Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 46: Bernard Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Bernard expected Queenie to be shocked, but he didn’t think she’d look quite so appalled to have her husband back. However, he is happy to see she’s put on some weight, since when he left, she was wasting away on rationed food. He asks how Arthur is, and Queenie has to tell him about his death. When it happened, she wrote him a letter, but it must have been lost.
After facing so much upheaval abroad, Bernard faces not only a lukewarm welcome but a tragedy at home. However, he forestalls any other reception by being cold to Queenie and refusing to explain his absence for the past two years.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
In a brief flashback, Bernard says that when he arrives in England, convinced he was facing imminent death and insanity, he hides in a boardinghouse in Brighton. He finds England changed, worn down and exhausted by the effort of fighting the war. While he waits to die he finds work as a café waiter, and later takes on the bookkeeping and becomes an informal accountant. One day, he walks by Maxi’s house and grave; he even sees his old friend’s family, but he doesn’t introduce himself. He feels guilty that he survived the war, rather than his friend.
As a result of the war, both Bernard and England have changed; he’s demoralized both about himself and the nature of his country. However, rather than learning to live with these changes, Bernard will externalize them and express them as fear and rage towards immigrants and people of color.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Redemption Theme Icon
One day, Bernard gets sick with a raging fever. His landlady calls the doctor, but when he arrives Bernard tells him treatment is useless, as he has syphilis. However, when the doctor finds he’s been back from India for over two years, he informs Bernard that he can’t possibly have syphilis, or he would have died already. Bernard soon recuperates from his flu and feels “ready to start again.”
Bernard realizes he’s wasted two years of his life out of shame and a fear of exposing his uncivilized behavior. His mistake shows how dangerous it is to value a refined and mannerly exterior above all else, rather than embracing his humanity and recognizing his own wrongdoing.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Redemption Theme Icon
When he returns to his home, Bernard astounded to find Queenie walking with a black woman. Queenie is furious to find out that he’s spent two years hiding from her in Brighton, and even more upset when he won’t explain his reasons for doing so. In her anger, she tells him abruptly that Arthur has been killed; when Bernard says nothing, she explodes, telling him in gruesome detail about Arthur’s cruel death and the lack of punishment for the policeman who shot him.
While Bernard and Queenie are devastated by the same event—Arthur’s death—as usual, neither can understand or value the other’s reaction. Queenie reads Bernard’s silence as carelessness, while he interprets her anger as an accusation of him, rather than rage at the situation.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
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Hearing Queenie shouting, Gilbert comes downstairs to check on her. Angry to see a black man in his house, Bernard demands to know who he is. Queenie introduces Gilbert to her husband; but when Gilbert puts out his hand to shake, Bernard closes the door in his face.
Even though Bernard has abandoned Queenie for years, he still views himself unequivocally as head of the household. In this capacity, he feels justified both in controlling his wife and expressing hostility toward people of color.
Themes
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon