Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Queenie’s husband, Bernard Bligh, is an English bank clerk and RAF soldier. Bernard is the novel’s most unsympathetic character. Hostile to anyone who’s not of his own race or class, Bernard typifies the racism and classism that pervade British society. In this respect, he’s a notable contrast to his wife, the only white character who attempts, however unsuccessfully, to combat the rampant prejudice that surrounds her. As an RAF soldier in India, Bernard experiences the horrors of war and the hypocrisies of the British army. However, rather than making him more open-minded and empathetic, Bernard’s stint in the army makes him even more racist and convinced of his own superiority. Bernard’s return home ruins the tenuous cohesion that exists between Queenie and her black tenants; his unmitigated rudeness towards the Josephs convinces Queenie that baby Michael can’t thrive in a white community, and provides the final impetus for her decision to give the child to the Josephs.

Bernard Bligh Quotes in Small Island

The Small Island quotes below are all either spoken by Bernard Bligh or refer to Bernard Bligh. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Picador edition of Small Island published in 2004.
Chapter 37: Bernard Quotes

The mechanics, the teachers, the clerks who were all left out here sat brooding on their worth to a country they loved. Wondering what sort of Britain was being built without us. Forgotten war, forgotten army, forgotten again.

Related Characters: Bernard Bligh (speaker)
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 40: Bernard Quotes

Still he went on: “I am not one of those people who wish the English out of India. I like you. Are you not protecting us all this time from the filthy Japs with their slitty eyes? Your British bulldog understands that there is nothing worse than foreigners invading your land […] A dreadful thing to have foreign muddy boots stamping all over your soil. Do you not think?

Related Characters: Ashok (speaker), Bernard Bligh, Arun
Page Number: 317
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 48: Bernard Quotes

I want to shoot him […] but he’s still smiling and I start to think, Oh, well, maybe he’s not so bad. Until I see his sword flash. Light cracking off it in a spark. I knew we were in danger. But suddenly Queenie sits up in bed, turns to the door, looks the Jap straight in they eye and says, “Hello.” Just like that. Hello. Like she’s talking to a neighbor. Hello. As if she’d known him all her life. “Hello. Come in.”

Related Characters: Bernard Bligh (speaker), Queenie Buxton
Page Number: 363
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 49: Gilbert Quotes

There was something I recognized on the face of Bernard Bligh […] Come, I saw it reflected from every mirror on my dear Jamaican island. Staring back on me from my own face. Residing in the white of the eye, the turn of the mouth, the thrust of the chin. A bewildered soul. Too much seen to go back. Too much changed to know which way is forward. I knew with this beleaguered man’s return the days of living quiet in this house had come to an end.

Related Characters: Gilbert Joseph (speaker), Bernard Bligh
Related Symbols: Queenie’s House
Page Number: 368
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 52: Bernard Quotes

The war was fought so people might live amongst their own kind. Quite simple. Everyone had a place. England for the English and the West Indies for these colored people. Look at India. The British knew fair play. Leave India to the Indians. That’s what we did.

Related Characters: Bernard Bligh (speaker)
Page Number: 388
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 58: Queenie Quotes

“It would kill you, Bernard,” I said. “Have you thought about all that? Because I have. I’ve done nothing but think about it. And you know what? I haven’t got the guts for it. I thought I would. I should have but I haven’t got the spine. Not for that fight. I admit it, I can’t face it, and I’m his blessed mother.”

Related Characters: Queenie Buxton (speaker), Bernard Bligh
Page Number: 432
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 59: Hortense Quotes

Gilbert sucked on his teeth to return this man’s scorn. “You know what your trouble is, man?” he said. “Your white skin. You think it makes you better than me. You think it give you the right to lord it over a black man. But you know what it make you? You wan’ know what your white skin make you, man? It make you white. That is all, man. White. […] listen to me, man, we both just finish fighting a war—a bloody war—for the better world we wan’ see. And on the same side—you and me. […] But still, after all that we suffer together, you wan’ tell me I am worthless and you are not.”

Related Characters: Gilbert Joseph (speaker), Bernard Bligh, Baby Michael
Page Number: 435
Explanation and Analysis:

For at that moment as Gilbert stood, his chest panting with the passion from his words, I realized that Gilbert Joseph, my husband, was a man of class, a man of character, a man of intelligence. Noble in a way that would some day make him a legend […] But this Englishman just carried on, “I’m sorry… but I just can’t understand a single word that you’re saying.”

Related Characters: Hortense Roberts (speaker), Gilbert Joseph, Bernard Bligh
Page Number: 435
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Small Island LitChart as a printable PDF.
Small Island PDF

Bernard Bligh Character Timeline in Small Island

The timeline below shows where the character Bernard Bligh appears in Small Island. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9: Queenie
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...she wants to stay in London and keep the house ready for the return of Bernard, her husband. (full context)
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When the war ends, Queenie prepares for Bernard to return, scrounging up some stockings and sharing makeup with her neighbor, Blanche. She watches... (full context)
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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,”... (full context)
Chapter 24: Queenie
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...asks her to accompany him on a walk the next afternoon. He introduces himself as Bernard Bligh. For four months, Bernard and Queenie take walks twice a week. They rarely talk... (full context)
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One day, Queenie tries to end her relationship with Bernard, but he begs for another chance and even cries, telling Queenie that he was hoping... (full context)
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When Queenie and Bernard return to the shop that night, she finds that Aunt Dorothy has had a stroke... (full context)
Chapter 25: Queenie
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Following their marriage, Queenie and Bernard have an extremely lukewarm sexual relationship. Queenie is disgusted by the entire process, and wonders... (full context)
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Bernard and his mentally ill father, Arthur, own a tall house in Earls Court, a nice... (full context)
Chapter 26: Queenie
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...announces that Britain is at war with Germany, Queenie can barely hear the radio over Bernard’s grandfather clock. Right away, an air-raid siren sounds. Panicking, Bernard gathers their gas masks and... (full context)
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...away for internment. Queenie is bothered that the police won’t explain anything to her, but Bernard just says that “Jews are more trouble than they’re worth.” (full context)
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...of his time in the trenches during the Great War. Every night while Queenie and Bernard huddle underground, they hope that the bombs spare Arthur inside the house. (full context)
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...neighborhoods, and a Cockney family comes to live next to the Blighs in Earls Court. Bernard and Cyril Todd are upset that people of a lower class are invading their neighborhood,... (full context)
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Queenie and Bernard become exhausted from spending nearly every night in their shelter, listening to bombs. Once, when... (full context)
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Without asking Bernard, Queenie offers to shelter the Cockney family, now displaced twice, in her own home. Bernard... (full context)
Chapter 27: Queenie
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Seeing how sleep-deprived she is, Bernard tells Queenie the job is too much for her; but she finds the work invigorating,... (full context)
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...do something, Queenie gives her some of the unused furniture in her own house. When Bernard confronts her, she furiously turns on him and shouts that “there’s thousands of people having... (full context)
Chapter 28: Queenie
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With the war effort becoming increasingly urgent, Bernard joins the RAF. Queenie feels responsible for his decision, as she suspects he feels bad... (full context)
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Now that Bernard is posted overseas, Queenie is singlehandedly responsible for Arthur. Because of his insanity, Queenie has... (full context)
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...officers she knows who need a place to stay while they’re on leave. Queenie knows Bernard would immediately reject the idea, but when she consults Arthur, he seems to agree. When... (full context)
Chapter 29: Queenie
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Queenie and Michael have sex. It’s nothing like her previous experiences with Bernard, during which she usually “worked out what she could make for dinner.” For the first... (full context)
Chapter 33: Hortense
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...seen him before, but Queenie is speechless and collapses into Hortense’s arms as she recognizes Bernard. (full context)
Chapter 34: Queenie
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Queenie is stunned to see Bernard arrive casually at the house, as if he’d never been gone. When she remarks caustically... (full context)
Chapter 35: Bernard
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In a flashback, Bernard describes his time in the RAF. He’s deployed to India, and he arrives in Bombay... (full context)
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Queenie hadn’t wanted Bernard to join up until he was conscripted. However, Bernard knew that if he was drafted,... (full context)
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When Bernard’s unit reaches the base, he’s unceremoniously thrown from the truck into the ground. Everyone runs... (full context)
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...of Indian troops (Gurkhas) captures a Japanese pilot and bring him to the camp. To Bernard, the pilot looks to be no older than twelve or thirteen; he’s impervious to the... (full context)
Chapter 36: Bernard
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Maxi takes Bernard with him on a salvage trip—an expedition to salvage parts from a British plane that... (full context)
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Once they’ve set off, Bernard realizes how dense and unpleasant the jungle is, full of flies and mosquitos. It takes... (full context)
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Suddenly Bernard hears a voice calling out, “Johnny, come and help me.” Maxi says it’s the Japanese... (full context)
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On their way back to the base, Bernard and Maxi get completely lost; hearing foreign voices, they’re again frightened of ambush. However, when... (full context)
Chapter 37: Bernard
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Bernard is relieved to know that everyone at home is safe, especially Queenie. He fondly imagines... (full context)
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...east, closer to Burma. Prisoners of war are demobilized and sent home before normal troops. Bernard is touched to see the frail and emaciated prisoners returning to safety, barely able to... (full context)
