On Seeing England for the First Time is laced with sarcasm and irony

On Seeing England for the First Time is laced with sarcasm and irony

"On Seeing England for the First Time" is an essay written by the Caribbean writer and postcolonial theorist Jamaica Kincaid. This essay is a reflection on Kincaid's first encounter with England, and it can indeed be seen as laced with sarcasm and irony, with a thread of pathos running through it. 

On Seeing England for the First Time is laced with sarcasm and irony

Sarcasm and Irony

The title itself: The title, "On Seeing England for the First Time," sets the stage for the use of irony. The title suggests a sense of wonder and awe that one might expect when encountering a new place for the first time. However, Kincaid quickly subverts this expectation by presenting a critical and disillusioned perspective on England.

The opening paragraph: Kincaid begins with a description of her anticipation and excitement about visiting England, which can be seen as a form of dramatic irony. "I was a big girl, in the City of St. John's, walking the streets alone in Antigua," the author recalls. I recall the name of the saint who inspired the town, which was the biggest on the island. It was one of those communities with street names derived entirely from English words." 

On Seeing England for the First Time is laced with sarcasm and irony-The reader is rapidly made aware of the discrepancy between her expectations and reality when this anticipation is contrasted with her disappointment.

The portrayal of England: Throughout the essay, Kincaid uses sarcasm and irony to depict England as a place of contradictions. She describes England as "an English garden. It was simply like an English garden, which struck me as the most unrealistic thing I had ever seen in my life, because English gardens exist only in one's mind." The ironic use of "realistic" emphasizes the contrast between the idealized image of England and the actual experience of it.

Comparison to her school lessons: Kincaid recalls learning about England in her school lessons, which painted a rosy picture of the country. She writes, "I knew what England was. I knew what she looked like and what I would see there. I had seen pictures of England and talked to people who had been there, and I read British novels, and all these things have the power to create in the mind an outline of a life one will want to lead and the place where one will want to lead it." This creates irony as Kincaid's actual experience of England contradicts the idealized image she had formed.

The English language: Kincaid also employs irony in her discussion of the English language, which she had learned as a colonial subject. She writes, "The English language is nobody's special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself." This statement highlights the paradox of English as a colonial legacy while also suggesting its universal and adaptable nature.

The role of English literature: Kincaid discusses the influence of English literature on her upbringing, particularly the works of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. She writes, "I found the novels of Dickens and the novels of Jane Austen. These novels told me that all I needed to do was die and die, and I will certainly get to heaven." This can be seen as a sarcastic comment on the idealization of England in literature, contrasting it with her lived experiences.

Colonial legacy: Kincaid's critique of England's colonial legacy is filled with irony. She remarks, "And if I were not a subject of the British Empire, I would not have found out that the history of England was the history of violence and intrigue." This statement is ironic because it undercuts the idea of the British Empire as a benevolent force and exposes the harsh reality of colonization.

Tourist's gaze: Kincaid discusses the experience of being a tourist and how it distorts one's perception of a place. She writes, "The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: A tourist is an ugly human being." This is a self-deprecating irony, as she acknowledges the transformation of her perspective when she becomes a tourist in England.

Thoughts Of Pathos

Sense of displacement: Throughout the essay, Kincaid conveys a deep sense of displacement and longing for her home in Antigua. She describes how the images of England she had seen as a child made her feel that "to go there would be a fulfillment of some poetic destiny," but her actual experience leaves her feeling disconnected and far from home. This creates a sense of pathos as she grapples with a profound sense of displacement.

Nostalgia: Kincaid expresses nostalgia for her homeland and her family in Antigua. She recalls the vivid colors, landscapes, and memories of her home, which contrast with the drabness of England. This sense of nostalgia is palpable when she writes, "I felt about England as I had felt about The Wizard of Oz: It looked a lot like a place I knew I would grow up to be."

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Identity and cultural loss: Kincaid explores the impact of colonization on personal and cultural identity. She discusses how her education and exposure to British culture made her feel estranged from her own Caribbean identity. This creates a poignant sense of pathos as she grapples with the loss of her cultural roots.

On Seeing England for the First Time is laced with sarcasm and irony-Bittersweet memories: Kincaid's memories of her family and the vibrant life in Antigua are juxtaposed with her experience of England. She recalls the warmth and love of her family, contrasting it with the impersonal and cold nature of English society. This contrast evokes a sense of pathos as she longs for the comfort and familiarity of her home.


In "On Seeing England for the First Time," Jamaica Kincaid masterfully employs sarcasm and irony to challenge and subvert idealized notions of England while weaving a thread of pathos that explores themes of displacement, nostalgia, and cultural identity. Her narrative is a powerful reflection on the complex dynamics of postcolonial identity and the impact of colonialism on individuals and their sense of self. Kincaid's writing invites readers to consider the gap between expectations and reality and the enduring influence of culture and memory.

The essay is a poignant exploration of how the encounter with the "mother country" can be both disillusioning and emotionally charged, as it forces individuals to confront the complexities of their own identity in the context of colonial history.


Who is Jamaica Kincaid, and what is her background?

Jamaica Kincaid is a Caribbean writer and postcolonial theorist known for her essays, novels, and short stories. She was born in Antigua in 1949 and later moved to the United States. Her works often explore themes of colonialism, identity, and the complexities of postcolonial relationships.

What is the central theme of "On Seeing England for the First Time"?

The central theme of the essay is the author's experience of encountering England for the first time and the stark contrast between her idealized expectations, shaped by colonial education and literature, and the reality she faced during her visit.

How does Kincaid use sarcasm and irony in the essay?

Kincaid employs sarcasm and irony by subverting expectations, critiquing idealized images of England, and highlighting the contradictions between her preconceived notions and her actual experience. She often juxtaposes the expected with the real to create irony.

What is the role of pathos in the essay?

Pathos is woven throughout the essay, as Kincaid expresses a sense of displacement, nostalgia for her home in Antigua, and the loss of cultural identity. These elements evoke deep emotions and a bittersweet tone in the narrative.

How does the essay address the impact of colonialism on cultural identity?

Kincaid explores the impact of colonialism on cultural identity by depicting how colonial education and exposure to British culture can lead to a sense of estrangement from one's own cultural roots. The essay reflects the complexity of postcolonial identity and the enduring influence of colonial history.



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