilbert’s disastrous first night in London.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon