Curriculum Connection: CHAPTER 10 UTOPIA / DYSTOPIA - Central Text A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
By David Hillis, Portland Public Schools
● What can lead a utopia to become a dystopia?
● How do you travel ethically?
Rationale: After reading the excerpt from A Small Place, the central text for Chapter ten. Invite your students into a story of travel to Antigua that attempts to show how to visit the island without being an “ugly,” unethical tourist. It is an opportunity to practice principles of postcolonial literary theory as well as explore of style and diction shape meaning.
Identify the source of the article: New York Times Travel. Written by the travel editor, Monica Drake.
Activate prior understanding: What are the purposes of articles in the travel section? Who is the audience of the travel section of the New York Times? Answers: It is written for potential tourists around the world. They may also point out that it is written for travelers, explorers, and travel enthusiast. Ask your students to disambiguate these terms. Are some of these travel identities superior to others? Do some of them THINK they are superior to tourists? Are they? Discuss.
Read the first paragraph of “Jamaica Kincaid’s Antigua” where Drake quotes Kincaid, “An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist…” Hopefully your students notice the irony that this is in the travel section. Certainly, after reading the excerpt from A Small Place, many will. For those who don’t, is it odd to read a travel article about Antigua after reading our central text? Ask students to explain why. Then ask: what is the writer doing here? Does the title of the piece help us understand the writer’s intention? Throughout the article the writer will make many intertextual gestures to the work of Kincaid. Some of these come in the form of allusions. Others will come out through the emulation of writing strategies found in Kincaid’s work. Work with the students to identify the various ways Drake calls to mind our reading of Kincaid’s text.
Close Reading Activity: Ask students to read for ways that the writer successful visits Antigua without becoming the ugly thing that Kincaid has warmed us about. As they read, they should mark those places in the margins with a brief summary of what they writer is doing. For example, paragraph five begins with “I explored Antigua.” How is that different from visiting? Touring? What is the writer implying?
Close Reading Activity: Close read paragraphs 8 - 10 for language that alerts us to the atmosphere and setting. What do these details convey about the land and its people. Note the contrasting images of decay and abundance. What is implied?
Returning to the essential question of “What can lead a utopia into becoming a dystopia?” consider asking students to evaluate the impact of the next “round of change” coming for the island. How are these investment ventures similar to or different from the colonization of the island? Can students point to any phrases that help them understand how Drake feels about the next round of change? This is a great opportunity to point out connections between this text and Kincaid’s text. Example: Note the satirical intent of the line, “To get there, skip the road and land your private jet…” How would we read that line differently if we had a private jet?
Broader discussion: how does present the people of Antigua? How is that different from the way the tourist in “A Small Place” sees them?
Analysis of Style: As the article concludes, the writer shifts to the second person voice. Read the section again and discuss the impact of this choice. They should immediately notice how this is similar to Kincaid’s piece. Yet, different. Ask your students to evaluate the claim Drake makes, “You laugh when the emcee peppers her monologue with words like “stush” for “stuck-up” and when someone onstage apes a tourist, because that’s not you.” Is she a tourist? If not, what does this article say about ethical travel? How does one travel ethically? This is a good time to check in with the close reading task you gave them at step 4. Make a list of the things she does differently than the tourists that Kincaid blasts.
A final point of review may be to recap the various connections you found in style to Kincaid’s piece. Where does she quote Kincaid? Where does she make allusions to language, style, characters, or ideas in Kincaid’s A Small Place? Where does she emulate Kincaid’s style?
● Shea, Golden, Balla, Advanced Language & Literature
Other Connections to Advanced Language & Literature: This text could be used as part of the conversation on the Pursuit of Happiness. Many feel luxury and travel are part of the pursuit of happiness. At the conclusion of this essay, the writer seems very happy to not be among the tourists on the beaches or at a luxurious resort. What then is implied about ethical and joyful travel? This could shape an entirely different approach to this essay that looks more closely at family and history.