On Seeing England for the First Time by Jamaica Kincaid

Persona: In the beginning of the essay, Kincaid writes with the persona of a young boy, fascinated by the myth of England. He describes how he ate traditional English breakfasts every morning (ex: half a grapefruit, an egg, bread and butter, a slice of cheese, and a cup of cocoa). He then talks about how the can of cocoa had the words “Made in England” printed on it and how those same words were printed on the box of oats as well as his shoebox. This boy that she has assumed the persona of is seeing England all around him. Seeing England has become this little boy”s biggest dream and Kincaid is able to explain this very vividly, despite the fact that when he wrote this essay he was no longer that little boy.

Tone: As the reader continues reading the essay, we see how Kincaid’s tone changes drastically. It is no longer this whimsical desire to see England, but a tone that sounds almost disappointed with what England was really like. When Kincaid first visited England he explains how “the morning where I lived came on abruptly, with a sock of heat and loud noises.” This is very different than the way that the little boy was describing his dream of seeing a beautiful country and fulfilling his dreams.

Audience: Eventually, Kincaid fully brings the audience into his essay. On page 417, he explains why the reader should care about his experience with England in a single sentence. He says, “The space between the idea of something and its reality is always wide and deep and dark.” Kincaid is using this essay as a way to warn readers about the dangers of relying too heavily of the idea you have of something in your head. The audience is directly called out and are forced to be involved in the essay. They are forced to contemplate how often they have made something or someone better in their minds and were then disappointed by the reality of it.
–Grace Dearing

Intention: The intention of On Seeing England for the First Time is for Kincaid to persuade her audience of the negative effects England had on her life. Hpwever, in a child’s persona, she believed it was a heavenly place of wonder and beauty. Her underlying intention is to show her audience that things are not always as they appear.

Pathos: Kincaid uses personal anecdotes and experiences, from a child and adult perspective, to build a relationship with her audience. She strives to evoke empathy from her audience saying, “To avert my gaze was to fall back into something from which I had been rescued, a hole filled with nothing, and that was the word for everything about me, nothing. The reality of my life was conquests, subjugation, humiliation, enforced amnesia.” (Kincaid) By explaining her developing point of view on England and its deceit with her own experience and emotions, she persuades the audience to copy and feel her emotions.

Imagery: Throughout the story, Kincaid uses imagery to help her audience imagine her life, and how she viewed England at different periods in her life. She creates images by describing English customs, objects and commodities; which eventually created her hatred for the illusion of England. The vivid details of England also show the change in perspective and influence. In the introductory paragraph, she describes the first time she saw England on a map in school saying, “We understood then- we were meant to understand then- that England was to be our sense of reality, our sense of what was meaningful, our sense of what was meaningless- and much about our own lives and much about the very idea of us headed that last list.” (Kincaid) Her imagery also helped apply pathos to the piece. It effectively expressed her developing point of view towards England and everything it stood for in her life.

Arrangement: The opening of Kincaid’s essay is from the persona of a young child, seeing only the forced image of England- the positive view. As the child grows up into an adult, their view on England abruptly changed as the veil fell from their eyes. England became a topic of distaste as she describes her hatred towards England and what it stood for in her life. As she began to notice a different image of England, she described the feeling as “My nose was pressed up against a glass window all right, but there was an iron vise at the back of my neck forcing my head to stay in place.” (Kincaid) By placing the perspective of the child first, her views can be understood by an audience with little knowledge of what England is. The arrangement of persona, from child to adult, creates a relationship to the audience so that readers views can develop and change along with the views in the story.

–Chloe Klusman

1. The theme of Illusion vs. Reality is illuminated by Kincaid’s account On Seeing England for the First Time as she grows up in Antigua surrounded by British culture. The striking contrast of her imagined idea becomes even worse fated as she realizes, ” The space between the idea of something and its reality is always wide and deep and dark. The longer they’re kept apart – idea of thing, reality of thing – the wider the width, the deeper the depth, the thicker and darker the darkness.” Her obvious negativity highlights the dangers of imperialism and its effects.
2. Kincaid uses strong symbolism in minor details, such as her father’s, “brown felt hat.” She aggressively notes that, ” Felt was not the proper material from what you had that was expected to provide shade from the hot sun should be made.” She also knew the dangers of colonization from a young age by recognizing her father’s inappropriate hat for their climate, but he suffered to adhere to an image he likely saw of an Englishman.
3. The descriptive anecdote of Kincaid being told by a  teacher in Antigua to, ” draw a map of England,” at the end of every test.  She then states that, ” I did not know very much of anything then – certainly not what a blessing it was that I was unable to draw a map of England correctly.” This example of irony creates a contrast in where the reader expects the story to lead and shows how influenced her view of the world was throuth her innocence.

–Sophie Needham

Throughout her essay, Kincaid strongly condemns English imperialism. My favorite quotes, which I believe are the most powerful, include, “The world was theirs [England’s], not mine; everything told me so”; “The reality of my life was conquests, subjugation, humiliation, forced amnesia”; “I may be capable of prejudice, but my prejudices have no weight to them, my prejudices have no force behind them, by prejudices remain opinions, my prejudices remain my personal opinion. … The people I come from are powerless to do evil on a grand scale.” Kincaid expresses her frustration with the cultural genocide of her homeland, perpetuated through colonial education.

Kincaid’s comparison of the delusions her people were subject to under British rule to the hatred and negative sentiment she detected surrounding her first visit to England demonstrate the cruelty of imperialism, with damage done to both sides.

This concept of the dually-damaging aspect of English imperialism is further emphasized in comparison to George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant.” Orwell speaks from the side of the oppressor, describing both the cruel conditions the Burmans were forced to endure under British rule and the extreme paranoia he felt while working as a colonial police officer.

–Sophie Dahlquist

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