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Communist sympathizers in the unit, whom Bernard disdains as “rabble-rousers,” begin advocating for a strike in order to obtain demobilization. To Bernard’s... (full context)
Chapter 38: Bernard
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...on open trucks, they see burned and looted shops and destroyed streets littered with corpses. Bernard has no idea how this violence occurred, but the men on the unit agree it’s... (full context)
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...get out of the truck. The officer charges them with insubordination and orders Maxi and Bernard to pick up the body, which they do without complaint. (full context)
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As Bernard and Maxi climb onto the truck, a mob of men rushes down the street, brandishing... (full context)
Chapter 39: Bernard
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Thousands of people die in riots in Calcutta following the end of the war. Bernard understands vaguely that Hindus and Muslims are fighting over who will take power once India... (full context)
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...and that Pierpont has been meaninglessly court-martialed. The men decide to have a forbidden meeting. Bernard attends, but only because Maxi wants him to and because the meeting is in his... (full context)
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Although Pierpont is no longer part of the unit, the meeting makes Bernard remember how much he disliked him. Pierpont habitually refers to him as Pop because of... (full context)
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...just being used to “prop up the British empire” and others advocating for a strike. Bernard retorts that he’s proud to be a member of the British Empire and “represent decency.”... (full context)
Chapter 40: Bernard
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In any case, Bernard would have had to leave the meeting for his guard duty, watching the door of... (full context)
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Tonight, Bernard shares guard duty with an Indian soldier named Arun; he likes this man because he... (full context)
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Ashok begins to muse on all the “useful things” the British have given India. Bernard approves of this show of gratitude, but becomes uneasy when Ashok mockingly remarks on different... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Bernard is telling Ashok to be quiet because he sees smoke rising from the camp and... (full context)
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Suddenly, two men from Bernard’s unit arrive in a hurry and tell him that his barracks in on fire. Knowing... (full context)
Chapter 41: Bernard
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By the time Bernard arrives, the entire building is on the verge of collapse. Bernard tries to organize the... (full context)
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The barracks, with Maxi inside, is reduced to cinders. Bernard notices local people and camp followers standing around and is furious that they didn’t try... (full context)
Chapter 42: Bernard
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The day after the fire, Bernard’s sergeant tells him he’s in trouble, both for deserting his post and for losing his... (full context)
Chapter 43: Bernard
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Bernard is sentenced to two weeks of prison. He’s the only Englishman left in the local... (full context)
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Bernard also thinks about his own father, Arthur, who enlisted to fight in the Great War... (full context)
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With her invalid husband unable to work, Bernard’s mother had to provide for the family. She sold family heirlooms and her own jewelry,... (full context)
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When he got married, Bernard marveled at his father’s adoration of Queenie—Arthur got along with his wife far better than... (full context)
Chapter 44: Bernard
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Eventually, the lieutenant releases Bernard from prison and demobilizes him. Nothing is left of the barracks when Bernard walks by... (full context)
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Before his ship leaves, Bernard has to wait a few days in Calcutta. The city is still recovering from violence,... (full context)
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...nothing to do with him, since he hasn’t been with the unit since Calcutta. When Bernard is still angry, Pierpont taunts him for his stint in prison, asking if he was... (full context)
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Disturbed by this encounter, Bernard does visit a brothel, albeit by himself. Alone in a room with a young prostitute... (full context)
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Bernard tries to apologize to the girl, but she cringes away from him. In desperation, he... (full context)
Chapter 45: Bernard
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...and boring, much different from the tense and organized trip to India during the war. Bernard wonders if he can ever readjust to life as a bank clerk after his experiences... (full context)
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Some days into the journey, Bernard notices a lump on his genitals. At first he thinks it’s a mosquito bite, but... (full context)
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Bernard worries that by the time he arrives in England, he’ll be insane or incapacitated by... (full context)
Chapter 46: Bernard
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Bernard expected Queenie to be shocked, but he didn’t think she’d look quite so appalled to... (full context)
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In a brief flashback, Bernard says that when he arrives in England, convinced he was facing imminent death and insanity,... (full context)
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One day, Bernard gets sick with a raging fever. His landlady calls the doctor, but when he arrives... (full context)
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When he returns to his home, Bernard astounded to find Queenie walking with a black woman. Queenie is furious to find out... (full context)
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...comes downstairs to check on her. Angry to see a black man in his house, Bernard demands to know who he is. Queenie introduces Gilbert to her husband; but when Gilbert... (full context)
Chapter 47: Queenie
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Stonily, Queenie tells Bernard she’ll make up a bed for him, in a separate room from her own. Bernard... (full context)
