Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 7: Hortense Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hortense and Gilbert stand in a church, half-listening as the minister lectures them about embarking on married life together. When he asks how long they’ve known each other, Gilbert equivocates, then winks at Hortense.
Just as he did with Celia, Gilbert seems to have rushed into other plans with Hortense. He’s still just as cocky about doing so, which raises doubt as to whether these plans can succeed.
Themes
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
The Andersons are shocked when Hortense introduces Gilbert to them as her fiancé, and when she admits they’ve only known each other for five days. However, they accept the unconventional marriage and Mrs. Anderson even hugs Hortense.
While Hortense judges the Andersons by their failure to fulfill conventions, the Andersons are remarkably not judgmental when it comes to her behavior.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Even after the fallout with Celia, Gilbert and Hortense have remained friends. He’s intensely restless and consumed with the desire to return to England, where he says “opportunity ripened […] as abundant as fruit on Jamaican trees.” However, he’s lost all his money investing in his cousin’s failed beekeeping business, so he can’t buy a ticket.
Gilbert’s restlessness—and his desire to opine about it to women—demonstrate his feelings of displacement in Jamaican society. However, at this point it’s unclear, given the rosy picture he paints of England, why he ever returned.
Themes
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
One day, Gilbert sees an article about the Empire Windrush, a ship leaving for England in a month. He tells Hortense about it, despondent that he can’t pay for his passage. However, Hortense has been saving prudently for years, and she offers to lend him the money if he marries her and sends for her once he’s established. Gilbert doesn’t pretend for a minute that he loves Hortense, but he decides it’s the only way to get to England. When he asks her formally to marry him, they shake hands as if to celebrate a “business deal.”
Neither Gilbert nor Hortense feels or feigns love for the other. Hortense is actively pining for someone else. At the outset, their marriage is based on mutual self-interest. While that might be enough to get them to England, as the discord in the opening chapters shows, it’s not enough to sustain them once they arrive.
Themes
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
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Hortense spends her time daydreaming about life in England. She imagines she’ll have a modest but proper house with a lovely dining room, where she’ll serve English meals and sip tea. When she goes shopping, the storekeepers will greet her politely in perfect English.
Hortense’s daydreams are based on the propaganda she’s imbibed in her colonial education. Notably, they don’t consider the uncouth behavior of the Andersons, the only British family she knows.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
The only guests at the wedding are the Andersons, who ask several times where Celia is. Afterwards, the Andersons host a celebratory dinner; Hortense is still disgusted by their manners, but Gilbert gets along with them well and romps with the little boys.
Gilbert’s ease with the family further underscores Hortense’s stiffness. However, it’s important to note this character flaw isn’t necessarily her fault, but a remnant of her traumatic childhood.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Redemption Theme Icon
When the new couple is finally alone in Hortense’s room, Gilbert tries to kiss Hortense and undress her, but she’s frightened and startled to see him naked. She screams at him to stay away from her; frightened that she’ll wake everyone up and embarrass them both, Gilbert hastily puts his clothes on and agrees to sleep on the floor. The next day, he sails for England.
Hortense’s prudery is a reminder that, for her, the marriage is a business deal, and has nothing to do with romance. However, it also displays her strong character—she has no intention of obeying her husband, even if the conventions of her society dictate that she should.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon