What is the significance of the title of Small Island?

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The title of Small Island is significant both because it refers to the small islands of Britain and Jamaica and because it refers to the fact that small islands don't change the dignity and worth of the people.

The main characters of Small Island come from Jamaica and Britain, both...

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The title of Small Island is significant both because it refers to the small islands of Britain and Jamaica and because it refers to the fact that small islands don't change the dignity and worth of the people.

The main characters of Small Island come from Jamaica and Britain, both of which are relatively small islands. This affects their perspective of the world; it also changes how they cope with what's going on around them. When Hortense arrives in England, she sees that this new island isn't the hopeful place she thought, for example. It's gray and damaged from war and full of unfriendly people.

Later in the book, it's pointed out that people can retain great dignity, no matter how small their island. This applies to all the characters, even with the racial prejudices they face. It doesn't, however, change their society and the expectations it places on the characters. Ultimately, however, Queenie gives her child, the product of an affair with a black man, to Hortense and Gilbert to raise, because she feels it is more fair for the baby.

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The action in the novel takes places on two small islands, Jamaica and Great Britain. Along with their physical size, the islands are small in the views of the people who live on them. Set in the late 1940s, the novel focuses on the racial attitudes, suggesting that they are changing very slowly if at all. While there is considerable interaction between the white, English characters and the black Jamaican characters, most of it shows the whites’ extreme prejudice.

The smallness of Jamaica, as a colony where people have limited opportunities to learn more than stereotypes about England, is shown primarily through the character of Hortense. Determined to leave Jamaica and find a better life in England, which she imagines as idyllic, she tricks Gilbert into marrying her. Gilbert’s opportunities in British society, which seemed fairly open while he was a soldier, are circumscribed by racism in the post-War years.

Queenie understands that she lives in a racist society, but she prefers to ignore the biases around her as much as possible. Not only is she friends with Gilbert, but she rents rooms to Jamaicans, including Gilbert and Hortense. Further, she has an affair with Michael, Hortense’s cousin, and becomes pregnant. Queenie’s husband, Bernard, was a soldier who was presumed MIA for years. His distress when he finds that black people are living in his house indicates the small British attitudes of racism. Ultimately Queenie acquiesces to the hegemony of racism, giving up her mixed-race baby to be raised by black adoptive parents.

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The title, Small Island, identifies both Jamaica and the United Kingdom simultaneously. The lives of the four main characters become intertwined because, as members of the same Commonwealth, they are fighting in a war together. Racial relations are very tense, however, in Second World War England. The title may suggest how cramped the British feel as waves of Caribbean soldiers arrive to help out in the war effort. After the war is over, this cramped feeling persists because some of the Caribbean soldiers decide to settle abroad. Gilbert is one of those soldiers; and Hortense, his roommate/wife, decides to make the permanent move to England with him. Their sometimes unpleasant experiences with the white British citizens is evidence for this reading.

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