Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

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Queenie Buxton Character Analysis

Queenie Buxton, one of the novel’s protagonists, is a white British woman who rents lodgings to the Josephs (Gilbert and Hortense) when they arrive in England. Queenie grows up the uneducated daughter of a butcher; unable to stomach going into the family business, she moves in with her Aunt Dorothy, who owns a candy shop in London. There, she meets and marries Bernard Bligh, a bank clerk. However, even though she’s attained security and relative prosperity, Queenie feels stifled by her small-minded husband and the boring life of a housewife. Unlike her husband, Queenie is one of the few characters not blinded by prejudice. She’s sympathetic to Cockney Blitz victims, while Bernard and her neighbors resent the incursion of the lower classes in their neighborhood. When Bernard is away at war, she has an affair with a Jamaican RAF soldier, Michael Roberts. Later, she offers lodgings to Gilbert and Hortense even though it earns her the enmity of her neighbors. However, Queenie’s attempt to defy the prejudice that surrounds her ultimately fails. When Bernard returns from war, Queenie submits to his demand that they leave the rapidly diversifying city and move to the suburbs. Moreover, she gives her biracial baby, Michael, to the Josephs because she knows the stigma of raising a black child would overwhelm her. The contrast between Queenie’s high ideals and her sad outcome exemplifies the difficulty of combatting racism on a personal level.

Queenie Buxton Quotes in Small Island

The Small Island quotes below are all either spoken by Queenie Buxton or refer to Queenie Buxton. 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:
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Picador edition of Small Island published in 2004.
Prologue: Queenie Quotes

Father said later that this African man I was made to shake hands with would have been a chief or a prince in Africa. Evidently, when they speak English you know that they have learned to be civilized—taught English by the white man, missionaries probably. So Father told me not to worry about having shaken his hand because the African man was most likely a potentate.

Related Characters: Queenie Buxton (speaker), Queenie’s Father (Wilfred Buxton)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16: Gilbert Quotes

I was learning to despise the white American GI above all other. They were the army that hated me the most! Out of place in the genteel atmosphere of this dreary tea-shop these three aggrieved GIs twitched with hostile excitement, like snipers clearing their aim at a sitting target […] these poor GIs were in a murderous mood watching a nigger sitting with his head still high. If the defeat of hatred is the purpose of war, then come, let us face it: I and all the other colored servicemen were fighting this war on another front.

Related Characters: Gilbert Joseph (speaker), Queenie Buxton
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17: Gilbert Quotes

Arthur Bligh had become another casualty of war—but come, tell me, someone…which war?

Related Characters: Gilbert Joseph (speaker), Queenie Buxton, Arthur Bligh
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24: Queenie Quotes

“The cheeky ones,” she told me, “will be Cockneys. You’ll want nothing to do with Cockneys, they’re all jellied eels and kneesups. No, that one’s a gentleman. No spivs or ne’erdowells ever read The Times.”

Related Characters: Aunt Dorothy (speaker), Queenie Buxton
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 33: Hortense Quotes

For this dismal garment, which I had taken to be her dressing gown, was her good outside coat […] She look on me distasteful, up and down. I was dressed as a woman such as I should be when visiting the shops in England. My coat was clean, my gloves freshly washed and a hat upon my head. But Mrs. Bligh stare on me as if something was wrong with my apparel, before telling me once more, “I’m not worried about what busybodies say. I don’t mind being seen in the street with you.”

Related Characters: Hortense Roberts (speaker), Queenie Buxton
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

She think me a fool that does not know what is bread? But my mind could not believe what my eye had seen. That English people would buy their bread in this way. This man was patting on his red head and wiping his hand down his filthy white coat. Cha, why he no lick the bread first before giving it to me to eat?

Related Characters: Hortense Roberts (speaker), Queenie Buxton
Page Number: 275
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 53: Hortense Quotes

And I said to myself, Hortense, come, this is a gift from the Lord—life. What price is a little disgust on your best dress? I decided to pay it no mind.

Related Characters: Hortense Roberts (speaker), Queenie Buxton, Baby Michael
Page Number: 400
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

Michael Joseph would know his mother not from the smell of boiling milk, a whispered song or bare black feet but from the remembered taste of salt tears. Those tears that on that day dripped, one at a time, from her eye, over his lips and on to his tongue.

Related Characters: Hortense Roberts (speaker), Queenie Buxton, Baby Michael
Page Number: 437
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Small Island LitChart as a printable PDF.
Small Island PDF

Queenie Buxton Character Timeline in Small Island

The timeline below shows where the character Queenie Buxton appears in Small Island. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue: Queenie
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As a young girl, Queenie Buxton visits the British Empire Exhibition. The trip is organized by the Butchers’ Association, and... (full context)
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Amid crowds of sweating people, Queenie, Emily and Graham visit different exhibits, which are themed according to different countries in the... (full context)
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Suddenly, Queenie sees a tall black man. It’s the first black person she’s ever seen, and she’s... (full context)
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Later, Father declares the man Queenie met must have been a prince, since only rich and powerful Africans know how to... (full context)
Chapter 1: Hortense
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...so he went home to tidy up. Hortense is confused, and she’s unhappy that the Englishwoman is still standing there, listening to their private discussion. She asks Gilbert to bring her... (full context)
Chapter 2: Gilbert
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After leaving the room to fetch Hortense’s trunk, Gilbert finds Queenie downstairs. She says that Hortense is a funny name, but he points out it’s no... (full context)
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...the room and sit down for a cup of tea. He explains to her that Queenie, whose husband died in the war, owns the house and lives there as well. Hearing... (full context)
Chapter 9: Queenie
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Queenie’s neighbor, Mr. Todd, informs her that “colored” immigrants are flocking to England to take advantage... (full context)
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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... (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,... (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... (full context)
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Now, Mr. Todd informs Queenie that just today his sister was forced to step off the sidewalk to let two... (full context)
Chapter 15: Gilbert
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...enough to know that most white people are initially afraid of him. However, the attractive woman who answers the door isn’t concerned with him but simply asks, without preamble, where he... (full context)
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The woman starts to shut the door on Gilbert but he hangs around, “not ready to leave... (full context)
Chapter 16: Gilbert
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...as they are his “superiors.” He curses them and walks away, only to run into Queenie, who greets him politely. She tells him she’s lost Arthur again, and Gilbert asks if... (full context)
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However, when he arrives with Queenie at the tea shop and sits down, Gilbert is disturbed to notice three white American... (full context)
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Gilbert listens uneasily as Queenie tells him that she’s been staying with her parents in the country, but is planning... (full context)
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Suddenly, Queenie sees Arthur on the street and rushes out of the store. Gilbert stands, certain that... (full context)
Chapter 17: Gilbert
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Queenie is excited to see a movie starring Clark Gable. The usher escorts them into the... (full context)
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...of other customers. An American derisively shouts for Gilbert to do what he’s told, and Queenie shouts back, supported by some other British women. From the back of the movie house,... (full context)
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The American GIs begin fighting, trampling civilians in their haste to get at each other. Queenie grabs Arthur and Gilbert and hustles them towards the exit, but Gilbert soon loses her... (full context)
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...sounds, and the entire crowd stills. Gilbert makes his way toward the sound; he hears Queenie screaming Arthur’s name. When he reaches the corner, he sees Arthur splayed out on the... (full context)
Chapter 18: Gilbert
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...The day after the incident, Gilbert was transferred to another city; although he wrote to Queenie several times, she never answered. (full context)
Chapter 19: Gilbert
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In desperation, Gilbert remembers that he still has Queenie’s address. Hoping the house hasn’t been bombed to pieces, he rings her doorbell, which doesn’t... (full context)
Chapter 21: Gilbert
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Hurrying down the stairs, Gilbert encounters Queenie. He’s learned to avoid her much of the time. Since her husband is away, she... (full context)
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Queenie asks if it was Winston or Kenneth who helped Gilbert with the trunk yesterday. Gilbert... (full context)
Chapter 22: Hortense
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...the cold. She starts scrubbing the room and tiding up, only to be interrupted by Queenie. Hortense resents that Queenie enters without a formal invitation and starts instructing her in English... (full context)
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Queenie questions Hortense about her marriage; she’s surprised to find that Hortense has only been married... (full context)
Chapter 23: Queenie
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In a flashback, Queenie details her own childhood. Her mother wanted to name her Queenie, believing that this was... (full context)
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...wants sons to help him with this work and is disappointed to be presented with Queenie. Mother, who wakes up every day at four in the morning to prepare crust for... (full context)
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Queenie spends her childhood in the care of various girls who work for Father and Mother,... (full context)
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No matter how hard her life is, Queenie still feels superior to the miners’ children who make up the bulk of her elementary... (full context)
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Queenie is a good student and her teacher, Miss Earl, favors her and often sends her... (full context)
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One day, Mother sends Queenie to fetch Father from the butchering shed. Entering the shed for the first time in... (full context)
Chapter 24: Queenie
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In London, Aunt Dorothy hires an elocution teacher to improve Queenie’s pronunciation and departure so that she can succeed in “polite society.” Aunt Dorothy runs a... (full context)
