As a colonial subject of England on the island of Jamaica, Hortense has high expectations when she reaches England, along with 490 other passengers, on the Windrush of 1948. She is expecting high standards of education, language, lifestyle, an abundance of job opportunities, and a family. However, she is heavily disappointed as she realizes the reality of England does not compare to her expectations. Gilbert, one of the first Jamaicans to arrive to serve the Mother Country, is also discontented with his experiences in England. In Small Island, Andrea Levy (whose parents travelled to England on the Windrush), explores and compares the expectations versus the reality of migrating to England.
The first realization of the reality occurs at the beginning of the novel, as Hortense arrives at the house. From her conversations with Celia Langley, she is expecting a ‘big house with a bell’, with a bell that ‘ding-a-ling’s when pressed. However, upon arrival, she is greeted with a large, ‘shabby’ house. However, she is reluctant to admit its shabbiness, insisting it is a ‘grand sort of’ shabby, reflecting her disinclination to believe England is not what she expected. Her negative impression of her abode is emphasized when she asks Gilbert to ‘show me the rest’, and he responds ‘this is it’. In addition, the repetition of ‘just this’ clearly expresses Hortense’s disappointment, whilst highlighting her disbelief.
Hortense’s expectation of her lifestyle was also drastically different to the harsh reality. She expects ‘a dining table in a dining room set with four chairs. A starched tablecloth embroidered with bows. Armchairs placed around the sitting room placed around a small fire.’ Her expectations of the dining table suggests her desire for a stereotypical, conventional ‘ideal’ British family, with a married couple and two children. Despite her inability to cook (‘How do you make a chip?’), she imagines ‘fish and chips bubbl(ing) on the stove’. Furthermore, she imagines ‘my English kitchen’, however when Gilbert presents her with the kitchen, she responds, ‘Where?’. Her expectations in contrast to the reality are further contrasted when, in the beginning of the chapter, she says ‘Oh, Celia Langley, where were you then with your big ideas and your nose in the air?’ This highlights the pride she felt for arriving in England, and imagined herself to be superior to Celia Langley, despite Celia’s initial confidence and air of superiority. However, after Hortense was introduced to her lifestyle, she says ‘I hoped Celia Langley could no longer see me,’, indicating her shame and disappointment.
The great contrast between Hortense and Gilbert’s expectations and the reality of their experiences is highlighted through Andrea Levy’s use of nonlinear plot structure. She presents the stories of the four narrators in non-chronological order, which revealed pieces of information to the reader before the character themselves were aware of it. For example,...