Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ignorance, Fear and Stupidity

Perhaps this is a harsh title for this post but I couldn’t think of any other way to title it without it sounding like a thesis on the flaws of colonialism, racism, protectionism, war and the effects on society. All this from reading a book called Small Island by Andrea Levy.

Small Island chronicles a small group of people whose lives intertwine in and around World War II. The style is interesting and easy to read although I found I had to re-read lines a couple of times as Levy's dialogue is written in Jamaican patois. The story is told from the first person and shifts amongst the perspectives of the handful of characters. Most of the characters are endearing, funny, flawed, their relationships fairly simple but made extremely complex by the circumstances of war and colonialism. In this case, the colonial relationship is primarily that of England and Jamaica with a little bit of India thrown in as well.

Although Canada was a colony of England and to some extent we Canadians still pride ourselves on our Commonwealth history and relationship with the Mother Country, our modern experience is not that of the typical colony.

I am sure that when a country sets out to colonize (ie. take over) another country, it is always in their mind, with the best of intentions (either for them or the colony). That is to get the best of that colony for the mother country. But what’s in it for the subjects? Well, in the case of this novel, for the most part, nothing.

Jamaican men, loyal to the King of England, volunteer to go and fight in a war to protect humanity. Initially embraced by their mother country, you can sense a certain wariness and high handedness. Throw in the added complication of the American influence and you can imagine the trouble you get into.

You could argue that Levy’s portrayal of the ignorance and protectionism of the British people, which drives their racism is too biased. Well, maybe; but racism exists as an extreme. It is as much a product of what is not taught as what is taught. The Empire failed it’s people and colonies like Jamaica by reducing everything down to colour. If you look different in my country, you are scary and therefore must be bad. This should never have happened, or at worse should have been a blip in history. Unfortunately, the blip is alive and well…fueled by ignorance, fear and stupidity.

Small Island
By Andrea Levy