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Inspired Wordsmith
Stephanie
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Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Small Island Discussion Questions

[ Edited ]

 

In the "Prologue," how does Levy show that perception of race is often a result of misperception?

 

This thread will be built with added discussion questions as we progress through the novel.

Stephanie
Wordsmith
Fozzie
Posts: 2,404
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

In the "Prologue," how does Levy show that perception of race is often a result of misperception?

 

I was struck by the children's surprise that the black man in the African exhibit spoke English and by Queenie's reaction when she shook his hand.  "It was warm and slightly sweaty like anyone else's."

 

I am just 50 pages into the book and like the uniqueness of it --- the story, the characters and their voices, and the "timeline," for lack of a better word.

 

P.S.  Hi Stephanie!

Laura

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.
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crzynwrd4lf
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Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

It didn't surprise me that she was shocked by a black man shaking her hand. Queenie's father & mother seem to be arrogant and ignorant-- the worst combination. They were both putting Graham and Emily down and in turn Graham and Emily put Queenie down. The last line unnerved me, "See here Queenie. Look around. You've got the whole world at your feet, lass." Considering the girls name is Queenie, it does seem kind of arrogant. Agree?

 

I did get a kick out of Graham not being able to follow the black man's directions to the restroom and he spoke more "civilized" than they did.

 

Kayla

"One potato, two potato, three potato, four/ she's coming for you now, you better lock the door"-- Promise Not To Tell
Wordsmith
Fozzie
Posts: 2,404
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

The last line unnerved me, "See here Queenie. Look around. You've got the whole world at your feet, lass." Considering the girls name is Queenie, it does seem kind of arrogant. Agree?

 


Yes, I think the name Queenie is going to fit her.  I haven't gotten far enough into the book yet to know how though.

Laura

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.
Inspired Contributor
Marek_S
Posts: 37
Registered: ‎03-30-2010

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

Levy does a fantastic job juxtaposing Queenie’s family next to the women and the black man in the African exhibit.  Early on in the prologue we see how closed-minded Queenie’s father is when he refuses to call Graham by his given name, choosing to refer to him as “Jim.”  It shows her father’s lack of effort in recognizing someone by who they are.

 

Later, when Graham mentions that the Africans are “not civilized” then later runs outside behind some bins to urinate rather than utilizing the WC, we see just how human nature behaves.  The African man who politely introduced himself to Queenie appeared, at first glance, to be much more refined than Queenie’s family members.

 

Levy is simply calling out Human Nature for what it is…how many times are we afraid of someone because they hail from a different cultural/religious/etc. culture?  These differences are only exploited when we refuse to open ourselves up to them.  Human Nature requires us to be fearful of what is different.  We are constantly comparing our “superior” ways to these different ways.

 

And, because our perception = our reality…we believe everything we perceive, accurate or not.

Marek
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Stephanie
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Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

[ Edited ]

 

Small Island is alternately narrated by four characters—Queenie, Hortense, Gilbert, and Bernard. How does this narrative style contribute to the drama of the story? Did you find certain narrators more compelling? If you were to choose one narrator to tell the story, which would you chose? Why?

 

Stephanie
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Stephanie
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Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

Hi Laura!  Great to see you.  I too was surprised at the reaction to the African man - I loved the set-up, however.  Those preconceived notions, blown away. 

 

 

Fozzie wrote:

In the "Prologue," how does Levy show that perception of race is often a result of misperception?

 

I was struck by the children's surprise that the black man in the African exhibit spoke English and by Queenie's reaction when she shook his hand.  "It was warm and slightly sweaty like anyone else's."

 

I am just 50 pages into the book and like the uniqueness of it --- the story, the characters and their voices, and the "timeline," for lack of a better word.

 

P.S.  Hi Stephanie!

 

Stephanie
Inspired Wordsmith
Stephanie
Posts: 2,613
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

Marek - great point about fear of differences.  I believe this is the basis of all fears - the unknown. 

 

Queenie's father is a product of his times.  I was somewhat disappointed when he decided to call Graham Jim, but I wasn't surprised.

Marek_S wrote:

Levy does a fantastic job juxtaposing Queenie’s family next to the women and the black man in the African exhibit.  Early on in the prologue we see how closed-minded Queenie’s father is when he refuses to call Graham by his given name, choosing to refer to him as “Jim.”  It shows her father’s lack of effort in recognizing someone by who they are.

 

Later, when Graham mentions that the Africans are “not civilized” then later runs outside behind some bins to urinate rather than utilizing the WC, we see just how human nature behaves.  The African man who politely introduced himself to Queenie appeared, at first glance, to be much more refined than Queenie’s family members.

 

Levy is simply calling out Human Nature for what it is…how many times are we afraid of someone because they hail from a different cultural/religious/etc. culture?  These differences are only exploited when we refuse to open ourselves up to them.  Human Nature requires us to be fearful of what is different.  We are constantly comparing our “superior” ways to these different ways.

 

And, because our perception = our reality…we believe everything we perceive, accurate or not.

 

Stephanie
Distinguished Wordsmith
crzynwrd4lf
Posts: 503
Registered: ‎04-04-2010

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

I think Levy does an excellent job with each narration. I like when one character narrates it's through their actual perception. I'm not sure how to describe it properly... Because the narrators aren't omniscent and you get to see all the of the narrators it makes the characters more alive. does that make sense? I also like how each voice is different like Queenie's is more proper where Gilbert misses a few words. Very dynamic characters and Levy does a fantastic job of the individuality. Honestly I don't think I would have only own narrator for this story, it would make the story incomplete and lopsided, though, I have to say I do enjoy Hortense's point of view, I'm not sure why yet. I'm only about a hundred and fifty pages into though so it might change.

