Andrea Levy's Small Island is a tale set in England before and after the year 1948 and based around the lives of four characters including Hortense Gilbert Queenie and Bernard Throughout the novel the characters Gilbert and Queenie struggle with complications to their identity in one main form race The topic of race and racism is in this novel is particularly prevalent as it is set in a time when colored people such as Gilbert were discriminated against In the novel a person's identity or the idea of a person's identity is completely engulfed by race as portrayed through Gilbert s life Their race affects their social class and predetermines their social relations Although Queenie is a Caucasian woman Queenie is also able to feel the effects of race s hold on identity in a similar way Hortense and Gilbert do showcasing that race did not only affect colored people Gilbert Hortense s husband Queenie s friend and British soldier is the character mostly experienced the vile extent of race s grasp on a person's identity
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In Chapter Seventeen we see race complicate Gilbert s identity when he Queenie his landlord and his relative Arthur go to the theaters to see a movie When the group arrives at the theaters the usherette stopped him stating that he must sit in the back with the rest of the colored soldiers due to their policy The policy itself already determines his social relations and social class as the policy forces him to only socialize with colored people and also demonstrates his lower class level when the usherette tells Gilbert that he must sit in the back because the Caucasian customers do not want to sit with colored people illustrating that Caucasian people were viewed as more important However the real complication comes when Gilbert states Ma am I am not an American I am with the British Royal Air Force Small Island Chapter 17 pg 153 and she responds with You re colored Small Island Chapter 17 pg 153 The usherette even went as far to say that All coloreds up the back row Small Island Chapter 17 pg 153 illustrating that Gilbert s identity as a British soldier in England didn't matter as much as his race Earlier in Chapter 16 Gilbert experienced another complication to his identity when he and Queenie went to a café In the café Queenie and Gilbert were in the presence of three Caucasians GI s soldiers who didn't seem to like the fact that a colored man was on a date of sorts with a white woman
According to Gilbert one of the men slowly drew his hand in a line across his throat Small Island Chapter 16 page 149 prompting Gilbert to leave with Queenie It is implied that the men and wanted to attack Gilbert just because he was black This displays the fact that Gilbert s identity is being determined solely on race as the men who didn't know Gilbert had no reason to want to hurt Gilbert except for the fact that he was black As mentioned before Queenie despite being a Caucasian person also experiences times when race complicates her identity The best example for Queenie is seen at the end of the novel when Queenie gives birth to a black baby the father being Michael Roberts Hortense s first known love interest In Chapter 58 Queenie explicitly expressed her belief that her son could not stay with them and should go with Gilbert and Hortense when they move When arguing with Bernard in terms of why the baby should go or should stay she delivered a message that despite being obvious to the eye was blocked by emotion He's colored Bernard Small Island Chapter 58 page 431 Queenie knew that two white parents could not raise a black child because she knew that would draw unwanted attention to the baby and their family She even told Bernard that there will come a time when even he hates the child because of the isolation the child's presence will cause as the neighbors will not invite you will whisper behind your back as you go and will even believe your family is strange Small Island Chapter 58 page 431 In this moment race complicates Queenie s identity as a mother as she is forced to give away her child because she has a different skin color than her own baby and there will be suffering on both sides if she keeps it In Conclusion Andy Levy deals with the issue of identity through race
Throughout the novel the topic of race is consistent and is the main complication in the character s identities We can see just how far race was a complication for the identities of the characters if we look how it affected the identities of Gilbert and Queenie Race particularly complicated Gilbert s identity as it was displayed that race completely engulfed how he is identified as shown through the fact that Gilbert was being forced to comply with the theater s segregation party undermining his identity as a British soldier and empowering his identity as a man of color In addition race did a similar if not the same thing to Queenie Although Queenie did not experience any racial prejudice she was forced to go against and even give up her identity as a mother because she knew that two white parents raising a black baby would draw hate The mere fact that both these characters identities were affected by race showcase that race truly could reach far as it not only affected black people but white people as well
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