And Then It All Died

In Jamaica Kincaid’s short story, “On Seeing England for the First Time,” reality and idea are distinguished. More often than not, the idea of something is and it’s reality are not compatible, and we see this kind of discovery most often when growing up, and when comparing my idea of adulthood with the reality, I feel the same kind of resentment Kincaid has towards England. Jamaica Kincaid does an excellent job building up her expectations of England and then showing the disappointment she feels when she finally gets there.
I think the way she introduces the topic of England is excellent because she is able to give background into her thinking and thus make the experience a little more real. By shining a little light into her childhood impressions of England she is able to accurately convey what she is expects England to be like. The glowing descriptions of England that she is given by her grammar school teacher, her recollection of how everything on the island she was raised on was named after something English, and her youthful consumption of nothing but English goods all paint a picture portraying England as the land of milk and honey.
She is able to build England up to be this heaven-like place. At the same time she uses excellent imagery and descriptive storytelling to convey her disappointment in England when she gets there. Kincaid says that, “the space between the idea of something and it’s reality is always wide and deep and dark” (370). This is a hard truth that everyone learns at some point. All of her life, Kincaid has been forced to live life the “English way”, and for a part of her childhood she didn’t even question it, it just was, until she felt suffocated by it.

Much like adulthood, everyone expects certain ideals from you once you reach a certain age. You grow up thinking that you have to graduate, and then go to college, then get a job and enter the real world. This was the system we are greeted with as soon as we can comprehend it. Much like how Kincaid was introduced to this idea of living the English way. Everything was dictated by this mentality that the English ruled, and it was better for her anyway.
Kincaid had said, “If now as I speak of all this I give the impression of someone on the outside looking in, nose 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” (369). She never had a choice in how she lived her life, she was being held to this lifestyle with no choice. As teenagers we get our first dose of expectations and we accept it. Why is it in America it’s not acceptable to take a year off?
Why do we have this mentality that there is an order to do things, and why is this order filled with milestones that are so specific? We are raised to think things, without being explained to about it, and without having control. The truth of the matter is once we hit the age of eighteen, most of us don’t know what we want to do with our hair in the morning, let alone our future. When looking at the order of how things should go, and comparing it to the reality of your own timeline, you end up feeling disappointed in yourself. You also doubt yourself.
You hear about something all your life and when you come face to face to it, the feeling is not what it should be. When Kincaid visits England, physically, she has already built a hatred for it. All the power it possessed within her life, and how it inadvertently controlled her, made her bias. She visits and learns that England is just as bleak as she thought it would be. “In me, the space between the idea of it and its reality had become filled with hatred,” Kincaid had written (371). Visiting had only bridged her ideal with her reality. Her resentment only built from there.
Just as how when reaching adulthood, I realized that reality is a lot more complicated and uglier. This idea of growing up was supposed to be far more glamorous, like how it was advertised throughout my childhood, but reality is always crueler. While there were some other themes in this piece, the one I connected with most was the gap between idea and reality. As we grow up we learn so much about how life should be, and when we get there, it never ends up as we thought it would. It’s a harsh lesson to learn, but it’s one we all go through.

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