Decolonizing narratives of 1940s Britain in Andrea Levy's 'Small Island'

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsOral presentationResearch


Recently, fiction writers have begun to address and revision under-represented aspects of wartime and post-war experience to focus on the lives of the unacknowledged ‘many’, such as women, the working classes, and Black migrants. This paper focuses on one of these ‘alternative narratives’, Andrea Levy’s prize-winning novel, Small Island (2004), which provides four interconnected accounts of the second world war and its aftermath from the perspective of its protagonists, Hortense, a Black Jamaican woman, Gilbert, a Black Jamaican Man, Queenie, a white British working class woman, and Bernard, a white British man. Utilising the insights of Stef Craps’s book Postcolonial Witnessing, in which he issues four challenges to Eurocentric trauma theory, this presentation will explore the ways in which Levy’s text seeks to redress the marginalization of non-Western and minority traumas, and address the underexplored relationship between First and Third World traumas. In addition, the novel may be seen to challenge the supposed universal validity of Western definitions of trauma, and provide alternatives to normative trauma aesthetics. As well as examining varieties of trauma in Levy’s text, I will suggest that storytelling and humour function as a means of narrative healing of traumatic rupture and historical silence. As a result, Small Island evinces a desire both to record untold or overlooked aspects of collective British history, and to intervene in History by giving symbolic and narrative shape to previously marginalised Black and working class experiences.
Period15 May 2015
Event titleDecolonizing Trauma Studies
Event typeOther
LocationNorthampton, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionLocal


  • Black British literature
  • Postcolonial literature
  • Decolonizing theory
  • Trauma studies
  • Fiction about World War Two