Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 55: Queenie Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Queenie knows that she owes Bernard an explanation, so she tells him her story. After the war, she resigns herself to waiting for Bernard to come home, knowing that their cold marriage was in part her fault, and resolving to try harder when he returns. In the meantime, however, she’s filled with “boring leaden yearning.” She can’t get a job because there are too many soldiers returning from war, and without Arthur, she has no one to talk to at home.
Unlike Bernard, who vacillates between feeling ashamed of himself and critical of his wife, Queenie is remarkably clear-eyed about their marriage. She both acknowledges that she’s partly to blame for its bad state, but also understands she’ll always have a sense of “yearning” that Bernard can’t satisfy.
Themes
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
In the middle of the night, Queenie hears a knock on the door. Answering, she finds Michael Roberts on her doorstep. Instantly, she feels like a beautiful and desirable woman again, rather than a bitter and dowdy housewife. She welcomes him inside.
It’s interesting that Queenie loves Michael not because of his character but because she likes the way he makes her feel. By increasing her self-worth, her romance actually strengthens her as an independent woman.
Themes
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
Michael tells her that his plane was shot down in France. The two soldiers who previously stayed with Queenie died. Fortunately, Michael had a soft landing. After a few days of foraging in the woods, he found a farmer who hid him because his dark skin made him an interesting oddity. At the end of the war, the farmer helped him return to the British. He tells Queenie that he’d been anxious about the fateful raid because he was flying without his wallet, which was a good luck charm. Queenie is thrilled to tell him that she’s saved it. As he looks at the faded pictures, he tells her that he lost his family in a hurricane.
Michael’s statement about his family isn’t true in a technical sense, but he did become estranged from them as a result of events that took place during a hurricane. This moment emphasizes Michael’s sense of loneliness and alienation. However, it also shows that he never truly appreciated Hortense, who would’ve supported and loved him if he turned to her.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
His mood changing, Michael asks Queenie if she’s ever felt the force of a hurricane, and takes her upstairs to bed. For the next three days, they huddle together inside the house, only emerging from the bedroom for haphazard meals. However, Queenie knows this affair is only temporary. Michael is heading to Toronto, which promises more opportunity than Jamaica, and he never asks her to go with him. When he finally leaves, she hopes he’ll be hesitant or sad, but he’s purposeful and confident as always.
While Michael helps Queenie see her own value, he also makes her feel dependent because she cares for him more than he does for her. However, it’s also possible that Michael’s nonchalance springs from realism—as a black man, he’s probably conscious that their relationship is transgressive and forbidden, while Queenie, who’s never had to consider questions of race, is oblivious to that when she daydreams about moving to Toronto with him.
Themes
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
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Soon, morning sickness strikes, and Queenie knows she’s pregnant. At first, she wants to get rid of the baby, and she jumps down the stairs and takes scalding hot baths in hopes of inducing a miscarriage. However, the first time she feels the baby kick, she imagines that it’s scared of her, and she knows that she’s the only one who can protect it. She resolves to carry on with her pregnancy. Still, she wraps up her stomach to prevent her nosy neighbors from gossiping about her illegitimate pregnancy and making it “sordid.”
Queenie treats her pregnancy as she does her relationship with Michael—she keeps it private in order to prevent other people from spoiling it, refusing to acknowledge that this is only a temporary solution. Such behavior is unusual in the normally very practical Queenie; it shows her instinctive love for Michael and the baby, in contrast to her dry and rational relationship with Bernard.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
At night, Queenie discusses plans for the future with her unborn baby. She considers using her savings to immigrate to Canada. In the postwar chaos, an unwed mother and a mixed-race child might be unusual, but not frowned upon. However, Bernard’s return home puts an end to these plans.
Bernard’s return doesn’t just curtail Queenie’s business as a landlady—it also derails her new plans for her life. In the sense that it stifles Queenie’s emerging independence, their reunion is more a tragedy than a happy event.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
Bernard listens to Queenie’s entire story without interrupting or reproaching her. When she finishes, he stands up and leaves without saying a word.
Queenie has been unusually honest and unreserved in sharing her story; however, Bernard refuses to reciprocate, reverting to his uncommunicative behavior.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon