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

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

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?

 

 

We only get very brief glimpses into the present day of the story, 1948, for almost all of the book.  We don't understand the characters' actions and reactions until we learn their back stories, as told by them.  I don't think I have read a book that gives such short snippets of the present day of the story and then couples those with long narratives of the past by each narrator.  It was different and I liked the technique.

 

I consider it to be one of the book's strength's to have multiple narrators, two men, two women, the home front, the true battle front, the foreign experiences, etc.  Personally, because I don't like to read about battle scenes and military things, I found the sections narrated by Gilbert and Bernard held less interest for me.  The sections were well written and completely necessary based on the way the story was being told, and I am speaking only of my personal interest, not the quality of the writing.

 

I don't see how the story could be told from just one point of view.  It would lose so much dimension.  If just Queenie told the story, her part would be interesting, but the readers couldn't possibly understand the prejudice and discrimination experienced by black people to truly appreciate her lack thereof.  Hortense's story is interesting, but when intertwined with Gilbert's story is much more so.  I probably wouldn't read a story told just by Gilbert or Bernard. 

Laura

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.
Wordsmith
Fozzie
Posts: 2,404
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

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

 

It's hard to believe that in England in 1948, some people in the countryside hadn't seen a black person before!  Wow!  That really struck me.

 

I was most annoyed by the prejudices during one of Gilbert's early sections, when he was serving in the military.  If I was sick of reading about how he was treated badly at every turn, I can't imagine how beaten down he must have felt to be actually treated so.

Laura

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.
Wordsmith
Fozzie
Posts: 2,404
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

I've completed the book, but haven't watched Part One of the show from Sunday yet.

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

[ Edited ]

It's fun to read all four perspectives not only for the insight into their own lives that we receive, but for insight into the other narrators' lives.  When we'd read from Queenie's POV, we also learned a lot about Bernard, and vice versa.

 

It's so indicative of life...so often we get caught up in our own personal drama that we can't see the forest for the trees.  Others often have a more total perspective of the situation when they aren't entrenched in it like we are.  And other times, a simple gesture can so easily be misperceived.  When we aren't fully in-tune with someone, something as simple as a smile can be taken the wrong way...we question the smiler's motives. 

 

But not only that, our pasts to dictate our future...past experiences stay with us our entire lives.  They are so important in people seeing us for who we truly are.  They make us who we are today.  They dictate what decisions we make now and in the future.  I loved diving into the past of each character.  It was rich.  It was like digging into fresh, fragrant earth and finding treasure underneath.  It's having this epiphany, this "ah ha" moment where we realize the deeper mechanics of their actions and desires.

 

I enjoyed watching four characters so out of touch with their respective partner and seeing them journey to get closer to "oneness."  It's a journey and it's work, for sure.  But we need each other...human beings need one another.  We are social creatures.  It's not unlike my need to discuss these things on this forum with all of you...we need engagement and discussion and feeling like we're being heard.  I think our four narrators are getting closer to that when Small Island concludes.

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

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

[ Edited ]

Laura, I have to chuckle at your observation of the countryside residents of England at that time and their response to seeing a black person for the first time.  My husband grew up in a rural community and he didn't see a black person until he was in his teens.  He even dressed up as a black person for Halloween as a child because it was so foreign to him at that age.  He's certainly not prejudice, for heaven's sake he married a girl with a very diverse ethnic background, but it's interesting for me to see how different his first experience is as opposed to these folks in the countryside in the UK back in the 40's.  They didn't have movies or television or the internet to connect them to others the way we do now.

Marek
Inspired Wordsmith
Stephanie
Posts: 2,613
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

Laura,

 

My brother-in-law, born and raised in Iowa, did not see a black person until he was 20 years old, in the 1970s.  Surreal, isn't it?

 

I couldn't believe the rampant racism either.  It might have been "isolated" during the war as a whole, but probably wasn't really very isolated to all the black men who served. 

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

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions - SPOILER

SPOILER

 

I enjoyed watching four characters so out of touch with their respective partner and seeing them journey to get closer to "oneness."  It's a journey and it's work, for sure.  But we need each other...human beings need one another.  We are social creatures.  It's not unlike my need to discuss these things on this forum with all of you...we need engagement and discussion and feeling like we're being heard.  I think our four narrators are getting closer to that when Small Island concludes.

 

 

 

I agree.  Surprisingly, Queenie and Hortense have a lot in common.  They come from modest backgrounds that they wanted to escape.  They moved away from their homes, obviously Hortense further.  They sacrificed real love and marriage for the opportunity to make better lives for themselves away from their upbringings.  I wonder if they will ever realize how much they have in common?

Laura

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.
Distinguished Wordsmith
crzynwrd4lf
Posts: 503
Registered: ‎04-04-2010
0 Kudos

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

This is where I think I have an advantage being so young. I grew up in Southeast WI in a poorer neighborhood and I had a chance to meet a lot of ethnicities. Black, asian, white, spanish-- a whole smorgesborge of different cultures. My mother also raised her children to be "color blind" and when I would ask her what my own background was she would reply with, "Your an American." I would press her further and she would continue with the same answer. It wasn't until later that I found out I was half polish half italian, but by then I didn't really care what my background was and I was proud to be in the "melting pot" country. This of course would disappoint me.

 

My older brother is half black and gets mistaken for mexican so for him it's been really hard growing up and having to see his struggles gives me a certain blind rage to intolerance. I have a lot of pride for being an American citizen (even though I disagree with alot of things that go on) and having the opportunity to learn about the entire world right here in my backyard from others who come from every corner of the globe.

 

I have to say I feel ashamed of how we treat people that are different than us and I try to counter act this by stepping in when someone tries to put someone down for their culture or likes, etc. I have a fairly good tendency of making a fool out of someone who displays their ignorancy and though I probably should feel bad about it, I don't. That whole saying about walking in someone else's shoes is advice everyone should take to heart and make an effort to see from the other person's point of view. Learning is the only combatant to intolerance and ignorance. Okay I'm off my soap box, sorry for rambling off topic!

 

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
0 Kudos

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions - SPOILER

I was thinking the exact same thing.  They truly do have so many common factors...and yet the way that Small Island ends made me wonder if they ever find out just how much they have in common.

Fozzie wrote:

SPOILER

 

I enjoyed watching four characters so out of touch with their respective partner and seeing them journey to get closer to "oneness."  It's a journey and it's work, for sure.  But we need each other...human beings need one another.  We are social creatures.  It's not unlike my need to discuss these things on this forum with all of you...we need engagement and discussion and feeling like we're being heard.  I think our four narrators are getting closer to that when Small Island concludes.

 

 

 

I agree.  Surprisingly, Queenie and Hortense have a lot in common.  They come from modest backgrounds that they wanted to escape.  They moved away from their homes, obviously Hortense further.  They sacrificed real love and marriage for the opportunity to make better lives for themselves away from their upbringings.  I wonder if they will ever realize how much they have in common?

 

Marek
Contributor
E-Pop
Posts: 10
Registered: ‎01-22-2010
0 Kudos

Re: Small Island Discussion Questions

A lot of the books I've read that touch on the topic of racism and prejudice were set in America, where African Americans sort of "grew up" with racism.  It was new interesting experience to read a story in which the characters were not expecting it. 

 

How appalling to have the "Mother Country" expect you to give up your life for it, but not want you around when the war is over?

 

Or grow up admiring and imitating the ways of the "Mother Country," but not be qualified to work in it?

 

I am surprised but admire Gilbert and Hortense for deciding to stay in England after the way the Mother Country treats them. 

New User
seek
Posts: 1
Registered: ‎08-07-2010
0 Kudos

a question on the Small Island

Hi everyone,

 

I have a question on this novel. One amazing thing of this novel is

that it has four narrators. I believe the narrative point of view of

two characters in Andrea Levy’s Small Island may result in different

versions of the same event. And their particular perspective is

influenced by their character and context (that is, their personal and

political circumstances such as their race, class, and gender.). But

after I read it, I can't find any significant event like this.

 

Do you have the same feeling? If not, could anyone give me some

examples and share with me your idea on what makes their perspectives different

on that event?

 

Thank you.

Distinguished Bibliophile
Peppermill
Posts: 6,768
Registered: ‎04-04-2007
0 Kudos

Re: a question on the Small Island

 


seek wrote:

Hi everyone,

 

I have a question on this novel. One amazing thing of this novel is

that it has four narrators. I believe the narrative point of view of

two characters in Andrea Levy’s Small Island may result in different

versions of the same event. And their particular perspective is

influenced by their character and context (that is, their personal and

political circumstances such as their race, class, and gender.). But

after I read it, I can't find any significant event like this.

 

Do you have the same feeling? If not, could anyone give me some

examples and share with me your idea on what makes their perspectives different

on that event?

 

Thank you.


 

 

Seek -- You might find it useful to reread, or to get a copy of the Masterpiece Theatre film.  I haven't spent a lot of time with either, but enough with both but what I believe the answers to your questions are there, although perhaps not so much with a particular event as with circumstances and with lack of knowledge about what happens to one or more other characters.

 

 

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

Re: a question on the Small Island


seek wrote:

Hi everyone,

 

I have a question on this novel. One amazing thing of this novel is

that it has four narrators. I believe the narrative point of view of

two characters in Andrea Levy’s Small Island may result in different

versions of the same event. And their particular perspective is

influenced by their character and context (that is, their personal and

political circumstances such as their race, class, and gender.). But

after I read it, I can't find any significant event like this.

 

Do you have the same feeling? If not, could anyone give me some

examples and share with me your idea on what makes their perspectives different

on that event?

 

Thank you.


 

SPOILER

 

It has been awhile since I read the book, but it seems to me that the identity of a male, maybe the child of the white woman and the black man she has a brief affair with, was not known by all the characters, but only by careful readers and the white woman (whose name I can't recall but who rented the rooms of the house).

 

Laura

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.