Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 36: Bernard Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Maxi takes Bernard with him on a salvage trip—an expedition to salvage parts from a British plane that crash-landed in the hills. Bernard is proud to be chosen for this important job and to have a sense of purpose. He and Maxi get along well because they’re both older than most of the soldiers, and both work as clerks in England. On their hike, they have an argument about Japanese character: Maxi argues that they are more intelligent and wily than they get credit for, while Bernard believes they function according to dumb obedience, and will thus be unable to win the war.
This is a milestone for Bernard—he’s never really had a friend before, and has never seemed so truly at ease as he does now with Maxi. However, it’s also notable that even when Bernard feels secure and unthreatened, he clings to his prejudices. While the novel often suggests that prejudice is grounded in fear and anxiety, it’s clear that Bernard’s views aren’t solely a function of this; they’re a deeply ingrained part of his character.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Once they’ve set off, Bernard realizes how dense and unpleasant the jungle is, full of flies and mosquitos. It takes hours to find the plane and by the time they reach it, it’s dark and they decide to camp out. Maxi shares his blanket with Bernard, and they reminisce about old stories, like the time that Maxi dreamed he was being bitten by a snake and woke up the entire room with his screaming.
Queenie had doubts about Bernard’s ability to succeed in the RAF, but he’s actually adapting well to army life. His feelings of ease suggest a possibility of rebirth and redemption.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Suddenly Bernard hears a voice calling out, “Johnny, come and help me.” Maxi says it’s the Japanese trying to trick them into revealing their position, and the men grab their guns and put out their cigarettes. For hours, they sit in the dark, afraid to fall asleep. Maxi tells Bernard about his plans for life after the war: he wants to breed rabbits, and he enlists Bernard as a partner. By dawn, they have their entire business plan outlined.
It’s interesting that the Japanese play on the soldiers’ sense of empathy and loyalty to their comrades; it shows they’re much more intelligent that Bernard gives them credit for. Bernard’s new vision for his life after the war contributes to the sense of transformation that’s been building throughout this chapter.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
On their way back to the base, Bernard and Maxi get completely lost; hearing foreign voices, they’re again frightened of ambush. However, when Maxi sees them, he realizes they’re from a friendly Indian town, and after some negotiating, the men guide them back to the camp. When they return, the army officer is frankly surprised that they made it out alive, and tells them that the war with Germany is over, and the armed forces will concentrate their power on fighting the Japanese now.
Bernard and Maxi can’t determine between different types of foreigners, making them generally suspicious and even paranoid. At the same time, they’re completely unable to fend for themselves in the forest, relying on the foreigners they mistrust for guidance. This shows how severely their lack of understanding handicaps them, both in the army and in their ordinary lives.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
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