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Jamaica Kincaid's essay On Seeing England for the first Time

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Jamaica Kincaid's essay On Seeing England for the first Time


"It's shit being Scottish! We're the scum of the fucking earth! Some people hate the English. I don't. They're just wankers. We're the ones what were colonised by wankers. We couldn't even pick a decent bunch of people to be colonised by."
-Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting

The cultural ties to empire are not so easy to efface as the political ones. This is perhaps one of the most important lessons the world has learned from the mass movement towards independence on the part of European colonies in the past half-century. Even we Americans, more than two hundred years after having rejected the British monarchy and all it stands for, are forever poking our noses in the supermarket tabloids to find out what crisis either Diana or Fergie is embroiled in this week. Have we progressed so little? Don't we owe it to ourselves to pay our own culture the tribute which is its due?

This is one of the many questions that Jamaica Kincaid's essay, "On Seeing England for the first Time," raises. Being a "colonial" herself, she is forever being forced to question where her cultural loyalty should lie. Is she first and foremost an Englishwoman? An African? An Antiguan? Kincaid's essay is an attempt to come to terms with her own identity by exploring the influence of a colonial culture on her daily life as a child as well as on her education. She inundates the reader with "English images," just as she was once inundated with them as a schoolgirl. We sicken of the surfeit of imagery just as she must have when every waking moment, an image of England somehow wormed its way into her consciousness. "Made in England . . . those three words . . . ran through every part of my life, no...


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...e United States for some years, she has maintained her Antiguan citizenship. Her writings, including "On Seeing England for the First Time," are all examinations of her own past and her cultural identity. Even though she has left her island home, she is actively engaged in a struggle to achieve a synthesis of what is English and what is African in her origins. Through her writings, Kincaid attempts to assert her present self-an Antiguan woman-and all that her present self signifies. Perhaps such a synthesis-or even just the struggle for it-is the best that any of us can hope for.

Works Cited

Gordimer, Nadine. "Where Do Whites Fit In?" Hoy and DiYanni. 292-298.

Hoy, Pat C. II and Robert DiYanni, eds. Encounters: Readings and the World. 1st ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.

Kincaid, Jamaica. "On Seeing England for the First Time." Hoy and DiYanni. 351-360.


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