Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 56: Gilbert Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Gilbert hears a knock on the door and answers warily, assuming it’s Bernard. Instead, he finds Kenneth—or Winston, he can’t tell—on his doorstep. The man says he has a business proposition. He’s recently come into some money from his grandmother, and has used it to buy a small house in disrepair in North London.
It seems like it’s Winston at the door—since Kenneth is the more irresponsible brother, it’s unlikely that he would have savings or would have successfully invested in property.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Winston or Kenneth asks Gilbert to live in the house he’s just purchased. If Gilbert helps to fix it up on the weekend, and watches over the other rooms that he plans to rent out, Gilbert and Hortense can live there without paying rent. Gilbert knows that this can only be Winston, and is overjoyed that he’s come up with a solution just as they’re about to be evicted.
Instead of harassed tenants, Hortense and Gilbert will become landlords. Here, a moment of displacement and fear turns into an opportunity to establish themselves as permanent residents in Britain.
Themes
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
Taking a detour in his post office van, Gilbert visits the new house. He’s happy to see the high ceilings, big windows, and large garden; the flat where he and Hortense would live has its own kitchen and bathroom. However, the house really does need fixing up, and he’s worried that Hortense will turn up her nose at the peeling paint, bare floorboards, and mold.
While Gilbert was initially dismissive of Hortense’s complaints about their room in Queenie’s house, now he’s anxious for her to approve of their new home. This shows his growing commitment to his marriage and respect for his wife’s opinion.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
After tidying the house, Gilbert brings Hortense to visit, nervous about her reaction. Carefully, she walks around the first room and peers through the windows at the garden. Finally, she declares that the room is good, but asks if there are any others. Gilbert is so shocked that she likes the room that he points out all its flaws, making her look at the cracked windows and bad paint; Hortense says stoutly that she’s not afraid of hard work, and that they will make it nice together. Happy and proud that he can finally offer her more than one room to live in, Gilbert takes her hand to show her around the rest of the house.
Instead of spurning Gilbert’s goodwill, as she has many times before, Hortense is uncharacteristically proud of Gilbert and optimistic about their future. Throughout the novel, their cramped lodgings have represented the frustrations and uncertainty of immigrant life—the acquisition of a house of their own implies not only a new start for their marriage but a new sense of belonging and security as immigrants.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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That night, Gilbert folds himself into the armchair to sleep as usual. When Hortense calls out to him, he assumes she wants him to chase a mouse and pretends to be asleep. However, to his surprise, she asks if he wants to sleep in the bed with her. With trepidation, Gilbert lies down under the blanket, careful not to touch her in case she screams. However, Hortense curls up next to him. While her cold foot trails up and down his leg, she asks playfully if their new house can have a doorbell.
This scene is comical, but it’s important that Hortense commits to her marriage—at least to its sexual aspect—when she wants to, and not a moment before. That Gilbert respects her, rather than resenting her, shows his willingness to embark on a marriage of partners, rather than insisting on his right to control the relationship as Bernard does.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon