Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 5: Hortense Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Years later, after the war has ended, Hortense is walking home from the market when she thinks she sees Michael cycling down the street. She runs after him, but when she turns the corner, she finds the man has left his bicycle and joined a large crowd running down the street. As Hortense follows him through the crowd, fighting breaks out. Someone throws a chair, which hits Hortense, and she falls to the ground. Someone carries her to safety outside the crowd, and she realizes it’s the man she mistook for Michael. Up close, he looks much different from her lost love. The man is worried about Hortense; he tells her that she shouldn’t come to “meetings” like this, and he scolds another man in the crowd for cursing in front of a lady. Shaken and embarrassed, Hortense rebuffs his solicitude and tells him to leave her.
Hortense’s unladylike action is uncharacteristic and shows that she’s still enthralled by Michael and desperate for him to reappear. The chaos in the street, as well as the man’s warning, suggests that Hortense has stumbled into a (possibly illicit) political meeting, which hints at the unrest and dissatisfaction with colonial rule gripping Jamaica in the postwar era. However, Hortense is completely uncurious about the meeting, which shows she’s not at all interested in questioning colonial narratives, especially as it would involve putting herself in an improper situation.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Hortense has been waiting for Michael to come home since the war ended, unwilling to believe he could really be dead. She’s watched many parades and returning ships, but he’s never been among the soldiers reunited with their families. She wonders what he looks like flying his airplane, and what it’s like for him to live in England. She hopes that he’s not cold, and that someone is making him tea, but she can’t really imagine him anywhere other than Jamaica.
Hortense’s longing for Michael hints at her deeper loneliness. Besides Miss Jewel, Michael was the closest member of her family. Fantasizing about his return allows her to imagine a sense of belonging and tranquility that she’s never been able to achieve before.
Themes
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon