Moving Between Cultures or Being at Home

A “Small Island” by Andrea Levy

A small island by Andrea Levy is a short story where the author talks about his experience. During the Second World War, some of the immigrants came to London via a ship called the Empire Windrush followed by her mother six months later. The memories that were triggered by the Windrush generation are an inspiration to the author’s experience (Perfect 37). In the book, Levy presents the events of the 1948 England happenings through his four characters Queenie and Bernard; of British origin and the Jamaican immigrants Hortense and Gilberts from West Indies who are determined to stay and work in London. Therefore to fully understand how Levy makes his case it is necessary to understand the issues presented about their journey to Britain.

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The arrival of the West Indie’s immigrants was contrary to their expectations of the good life, nice jobs and a place to live with their families. Contrary to the black immigrants’ expectation, the Small Island gives a representation of the English people and the welcoming of the post-war regime (Massey et al. 456). Levy describes the whites’ response to the daily conflicts indicating the presence of paradigm as she describes in humor these situations. This is to show just how puzzled the inhabitants were being invaded with the new ethnic groups. For example, Mr. Todd Queenie’s neighbor looks down on the immigrants by blaming Queenie for letting “Darkies” stay in her house. He also thinks the main support behind the West Indies immigrants is the National Health Service. Levy also provides an innocent mind of children who have never seen black people “Look! She’s black. Look, mum. Black woman… Don’t point Gregory. She’s not black she’s colored” (Levy 11)

Since the immigrants were different from the locals they had only two thoughts; to either adapt to the circumstances or stay in London or head back to Jamaica. They also saw themselves as British members and segregated to the suburbs creating poorer welcoming environments and lived in a small island. So where did they belong? Is a question of cultural identity? According to Hall, there is the collective culture, a view by all members of the same ancestry and past bring them together, therefore unlike back home, the moving through cultures have brought them together, no wars and they have learned to live in harmony and care for each other. According to Levy (14), this is the impact of the crucial practice of cultural power and commonality. Therefore through the stories it is clear to identify substantial differences among the immigrants and the English people as they struggle to fit in, adapt and makes use of the undergoing process of culture.

A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English by Shappi Khorsandi

‘Well if they are on the move, it’s because they are seeking a safe house”. This is the main theme of this non-fiction journal of the Iranian born Shappi after becoming a target of the Ayatollahs state-sponsored terrorists. A school girl’s memories at the tender age of only five they decide to voluntarily relocate to London and are bound by the 1979 revolution and are not to go back (McKee & Alan 3). Therefore to Shappi, being at home is not possible. Hadi Khorsandi caused a regime and is on the run through his columnist articles on revolution. Therefore the heavy political turmoil back in Iran and ‘Beginners guide to Acting English’ is a personal journey through the cultures due to the war and trying to settle in a foreign land as a young girl. The story begins with her attending the king’s international nursery with her brother Peyvand and she gives a story of how English is different from her home language and the challenges she had to face when learning English.

Through the happenings it is clear that the immigrants being at home are now past and moving through culture is proving difficult. One of the differences among the two groups is dialect which is evidently creating a distance among them since they are not able to understand the Jamaican dialect and since it is only a few of the Windrush generation who were educated and not speaking English fluently, they were regarded as the levels of primitivism. For instance, Hortense is embarrassed when she is unable to ask for condensed milk and eventually points at the milk and later begins to learn English by listening to the BBC. Levy also presents the scene in the novel in the dialogue between Gilbert and Bligh “You know what your trouble is a man?’ your white skin. No better no worse” (McKee & Alan 22). This helps Hortense to realize how strong her husband has become. In the same way, Shoppi is struggling to communicate and getting to fit at school and getting to learn English is not all about “Shhhhhhh…Arrr…” one that she comes to confess made her tough even though she was called names such as “Puppet”. Her father is also able to learn English even though she is struggling with culture and language barrier. She looks up to her father and him becoming fluent on the language is a sign that moving cultures makes them strong even though they struggle to fit in.

The education system in London based on Levy’s narrative is proving to be confusing for the Jamaicans since in their homeland it is not a language of national identity. Based on the Queenie’s memories, they found that London is not the beautiful land the Jamaican school children read about (Ogbu 297). In Shappi’s book, the main theme such as English is evidently discussed, on how the family struggles to fit into society. Her father enrolled for the English classes and became a fluent comedian; however, she still feels he could be funnier in their own Persian language (Khorsand 27).

Being at home is not safe as revealed in both novels, Shappi’s every day’s tales exist the stories of the black day that her uncle Masood was murdered by a gun by one of the shahs terrorists supporters; the same gangs that were angry at her father Hadi when he went back to publish his post-revolutionary article (Holliday 288). The story exposes the imbalances of politics and power at the home countries. Just like Shappi motherland, they are not sure of the safety of being home from assassination threats to the poor economy due to conflicts. In the “small Island”, London provides safety to the West Indies immigrants. For instance, Gilbert continuously referred to the country as motherland and is excited at joining the Royal air force and is dedicating his loyalty to protecting the English people (Woodcock 50). Home is not safe for the Kharsondi as they are faced with the assassination and the revolutionary power politics or Iran. Heading back means death and therefore they sort refuge in London where they are guaranteed with safety, job and education although they are struggling with culture, they can go back home. They are affected with the time and space and soon they are adapting through the cultures and calling England “Home”. The war between Iran and Iraq and the hostilities faced in by her in London such as being described as a terrorist is the role play of how politics plays a big role in immigration and intercultural movements (Rahbe 118).

In conclusion, Levy’s “Small Island” reveals the history of the British modern era where the sense of being English began (Knepper et al. 7). In ‘Small Island’, she is emphasizing on the Caribbean Diaspora in the UK which she argues on the immigrants and the British point of view and the use of several narrators to communicate the idea of post-war conditions on both home and in London. The metaphors are also part of the limitations which separates the immigrants and the main British people. These barriers are majorly cultural misconceptions and racial hatred. One of the main aspects of diversity in both stories is the language barrier as the characters are unable to communicate to one another hence failure to understand one another’s motivation. The other key development of Diaspora is the differences in childhood between Jamaica, Iran, and London. Both Levy and Shappi are struggling to fit into the English culture.

The paper focused mainly on the educational system which demands on the English speaking even for colonies and immigrants like Shappi. However the characters lack the sense of having a home and in the process, the West Indies are not focused on the space. Shappi has to find the space in learning English and culture although her father is not ready to let go of their strict practice. Consequently, the two narratives present the notion that being at home is neither safe yet moving through cultures has several challenges to overcome.


Works Cited

Holliday, Adrian. Understanding intercultural communication: Negotiating a grammar of culture. Routledge, 2013.Khorsandi, Shappi. A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English. Random House, 2009.

Khorsandi, Shappi. A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English. Random House, 2009.

Knepper, Wendy, and Sharae Deckard. “Towards a radical world literature: Experimental writing in a globalizing world.” ariel: a review of international english literature 47.1 (2016): 1-25.

Levy, A. “Small Island, London: Headline.” Google Scholar (2004).

Massey, Douglas S., et al. “Theories of international migration: A review and appraisal.” Population and development review (1993): 431-466.

McKee, Alan. Textual analysis: A beginner’s guide. Sage, 2003.Rutherford, Jonathan, ed. Identity – Community, Culture, Difference. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 October 2012.

Ogbu, John U. “Cultural discontinuities and schooling.” Anthropology & Education Quarterly 13.4 (1982): 290-307.Sell, Jonathan PA. “Introduction: Metaphor and Diaspora.” Metaphor and Diaspora in Contemporary Writing. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2012. 1-19.

Perfect, Michael. ““Fold the paper and pass it on”: Historical silences and the contrapuntal in Andrea Levy’s fiction.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 46.1 (2010): 31-41.

Rahbek, Ulla. “Dual Lives? Constructing Individuality in Contemporary British Multicultural Memoirs.” Cross/Cultures179 (2014): 65-208.

Woodcock, Bruce. “Small island crossing cultures.” Wasafiri23.2 (2008): 50-55.