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
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.