Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 35: Bernard Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In a flashback, Bernard describes his time in the RAF. He’s deployed to India, and he arrives in Bombay to a bewildering chaos of beggars, street vendors, and rowdy children. Bernard’s comrades jeer at the Indians, considering them savages. He’s happy to get on the train, which makes him feel as though he’s back in England.
Gilbert’s experience in the RAF enlarges his worldview and helps him develop personally. In contrast, Bernard already seems hostile to any experiences that might force him to change or reevaluate his values.
Themes
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Redemption Theme Icon
Queenie hadn’t wanted Bernard to join up until he was conscripted. However, Bernard knew that if he was drafted, he’d go into the infantry, which is much more dangerous than the RAF. When he enlists, he’s assigned to ground crew, rather than a glamorous pilot position. He’s a little disappointed, because he would have liked to return home to Queenie as a proud and dashing pilot. He knows that she too would enjoy having such a heroic figure as a husband.
Ironically, Gilbert and Bernard have similar experiences in the army—both daydream about heroism, but both are considered unfit as pilots, Bernard as an older professional and Gilbert as a Jamaican. This fact draws the two characters together, even if they never fully realize it.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
When Bernard’s unit reaches the base, he’s unceremoniously thrown from the truck into the ground. Everyone runs for cover, as the truck has arrived in the middle of a Japanese air-raid. Bernard lands on top of another soldier in a trench, and another man crashes onto him. When the bombing stops, they hurry to clear away some Japanese planes that have been shot down. A British pilot lands and announces to applause that another Japanese plane has crash-landed not far away. A friendly soldier next to Bernard introduces himself as Maxi, and explains that these bombings happen every day.
Bernard’s arrival at camp is not unlike the nightly bombings he and Queenie lived through in London. In both cases, by relating terrifying events in an understated, almost casual tone, the author emphasizes the proximity of war to the events of daily life, while also pointing out that it’s sometimes impossible to truly grasp its scope.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
A unit of Indian troops (Gurkhas) captures a Japanese pilot and bring him to the camp. To Bernard, the pilot looks to be no older than twelve or thirteen; he’s impervious to the jeers of the soldiers as he walks by. Maxi tells Bernard that he will be shot.
Despite his ingrained prejudices, Bernard understands that the pilot is no more than a child, and feels guilt regarding the boy’s imminent death. It’s immediately clear that, contrary to his daydreams, life in the army won’t consist of cut-and-dry heroism.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
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