 

Kayla

 

 

Stephanie wrote:

 

Small Island is alternately narrated by four characters—Queenie, Hortense, Gilbert, and Bernard. How does this narrative style contribute to the drama of the story? Did you find certain narrators more compelling? If you were to choose one narrator to tell the story, which would you chose? Why?

 

 

 

"One potato, two potato, three potato, four/ she's coming for you now, you better lock the door"-- Promise Not To Tell
Inspired Contributor
Marek_S
Posts: 37
Registered: ‎03-30-2010

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

It is disappointing.  I'm about halfway through (around the 190's) and so I'm reading more of Queenie's story...it's interesting to see how her mother, too, is a product of her upbringing and generation by the way she refers to those around her and how she talks to Queenie about them as well.  These girls who help run the family business are somewhat dehumanized by the way Queenie's mother talks to/about them.

 

It's hard to experience this fear of opening yourself up to someone...even if it is the hired help.

Marek
Inspired Contributor
Marek_S
Posts: 37
Registered: ‎03-30-2010

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

Kayla - I totally get what you mean.  A story isn't a story unless you get all the versions and all those versions come from different people.  I think about my marriage...my side of the story isn't complete.  I need my husband's perspective to complete it and make it whole.

 

The use of the different narrators really brings this story to life for me.  It's so true to how life really is for all of us.  We experience the same situation in a completely different way than someone else.  We process it differently.  We react differently.  Our uniqueness allows us to experience something one way and learn from someone else's experience.

 

I am really enjoying this narrative method that Levy has employed.

Marek
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crzynwrd4lf
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Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

Has anyone else gotten really mad at the prejudices? I'm not trying to be obvious or anything but I give Queenie credit. Despite her upbringing she still befriends Gilbert. Not only that, she doesn't care about her neighbors getting upset at the borders she takes in.

 

 

Kayla

"One potato, two potato, three potato, four/ she's coming for you now, you better lock the door"-- Promise Not To Tell
Distinguished Bibliophile
Peppermill
Posts: 6,768
Registered: ‎04-04-2007

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

The use of the different narrators really brings this story to life for me.  It's so true to how life really is for all of us.  We experience the same situation in a completely different way than someone else.  We process it differently.  We react differently.  Our uniqueness allows us to experience something one way and learn from someone else's experience.

 

I just opened my copy of Small Island this afternoon, so I am far behind all of you.

 

But, your comment, Marek, reminded me very much of the summer I was 21 (longer ago than I am about to admit here) when I was introduced to Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, which tells the same story from three perspectives (space) and then finally a fourth later (time).  It has been rolling around in my consciousness recently as a set of books that it is time for me to read again.

 

 

Marek_S wrote:

Kayla - I totally get what you mean.  A story isn't a story unless you get all the versions and all those versions come from different people.  I think about my marriage...my side of the story isn't complete.  I need my husband's perspective to complete it and make it whole.

 

The use of the different narrators really brings this story to life for me.  It's so true to how life really is for all of us.  We experience the same situation in a completely different way than someone else.  We process it differently.  We react differently.  Our uniqueness allows us to experience something one way and learn from someone else's experience.

 

I am really enjoying this narrative method that Levy has employed.

 

 

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
Distinguished Wordsmith
crzynwrd4lf
Posts: 503
Registered: ‎04-04-2010
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Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

How does that saying go? "Oh the tangled webs we weave..." Levy has done a phenomenal job. I can't wait to see the PBS special and find out about her thoughts with this lovely piece of art.

 

Kayla

"One potato, two potato, three potato, four/ she's coming for you now, you better lock the door"-- Promise Not To Tell
Inspired Contributor
Marek_S
Posts: 37
Registered: ‎03-30-2010

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

Imagine believing the Mother Country is something to fight for and then having those people you fought for treat you like that.  I really enjoyed reading the section where Queenie takes Hortense out to the shops for the first time and Hortense's naivete.

 

crzynwrd4lf wrote:

Has anyone else gotten really mad at the prejudices? I'm not trying to be obvious or anything but I give Queenie credit. Despite her upbringing she still befriends Gilbert. Not only that, she doesn't care about her neighbors getting upset at the borders she takes in.

 

 

Kayla

 

 

Marek
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Peppermill
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Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

I look forward to the initial reactions to tonight's showing.

 

I missed the first half hour and haven't gotten far with reading the book, so shall wait to comment, except to say there is certainly strong emotional content.  I believe it will be possible to view online -- hope so.

 

Pepper

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Stephanie
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Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

Pepper,

 

Check your local listings and the PBS video schedule site: PBS TV Schedules to see when they're going to air it again. They are showing it again tonight in my area.

 

 

Stephanie
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Marek_S
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Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

Go to PBS.org, TV Shows, MASTERPIECE.  It's totally available online.  It was well done, I hope you enjoy it!

Marek
Inspired Contributor
Marek_S
Posts: 37
Registered: ‎03-30-2010

Re: Masterpiece Theater Warning!

I really enjoyed last night’s episode of Masterpiece Theater.  It was tastefully done, but if you haven’t read the entire book (or close to finishing it), there will be some plot spoilers!  The Masterpiece Theater version is only 3-4 hours long, so you can imagine they had to abbreviate some things from the 400+ page novel.

Marek
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crzynwrd4lf
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Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

Haven't had a chance to watch the masterpiece though I have recorded it. I thought the book was amazing and I'm hoping the movie is just as fascinating!

 

Kayla

"One potato, two potato, three potato, four/ she's coming for you now, you better lock the door"-- Promise Not To Tell