Small Island

Small Island

by

Andrea Levy

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Small Island can help.

Queenie’s House Symbol Analysis

Queenie’s House Symbol Icon

Queenie’s house, in which most of the present action takes place, represents not just domestic comfort but refuge and liberation. For Gilbert and Hortense, the house is the one place where they can live on their own terms, away from the discrimination they experience elsewhere—notably, Gilbert is adamant that Hortense never clean on her knees because he wants their room to be a place of dignity. Additionally, the house is the location of their tenuous friendship with Queenie, one of the novel’s few instances of racial cohesion. When Queenie arrives as a dubious bride, the house and its stultifying routines feel like a trap; but when Bernard fails to return after the war, it provides her an independent livelihood as a landlady, freeing her from the smothered feeling of married life. Moreover, the house’s privacy allows her to have an affair with Michael without subjecting such a relationship to the scrutiny and stigma of the outside world, liberating them both—if only for a moment—from the confines of structural racism. The house is a refuge for Bernard as well, but for him it represents the intensely segregated, classist, and patriarchal prewar society in which he felt privileged and comfortable. While Bernard is dismayed by changed society to which he returns after the war, he hopes to retreat into his house and recreate a world that is rapidly vanishing.

These two clashing ideas of what the house should represent—subversive progress or regressive traditionalism—mean that the house is not only a place of refuge but a battleground, playing out in miniature the social conflicts that are gripping the nation as a whole. By the end, the Josephs move out of the house, and the Blighs make plans to leave as well; either side wins or loses, but the house becomes intolerable to everyone. Because of this outcome, the house represents not only the possibility of refuge, but the ephemeral, transient nature of such comfort.

Queenie’s House Quotes in Small Island

The Small Island quotes below all refer to the symbol of Queenie’s House. 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.
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:
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Queenie’s House Symbol Timeline in Small Island

The timeline below shows where the symbol Queenie’s House appears in Small Island. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Gilbert
Redemption Theme Icon
...tea. He explains to her that Queenie, whose husband died in the war, owns the house and lives there as well. Hearing that she’s single, Hortense asks suspiciously how friendly Gilbert... (full context)
Chapter 9: Queenie
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
...“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... (full context)
Chapter 26: Queenie
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Redemption Theme Icon
...look outside and reassure him, he tackles her to keep her from endangering herself. The house and Arthur survive intact, and afterward Bernard tells her that he loves her. (full context)
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
...asking Bernard, Queenie offers to shelter the Cockney family, now displaced twice, in her own home. Bernard is furious and refuses to let them stay for more than a day, after... (full context)
Chapter 33: Hortense
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
Their argument ceases abruptly when they reach the house to find a tall, thin man standing at the doorway. Hortense has never seen him... (full context)
Chapter 34: Queenie
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
Queenie is stunned to see Bernard arrive casually at the house, as if he’d never been gone. When she remarks caustically that he’s “been away a... (full context)
Chapter 46: Bernard
Displacement and Belonging Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
...Gilbert 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... (full context)
Chapter 49: Gilbert
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
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. When Bernard comes to... (full context)
Chapter 52: Bernard
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
...that he pays rent in order to have privacy, and Bernard retorts that it’s his house, and he can go wherever he wants. Fed up with Gilbert, he announces that the... (full context)
Manners and Civilization Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
...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 he wants with it. Gilbert may have... (full context)
Chapter 55: Queenie
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
...takes her upstairs to bed. For the next three days, they huddle together inside the house, only emerging from the bedroom for haphazard meals. However, Queenie knows this affair is only... (full context)
Chapter 57: Bernard
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
...hoping to become pregnant. Unsure what to do and feeling useless, Bernard idles around the house, trying only to move around the house when Queenie is resting so he won’t be... (full context)
Chapter 58: Queenie
Redemption Theme Icon
Marriage and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
...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 new start, and feels... (full context)