Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Small Island: Chapter 9: Queenie Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Queenie’s neighbor, Mr. Todd, informs her that “colored” immigrants are flocking to England to take advantage of their healthcare and social services. Queenie knows he’s just coming over to snoop, having noticed the arrival of Gilbert’s wife. Before the war, Mr. Todd complained about Poles and Czechs; now he rants about immigrants and Jews, even though the persecution they’ve endured is now common knowledge. He’s chagrined that Queenie has taken in black tenants.
Mr. Todd, who will come to represent the racism of the neighborhood as a whole, is prejudiced not only against Jamaicans or other people of color, but anyone who isn’t British. This shows that his views don’t stem from knowledge or facts but rather a generalized fear of people who are different from himself in any way.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
Even though renting to Gilbert has earned her the enmity of her neighbors, Queenie has been glad to have him around. She hasn’t seen him for years, ever since “the incident.” Moreover, she hasn’t wanted to see anyone. Her parents have suggested she move home, but each time, she tells them she wants to stay in London and keep the house ready for the return of Bernard, her husband.
Queenie’s thoughts here suggest that she and Bernard have lived through unusual circumstances together, but doesn’t shed light on the nature of their relationship. Moreover, she establishes herself as a freethinker—she doesn’t want to live with her parents, although she’s evidently alone, and she’s audacious enough to rent to Jamaicans even though most people around her are prejudiced against them.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
When the war ends, Queenie prepares for Bernard to return, scrounging up some stockings and sharing makeup with her neighbor, Blanche. She watches Blanche’s husband kiss her enthusiastically in the yard and hopes Bernard won’t do anything of the sort. However, two years pass, and Bernard never turns up. The War Office insists that Bernard hasn’t died, and everyone assumes he’s run off, but Queenie thinks he’s too conventional to do such a thing.
Queenie’s relationship with her husband is largely a mystery, but in some ways it seems a lot like the Josephs’ marriage. Both Hortense and Queenie feel ambivalent about their husbands, and even the thought of displaying affection makes them uncomfortable. Queenie’s composure in the face of Bernard’s absence shows she’s identifies more as an individual woman than as a wife.
Themes
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
When Gilbert arrives, Queenie takes him in because she knows Bernard would hate it. Blanche tells her that black people have no manners and “animal desires,” but Queenie doesn’t listen to her. Moreover, she even gives lodgings to Winston, a friend of Gilbert. By this point, Blanche and her husband are so furious that they leave the neighborhood. Blanche says bitterly that her husband no longer feels at home in his own country.
It’s ironic that while the neighbors are racist in part because they feel not “at home,” their behavior consequently makes immigrants like Gilbert feel like they don’t belong, either. Throughout the novel, racist interactions create situations in which both parties suffer from and can’t resolve feelings of displacement.
Themes
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
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Now, Mr. Todd informs Queenie that just today his sister was forced to step off the sidewalk to let two black women pass. He says that Queenie should make sure her lodgers know it’s polite to step into the road if an English person is approaching. Dryly, Queenie suggests that he tell them this himself.
In response to influxes of immigrants, Mr. Todd seeks to reaffirm what he sees as his own superior status. This suggests that his antipathy toward immigration stems from a fear of losing ground in his society.
Themes
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon