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Updated September 28, 2022

The A Rich Disdain

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The A Rich Disdain essay
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Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place (1988) depicts the changes of Antigua experienced by Kincaid, and it also shows the differences between the tourists to Antigua and the citizens. These differences in looking at Antigua creates a large culture barrier that would be difficult to overcome as shown in Kincaid’s clear disdain for the tourists. As an Antiguan native, she seems to hold a lot of hatred for foreigners due to the past rule of the British in Antigua, which causes her to have a predetermined opinion on all tourists. This divide is seen in K. Saraswathi Amma’s The Subordinate as Paru Amma lives a worse life in comparison to the Americans due to their privilege. In both A Small Place and The Subordinate, one sees that cultural pride is making both Amma and Kincaid very bitter towards people outside their cultures. This is shown through Kincaid’s rant about the tourists, Europeans, and, later, the newer generation. Paru Amma holds her disdain due from being a servant who is treated horribly as well as her daughter being treated the same while the wealthy are taking advantage of them. Through these events, I argue that the sociocultural differences between culturally wealthy and proud groups lead to complications in the form of disdain. By seemingly hating these cultural foreigners and the wealthy, the potential for compromise and diplomatic solutions to cultural differences is lost as it is difficult to come to an accord with someone who has strong negative feelings towards your culture as a foreigner or a wealthy person. This disdain is clearly shown when reading Kincaid’s opinion on tourists to Antigua.

Kincaid describes a tourist’s mindset of vacationing in Antigua while offering her own input. When comparing the experience of a tourist at the airport to a native Antiguan’s experience, Kincaid writes, “Since you are a tourists, a North American or European-to be frank, white-and not an Antiguan black returning to Antigua from Europe or North America with cardboard boxes of much needed cheap clothes and food for relatives,” (4). The tone of this sentence shows Kincaid’s distaste for Europeans and North Americans, more specifically, white Europeans and North Americans. She implies that all North American and Europeans are obviously white by her use of the words, “to be frank.” She seems to add the detail of Antiguans returning from Europe or North America with boxes of clothes and food as a comparison between why foreigners come to Antigua and why Antiguans come back. Kincaid’s tone, wording, and unnecessary detail of why people come to Antigua show her dislike and, perhaps, hatred of Europeans and North Americans. This biased opinion in this hypothetical tourist story shows that Kincaid would not be able to have an interaction with a foreigner without having a predetermined thought of their experiences based on her viewpoint of their culture. The predetermination of behavior based on culture is seen again in Amma’s The Subordinate when Paru Amma when her daughter is killed.

When Paru Amma’s daughter was killed, she was asked who killed her by the commissioner. Amma wrote, “She noticed that he was no longer lean and handsome but fat and ugly. She said in a neutral voice,’I did.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Death and prison are preferable to wayward living.’ Her tone and attitude moved him.” (159). Despite the assistant from the temple being the one to kill her daughter, Amma admitted to killing her daughter in a neutral voice. This neutral voice is shocking as Amma just witnessed her daughter’s death, and she is not breaking down or speaking in a depressed tone. The commissioner’s reply of asking why she did this demonstrates his confusion over her actions. Her reasoning is revealed earlier in The Subordinate.

When Paru Amma looks upon her life, Amma writes, “Paru Amma saw before her a life bleeding constantly from painful memories- that would be erased after her death… She saw a vision of her daughter’s body-bleeding, throbbing… Would a murder go unpunished?” (157). Her reasoning is shown as she looks upon her life and comments on how painful her memories are. By having a vision of her daughter’s death and asking whether the murder would go unpunished, Amma saw an opportunity to erase her memories through being punished with death. When her daughter dies, she takes responsibility in hopes of her death. She states, “Death and prison are preferable to wayward living.” (Amma 159). This is because she wants to die to rid herself of her memories. The commissioner is confused as he has lived a wealthy life, as concluded from him going from lean to fat. This change would only occur if he was eating more than enough for his meals. So, upon learning of her struggle he is moved. This shows how the culture of the wealthier commissioner drives a wedge between the more poor members of society. This concept is built upon a little later in The Subordinate.

After the commissioner hears that Paru Amma killed her daughter, he thinks on her words. Amma writes, “He suspected that in some way she held him responsible for this cruel deed.” (159). It seems that because he has eaten so well, that his wealth and food would have been shared with the poorer people in his country and it may have prevented this. Noticing that Paru Amma is smiling at her daughter’s death, the commissioner asks about her relationship with the deceased. Paru Amma thinks, “How dare she smile, forgetting her subordinate position!” (Amma 159). Paru Amma’s mocking tone in her thoughts during this shows how she hates him for her painful life. This hatred and subordination that is shown directly links to the subordination that was felt by Antiguans during British occupation. It shows how the different cultures between classes clash and cause the deep disdain and hatred felt by the poor to form for the wealthy. This difference is further illustrated when Kincaid describes a tourist’s vision when walking past an Antiguan school.

A tourist is shown as someone who has privileged way of living because they can afford to take a trip to another country for a vacation. Kincaid writes, “You pass a building sitting in a sea of dust and you think, It’s some latrines for the people just passing by, but when you look at it again you see the building has written on it PIGGOT’S SCHOOL.” (7). The sea of dust shows that the building is very old and is not taken care of properly. When the tourist thinks of the building as latrine or restroom, it shows how the only building that is so run down in his or her eyes is a restroom. When a second look is taken, the tourist sees the building as a school. This shows that a hypothetical tourist from Europe or North America would have trouble relating and understanding native Antiguans because he or she lives in a wealthy country. Kincaid’s vision of a tourist shows that she has an opinion that all tourists are wealthy which would make her upset and hate them for the tourists not using their money to help others out. This opinion is clearly shown through her speaking to the reader as a tourist.

After showing how a tourist spends his or her time in Antigua, Kincaid writes, “The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you became a tourist is true: A tourist is an ugly human being.” Her wording of how this became true only at the moment of becoming a tourist is extremely interesting. It shows how tourists are not always ugly people, but only become ugly after going to a far away place for a vacation. For Kincaid, it seems that once someone wealthy enough and bored enough to leave their hometown or country for a vacation is when people become ugly. This shows that she understands how ordinary North Americans or Europeans not nearly as wealthy or as ugly as their wealthy counterparts. As the ones who are wealthy enough to go on a vacation to another country are wealthy enough to actually help those in need with their extra funds that they are using to go on a vacation. By calling them ugly, Kincaid shows her disdain and hatred towards those who are wealthy because they have a different culture and do not wish to help anyone except for themselves.

To conclude, Kincaid and Paru Amma saw the different culture and privilege of the wealthy, and their abuse of their wealth which makes the lives of the poor worse. The disdain shown by Paru Amma and Kincaid through the lives of the tourists and the commissioner will make it difficult for them to have actual negotiations and diplomacy with them because they will just assume that the wealthy will be selfish in all of their reasonings. In this, the cultural differences between the wealthy and poor are shown clearly, and that communication between these two will always be harmed from this bias. In having this generalizing hatred for the wealthy, they may make it more difficult for those who are wealthy and willing to help them.

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