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...Times.” The man begins visiting twice a day, and each time Aunt Dorothy makes sure Queenie is dressed prettily before she serves him. The man is always polite, but they never... (full context)
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...walk the next afternoon. He introduces himself as Bernard Bligh. For four months, Bernard and Queenie take walks twice a week. They rarely talk much, and Queenie fixates on his small... (full context)
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One day, Queenie tries to end her relationship with Bernard, but he begs for another chance and even... (full context)
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When Queenie and Bernard return to the shop that night, she finds that Aunt Dorothy has had... (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,... (full context)
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...they only use a few rooms in the basement, letting the rest molder away. When Queenie arrives, she cleans the house and rearranges furniture, trying to convince Bernard to open it... (full context)
Chapter 26: Queenie
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When the Prime Minister 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.... (full context)
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...the all-clear sounds. The air raid is the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to Queenie, and she decides she’s looking forward to war. (full context)
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Soon after, government officials come to the house asking Queenie about Mr. Plant. Even though she tells him he rarely leaves his room and never... (full context)
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When the Blitz begins, Queenie forgets her excitement and realizes how frightening the bombs really are. Arthur refuses to enter... (full context)
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...lower class are invading their neighborhood, muttering that “they’d be happier among their own kind.” Queenie is struck by the sad spectacle of a family struggling down the street in torn... (full context)
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Queenie and Bernard become exhausted from spending nearly every night in their shelter, listening to bombs.... (full context)
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Without asking Bernard, Queenie offers to shelter the Cockney family, now displaced twice, in her own home. Bernard is... (full context)
Chapter 27: Queenie
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Queenie works long shifts at the rest center, assisting the “population,” which is the official term... (full context)
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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, and even... (full context)
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Still, Queenie sometimes feels demoralized by her limited ability to provide help. Often, the rest center runs... (full context)
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When Queenie delivers the furniture, the old woman is profoundly grateful. However, as she leaves the house,... (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 for not contributing when... (full context)
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Now that Bernard is posted overseas, Queenie is singlehandedly responsible for Arthur. Because of his insanity, Queenie has always compared him to... (full context)
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Queenie’s friend at the rest center, Franny, asks her to host three officers she knows who... (full context)
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In the morning, only Michael gets up early. Queenie offers him some tea while she cleans the kitchen; she’s flustered by his good looks... (full context)
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When Arthur goes to bed, Queenie asks Michael about his origins—like many English people, she initially thinks Jamaica is in Africa.... (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... (full context)
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A bit later, Arthur wakes Queenie up urgently. He’s found Michael’s wallet, which he must have left behind; inside are photos... (full context)
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Queenie has almost reached the station when she’s caught in an air-raid. She’s thrown across the... (full context)
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Arthur collects Queenie from the hospital and takes her home, fretting over her ceaselessly. When he tucks her... (full context)
Chapter 30: Gilbert
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After Gilbert finds accommodation with Queenie, he starts searching for a job. With a letter from the labor office, he interviews... (full context)
Chapter 31: Hortense
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...Then he finds fault with the potatoes she’s made for him, even though she followed Queenie’s instructions on how to make “chips.” He doesn’t even appreciate that Hortense has worked all... (full context)
Chapter 33: Hortense
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Meeting Queenie at her door to go to the shops, Hortense is horrified to see the Englishwoman’s... (full context)
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Outside, Hortense is astonished to find that every Englishwoman is dressed like Queenie. Queenie explains the concept of a grocery store as if Hortense... (full context)
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...cloth lying all over the floor, many of them dirty and frayed. She explains to Queenie that in Jamaica, all the fabric is organized by color on neat shelves; in response,... (full context)
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...at her from across the street. One of them throws a piece of bread at Queenie, but she just hustles Hortense away rather than confronting them. As they walk home, Queenie... (full context)
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...a tall, thin man standing at the doorway. Hortense has never 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... (full context)
Chapter 35: Bernard
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Queenie hadn’t wanted Bernard to join up until he was conscripted. However, Bernard knew that if... (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 her at the kitchen, freed from the frightening nights in the bomb... (full context)
Chapter 43: Bernard
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...murderers. During the long, hot days, Bernard tries many times to begin a letter to Queenie, but he can never think what to say. (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 Bernard. Bernard and Queenie spent the days... (full context)
Chapter 44: Bernard
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...more than a young girl, and that she’s terrified by his violent behavior. Bernard imagines Queenie’s disgust if she could see him at this moment; rather than making him into a... (full context)
Chapter 45: Bernard
