- Lucy (novel)
infobox Book |
name = Lucy
language = English
Farrar Straus & Giroux
release_date = September 1990
media_type = Print (Hardback &
pages = 164 pp (first edition, hardback)
isbn = ISBN 0374194343 (first edition, hardback)
"Lucy" (1990) is a short novel by
Jamaica Kincaid. (It could also be called a novella.) The story begins in medias res: the eponymousLucy has come from the West Indiesto the United States to be an au pairfor a wealthy Caucasian family. The plot of the novel closely mirrors Kincaid's own experiences.
Lucy retains the critical tone of "
A Small Place" but simplifies the style of Kincaid’s earlier work by using less repetition and surrealism. The first of her books set completely outside the Caribbean, "Lucy", like most of Kincaid’s writing, has a strong autobiographical basis. The novel’s protagonist, Lucy Josephine Potter, shares one of Kincaid’s given names and her birthday. Like Kincaid, Lucy leaves the Caribbean to become an au pairin a large American city. At nineteen, Lucy is older than previous Kincaid protagonists, which lends the book a more mature and cynical perspective than in her previous fiction. Still, Lucy has pangs of homesickness and unresolved feelings about her mother, and she has never lived on her own or seen much of the world. With plenty of room for growth, Lucy’s journey takes the form of a bildungsroman, a novel in which a young protagonist makes the transition to adulthood.
Lucy also joins the tradition of American immigration literature, tales that recount a newcomer’s experience in the United States, such as those seen in Anzia Yezierska’s "Bread Givers", Willa Cather’s "
My Antonia", and Julia Alvaerez’s " How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents". Along with exploring immigration, "Lucy", as does much of Kincaid’s work, grapples with tensions between mother and daughter. Colonial themes of identity confusion and the connection between maternal and imperial rule stand out less clearly in "Lucy" than in Kincaid’s earlier books but have an underlying presence in Lucy’s relationship with her white, affluent employers, her homeland, and her new surroundings.
Eager to leave the West Indies, Lucy longs to leave her past behind. She does not feel nostalgic for her childhood and her homeland, where she felt oppressed by toxic British and family influences. This becomes evident when Lucy describes an event that happened in her former school. While attending Queen Victoria Girl's school, she was forced to memorize a poem about daffodils. (This poem,
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, was written by William Wordsworthroughly two centuries ago.) The poem recalls the beauty of daffodils that the speaker has seen years ago. Lucy cannot appreciate this beauty, because daffodils do not grow on her island. After reciting the poem, Lucy is applauded and she explains that at this moment she feels fake. She feels like people see her as English on the outside but on the inside she hates the English. The daffodils for Lucy provide a deep metaphor for the readers to interpret.
Lucy also claims that she is trying to escape her mother. The relationship between Lucy and her mother is a central theme. Lucy believes that she has to leave behind her relationship with her mother in order to become an adult. Many things in the
United Statesremind Lucy of her mother. At one point in her relationship with Mariah, Lucy sees Mariah (her boss) and her mother as the same, because they both try to control Lucy. (At other times, Lucy feels like Mariah's friend.) Lucy also sees a resemblance when she sees Lewis cheating on Mariah. Lucy's own father cheated on her mother. Lucy though begins to love Mariah towards the end of the novel. As the novel draws near the end, one is able to discover how Lucy really feels about her mother.
The novel also encompasses Lucy's actions in her new home. Lucy makes new friends. She meets a guy named Hugh with whom she has sex. In the park with the children one day, she meets a girl named Peggy. Mariah, the mother of the children, does not like Peggy because she smokes and curses but realizes that Lucy needs friends. Lucy also meets a guy named Paul with whom she becomes close. This novel explores Lucy's complicated sexuality, especially illustrated in Lucy's
homoeroticrelationship with Peggy. The novel ends with Lucy wishing she "could love someone so much that she would die from it." Lucy's dream of escaping her past leaves her feeling alone.
;Lucy: the narrator and protagonist;Annie Potter: Lucy's mother;Mariah: The wife that Lucy works for as an au pair;Lewis: The husband that Lucy works for as an au pair;Tanner: the boy with whom Lucy has her first sexual encounter;Miriam: the youngest daughter of Lewis and Mariah, with whom Lucy develops a special bond;Dinah: Mariah's best friend and the woman with whom Lewis has an affair;Peggy: Lucy's best friend that she meets while in the United States;Hugh: Lucy's first boyfriend in America; he is also the brother of Dinah;Paul: Lucy's lover who feels more for her than she does for him
The Role of Lucy’s Past
The driving force of the novel is Lucy’s past. The story begins with Lucy arriving in North America and the reader is unsure why she left her home. Lucy is continuously referring to and hinting at past events. As her character develops, one learns that Lucy’s past experiences are heavily ingrained into her perspective through which the reader hears the story. As such, Lucy’s past is at the root of the recurring themes within the novel. At several points in the story, Lucy makes observations that may be unobvious to the reader. Lucy seems to see thing coming before they happen. Kincaid does this to give the impression that Lucy is notably intelligent, which turns out to be central to the novel. She spends a lot of time dwelling on her ability to understand things as if to point out she has a superior intellect. Readers discover later that the rift between Lucy and her mom was caused by Lucy’s mom having lower expectations for Lucy. In this manner, Lucy’s expression of her intelligence is directly linked to her rebellion from her mother, which happened in the past.
Another theme that works its way into the novel is the notion of reality. Lucy feels that the people she meets lead fake lives that could be improved if they focus on what matters. She is skeptical of the happiness because of her observations about Lewis and Mariah’s relationship. She is also skeptical because of the negative events that happened back home. She was unhappy enough to leave and it is fundamentally difficult for her to believe everyone is as happy as they seem. This has the effect of making Lucy seem pessimistic. From her perspective, however, she is simply realistic. This viewpoint originates from her past experiences.
The rest of the themes can similarly be tied back to Lucy’s past. Reading the novel can be compared to putting together a puzzle with the details that are gradually revealed. One of the great things about this novel is that it leaves something to be interpreted—even at the end, all the puzzle pieces are not there.
Lucy is from the West Indies. Jamaica Kincaid is from Antigua and it can be safely assumed that Lucy’s character shares the same birthplace, though it is not stated explicitly. Evidence includes the similarity of Kincaid’s upbringing along with that of Lucy’s character and the references to British colonization. Click on the link to learn about [http://antigua-guide.info/past.and.present/culture/ Antiguan culture] .
*Review of Jamaica Kincaid's "Lucy" [http://voices.cla.umn.edu/vg/Critique/review_fiction/lucy_by_jamaica_kincaid.html]
*Smith, Ian. "Misusing Intertexts: Jamaica Kincaid and Colonialism's 'absent things' "Callaloo". 25.3 Summer 2002, pp. 801-820. [http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/callaloo/v025/25.3smith.html]
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