Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 52: Bernard Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Feeling like a thief even though he believes himself justified, Bernard lets himself into the Josephs’ room and looks around. He’d seen them leave in the morning, both “completely overdressed.” Bernard remembers his mother used to sew and relax in this room, using the window to spy on the entire street. Looking at the crowded room and shabby curtains, he concludes that “colored people don’t have the same standards.” Mr. Todd has told him this is because they’re ignorant, like children; but Bernard’s experiences in India have taught him how “cunning these colonial types could be.” To him, it seems best if everyone keeps to their own “kind.”
It’s ironic that Bernard thinks the Josephs have lower “standards” than he does, because since her arrival, Hortense has done almost nothing but complain that the British don’t meet her own standards, from their inadequate hygiene to their shabby dress. It’s also deeply ironic that Bernard thinks everyone should keep to their own “kind”—he only feels this way when immigrants are arriving his country, not when the British are exploiting or controlling other nations.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Lost in thought, Bernard doesn’t hear the Josephs tramping up the stairs, and they find him in the room. Annoyed, Gilbert tells Bernard that he pays rent in order to have privacy, and Bernard retorts that it’s his house, and he can go wherever he wants. Fed up with Gilbert, he announces that the Josephs have to vacate their room, as he’s planning on selling the house.
While Bernard believes that people of color lack manners and can’t behave in a “civilized” fashion, his own behavior is completely rude. The contrast between Bernard’s prejudices and his behavior argues that no one society has a monopoly on the conventions of civilization.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Aghast, Gilbert asks why Queenie never told him about this and says he’ll only take orders from her, not Bernard. Bernard makes clear that it’s his house, not Queenie’s, and that he can do whatever he wants with it. Gilbert may have “taken advantage” of Queenie during the war, but Bernard fought for the right to “live respectably,” and that’s what he intends to do now. 
Both Bernard and the Josephs want to “live respectably.” For Gilbert and Hortense, this is a private goal, one that has nothing to do with Bernard; on the other hand, Bernard feels he can only live the way he wants to at the expense of others he considers beneath him.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Bernard gestures around the room, calling it a disgrace. When Hortense protests that she tried to make it nice, Bernard sneers that she “could try harder.” Enraged, Gilbert shouts at him and starts pushing. Just then, Queenie arrives, out of breath from the stairs. Bernard is pleased to see her witness Gilbert’s bad behavior, but she yells at him to shut up.
Here, Bernard’s assumption that Queenie will reassume her role as submissive wife without question crumbles. His position as an unsuccessfully controlling husband contrasts with Gilbert’s loyalty and protectiveness.
Themes
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The two men seem on the verge of blows, and Queenie and Hortense each try to restrain their husbands. Suddenly, Queenie doubles over and howls in pain. Bernard and Gilbert both try to carry her out of the room. When Queenie screams “get off me,” Bernard smugly assumes she’s talking to Gilbert, but she doesn’t want either man to touch her. Instead, she grabs Hortense and staggers out of the room.
Queenie and Hortense rarely interact; neither woman feels they have much in common. Therefore, it’s odd that Queenie turns to her for help instead of either man—her desire to turn to a woman foreshadows the nature of the problem she’s facing.
Themes
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon