Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 43: Bernard Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Bernard is sentenced to two weeks of prison. He’s the only Englishman left in the local prison, since most have been sent home or moved elsewhere. He’s disgusted to share a cell with four Indians, whom he believes are thieves or murderers. During the long, hot days, Bernard tries many times to begin a letter to Queenie, but he can never think what to say.
Bernard’s inability to express himself is one of the major problems in his marriage. While Queenie sees his silence as evidence of intrinsic coldness, here it’s evident that this is a trait Bernard doesn’t like and wishes he could overcome.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Bernard also thinks about his own father, Arthur, who enlisted to fight in the Great War when he was barely nineteen and Bernard had just been born. While he wrote cheerful letters home, he eventually returned in an ambulance, having gone insane from shell-shock. In his first months at home, he was frightened at every loud noise and screamed at night.
While Arthur and Bernard are very different men, their mutual inability to share their feelings or communicate the horrors of war to their wives links them, and also means that they’re both unable to recover from the trauma they’ve experienced as soldiers.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
With her invalid husband unable to work, Bernard’s mother had to provide for the family. She sold family heirlooms and her own jewelry, and rented rooms in the large house. The stress caused her to age prematurely, and she died at the age of forty-two.
Bernard’s mother’s experience makes her a contrast to Queenie, who thrives on independence and even the risk involved in providing for herself, rather than being overwhelmed by it.
Themes
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
When he got married, Bernard marveled at his father’s adoration of QueenieArthur got along with his wife far better than Bernard. Bernard and Queenie spent the days before his deployment fighting, because she wanted to know where he was going and didn’t believe that he himself didn’t even know. The night before he left, they had passionless sex; she wouldn’t even let him kiss her on the mouth before he left.
While Queenie’s anger is an expression of her concern for Bernard, it actually contributes to their problematic marriage. Her misplaced and badly expressed worry shows that Bernard isn’t the only one in this relationship who has trouble communicating.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
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