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...dropping him off at home just as they returned his father. Most importantly, he imagines Queenie’s shame and anger when they tell her that her husband has contracted syphilis. (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 have her... (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 that he’s spent two... (full context)
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Hearing Queenie shouting, Gilbert comes downstairs to check on her. Angry to see a black man in... (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... (full context)
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Neither Bernard nor Queenie have the courage to kiss goodnight. Feeling unsettled, Queenie locks her bedroom door after he... (full context)
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...moreover, Mr. Todd has already told him that the one white renter, Jean, is a woman of questionable repute. Queenie contests that, with her husband missing, she had to provide for... (full context)
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...they move to the suburbs, just as Mr. Todd is planning to do. He tells Queenie he wants to start a rabbit farm, and that she can be his partner and... (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 flying over the house. He knows the pilot... (full context)
Chapter 49: Gilbert
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...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 the... (full context)
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...pushes him, and he falls over. Moreover, Kenneth admits he’s insulted Bernard by saying that Queenie is attracted to black men. Gilbert is aghast, knowing that his behavior will have repercussions... (full context)
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...friends and beat up Bernard, but Gilbert rejects this plan and says he’ll talk to Queenie. (full context)
Chapter 52: Bernard
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Aghast, Gilbert asks why Queenie never told him about this and says he’ll only take orders from her, not Bernard.... (full context)
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...that she “could try harder.” Enraged, Gilbert shouts at him and starts pushing. Just then, Queenie arrives, out of breath from the stairs. Bernard is pleased to see her witness Gilbert’s... (full context)
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The two men seem on the verge of blows, and Queenie and Hortense each try to restrain their husbands. Suddenly, Queenie doubles over and howls in... (full context)
Chapter 53: Hortense
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Downstairs, Queenie makes Hortense lock the door and slide a chair under the handle. Hortense begs her... (full context)
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Hortense knows nothing about giving birth, and she awkwardly pats Queenie’s hand while choking back tears of fear. Queenie isn’t afraid—she tells Hortense it will be... (full context)
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Queenie’s contractions are coming more frequently now, and Hortense reluctantly opens her legs to examine the... (full context)
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...slimy baby to its mother, quietly pleased that she hasn’t stained her wedding dress. Following Queenie’s instructions, she ties the umbilical cord and cuts it. Lovingly, Queenie inspects the new baby,... (full context)
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Hortense approaches the baby, which Queenie has swaddled in a towel. On closer inspection, she’s astounded to see that the baby,... (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... (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... (full context)
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In the middle of the night, Queenie hears a knock on the door. Answering, she finds Michael Roberts on her doorstep. Instantly,... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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His mood changing, Michael asks Queenie if she’s ever felt the force of a hurricane, and takes her upstairs to bed.... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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At night, Queenie discusses plans for the future with her unborn baby. She considers using her savings to... (full context)
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Bernard listens to Queenie’s entire story without interrupting or reproaching her. When she finishes, he stands up and leaves... (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... (full context)
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Bernard hears the baby whimper, which he knows will soon turn into howls. Opening Queenie’s door slightly, he sees his wife asleep. The doctor has ordered her to rest, and... (full context)
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Bernard finds Queenie awake, looking at him in shock. He tells her that he spent time in prison... (full context)
Chapter 58: Queenie
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...end up shouting insults at each other, Bernard is pleased, since this means he and Queenie can sell the house and move to the suburbs. Queenie understands that Bernard wants a... (full context)
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Queenie has been waiting for hours for Hortense and Gilbert to pass by her door; now,... (full context)
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Clumsily, Queenie thanks Hortense for helping her with her childbirth. She offers to give them some furniture... (full context)
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Hoping to break the ice, Queenie picks up the baby from his crib, wraps him in a shawl, and hands him... (full context)
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Queenie goes into the kitchen to help Bernard make tea, but for a minute she watches... (full context)
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Hortense and Gilbert are in shock, but Queenie pleads earnestly for them to bring baby Michael up as their own son. Suddenly, Bernard... (full context)
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...suggests that they move to the suburbs and tell everyone baby Michael is adopted. Crying, Queenie points out that such a solution won’t work when the baby grows up and other... (full context)
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Turning back to Gilbert and Hortense, Queenie says that she trusts them to raise baby Michael, and that she prefers giving him... (full context)
Chapter 59: Hortense
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Gilbert tries to argue with Queenie, telling her that no one can take care of the baby as well as its... (full context)
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Hortense watches Queenie as she sadly packs up baby Michael’s clothes, kissing them as she folds him. Just... (full context)
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...pouch. Opening it, she finds a bundle of money and photograph of a much younger Queenie. She knows that if she tells Gilbert, his pride will make him insist on returning... (full context)
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Without any regret, Hortense closes the door of their wretched little room. At Queenie’s door she pauses and knocks; she’s sure the other woman is inside, but no one... (full context)