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Neither Bernard nor Queenie have the courage to kiss goodnight. Feeling unsettled, Queenie locks her bedroom door... (full context)
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Bernard is unhappy that most of the lodgers are black; moreover, Mr. Todd has already told... (full context)
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Because the city has changed so much, Bernard suggests they move to the suburbs, just as Mr. Todd is planning to do. He... (full context)
Chapter 48: Bernard
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Bernard dreams that he’s lying in bed with Queenie when he hears a Japanese fighter plane... (full context)
Chapter 49: Gilbert
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...actually Kenneth, because the man doesn’t bother to greet Hortense and immediately starts complaining about Bernard. Queenie’s husband, he says, has insulted him and demanded that he vacate his room before... (full context)
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Because of his bad mood, Kenneth says, he’s impolite to Bernard when he gets home, not realizing that Bernard is actually the owner of the house.... (full context)
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Gilbert recognizes in Bernard his own bewilderment, their shared inability to determine “which way is forward,” and what they... (full context)
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Thinking that Hortense might be worried by the news of Bernard, Gilbert tells her not to fret, and that he will prevent them from being evicted.... (full context)
Chapter 52: Bernard
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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... (full context)
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Lost in thought, Bernard doesn’t hear the Josephs tramping up the stairs, and they find him in the room.... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Bernard gestures around the room, calling it a disgrace. When Hortense protests that she tried to... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 53: Hortense
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...sheds her dress and starts unwrapping a large bandage around her torso. Hortense wonders if Bernard—who seems like a violent man—has been beating her, but she soon realizes Queenie is enormously... (full context)
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...to Queenie, she strips off her gloves and boils a pot of water. Gilbert and Bernard are banging on the door, but she calmly tells them it’s a little “women’s matter.” (full context)
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...her baby isn’t white. Suddenly she hears Gilbert’s voice, demanding to know what’s happening, and Bernard stuffily telling Gilbert not to block the door. Hortense feels that it’s a “vicious cruelty”... (full context)
Chapter 54: Gilbert
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To Gilbert’s astonishment, Hortense emerges from Queenie’s room covered in blood. Haughtily informing Bernard that he can enter, she stalks upstairs without a word to Gilbert. At first, Gilbert... (full context)
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Bernard also makes this assumption; before Gilbert can open his mouth to explain, the older man... (full context)
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When he gets outside, Gilbert realizes that he too is covered in blood from Bernard’s attack. He needs to find Hortense and get inside before someone assumes he’s a criminal... (full context)
Chapter 55: Queenie
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Queenie knows that she owes Bernard an explanation, so she tells him her story. After the war, she resigns herself to... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
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Bernard listens to Queenie’s entire story without interrupting or reproaching her. When she finishes, he stands... (full context)
Chapter 56: Gilbert
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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... (full context)
Chapter 57: Bernard
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Queenie’s baby sleeps in a makeshift crib made out of a drawer. Bernard watches Queenie produce a pile of baby clothes, which she’d knitted during the long years... (full context)
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Bernard hears the baby whimper, which he knows will soon turn into howls. Opening Queenie’s door... (full context)
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Bernard finds Queenie awake, looking at him in shock. He tells her that he spent time... (full context)
Chapter 58: Queenie
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Gilbert informs Bernard that he and Hortense are leaving. Although both men end up shouting insults at each... (full context)
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...notices they seem strained around her and no longer trust her. When they enter reluctantly, Bernard retreats frostily behind his newspaper; Queenie is angry with him for making the situation awkward. (full context)
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...give them some furniture for their new house, but Gilbert refuses to take any of Bernard’s things. (full context)
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Queenie goes into the kitchen to help Bernard make tea, but for a minute she watches Hortense, who’s speaking softly to baby Michael... (full context)
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...Queenie pleads earnestly for them to bring baby Michael up as their own son. Suddenly, Bernard interjects; to Queenie’s surprise, he insists that the baby needs his mother and should stay... (full context)
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Bernard suggests that they move to the suburbs and tell everyone baby Michael is adopted. Crying,... (full context)
Chapter 59: Hortense
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...puts an arm around her shoulders to comfort her, but at the sight of this, Bernard explodes, telling him to “get your filthy black hands off my wife.” (full context)
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Gilbert and Bernard stand to face each other, heedless of Hortense’s pleas that they be quiet and mind... (full context)
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Exasperated, Gilbert tells Bernard that his problem is that his white skin makes him think he’s better than everyone... (full context)
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...of class, a man of character, a man of intelligence.” However, after a long pause, Bernard says that he hasn’t understood a word of what Gilbert just said. (full context)
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Gilbert picks up the baby and hands him to Bernard, then takes Hortense’s hand and pulls her out of the room, running up the stairs.... (full context)