Freedom Does Not Equal Happiness: Analyzing Lucy’s Choices
Most teenagers go through a time when they believe that their parents are too overbearing and strict with them. Although this is a normal feeling to have on occasion growing up, Jamaica Kincaid’s novel Lucy reveals the intense situation of an over-bearing parent. Through the novel, we follow the titular protagonist’s escape from this predicament, and from the miserable life that she is living. Lucy decides to begin a new life in America, away from her family and friends and we read the cyclical story of her experience in her new home. Lucy’s ambition to create a new, independent life in America stems from her need to overcome her melancholy past growing up, nonetheless this desire affects her ability to form connections with the people she meets. Lucy’s toxic relationship with her mother is a major component of why she needed to create such an independent life for herself.
Although it is apparent that Lucy knew her mother loved her, she saw this love as a burden. When Lucy describes her mother’s love she says, “I had come to feel that my mother’s love for me was designed solely to make me into an echo of her; and I didn’t know why, but I felt that I would rather be dead than become just an echo of someone.” (Kincaid 40). She then follows this statement by saying “Thoughts like these had brought me to be sitting on the edge of a Great Lake with a women who wanted to show me her world” (Kincaid 40). Through these quotes we see that Lucy hated the fact that her mother wanted her to be just like her. She also hated the fact that her mother could not grasp why Lucy did not want to be exactly like her, and that is what drove her away. Of course we can see through the novel that Lucy never hated her mother, in fact, deep down she really loved her. This can be seen when Lucy says, “I would hear sounds in our house that made me sure my mother had died and the undertaker had come to take her body away. Each morning when I saw her face again, I trembled inside with joy.” (Kincaid 102). Although we can see that Lucy loved her mother, she believed admitting this to herself would cause her to turn into her mother all together, and never be the independent women she yearned to be. As you can see, throughout Lucy’s upbringing her mother was very overbearing. This causes Lucy to want to live an extremely independent life, which then results in her becoming emotionally detached from all other people.
On the other hand, Lucy does not allow herself to become emotionally attached to the men she meets because of her need to be independent. This idea can be seen in her relationship with Hugh. She repeatedly says she is not in love with Hugh, and that being in love would “complicate her life”. She conspicuously states, “I was only half a year free of some almost unbreakable bonds, and it was not in my heart to make new ones.” (Kincaid 76). Here she is clearly stating that she does not have the desire to create new bonds with others because she was finally free from the old ones. Lucy’s longing for independence is what was holding her back from creating an emotional rather than purely sexual relationship. We can also see this need for autonomy in her relationship with Paul. When describing a photo Paul gave her as a gift she says, “I was naked from the waist up; a piece of cloth, wrapped around me, covered me from the waist down. That was the moment he got the idea he possessed me in a certain way, and that was the moment I grew tired of him” (Kincaid 169). Again here she is showing that she does not want to feel like the possession of someone else. She felt that for so long with her mother back at home, and is trying too hard to escape this emotion. Because of this she does not want anyone to think of her as a possession. Not surprisingly, she keeps Paul around regardless of the fact that she has grown tired of him. She enjoys the pleasures he bring hers, and that is all she focuses on when in a relationship. Evidently, to Lucy, being attached to a man emotionally was the complete opposite of being free. And her main goal when she got to America was to be liberated.
Lucy’s need for independence ultimately carries on to her nonromantic relationships causing saddening results. Her intense fear of being controlled by her mother carries over to her relationship with Mariah. Her views on Mariah changed often, which is why she says, “The times that I loved Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother. The times that I did not love Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother” (Kincaid 177). Lucy is so apprehensive that she is going to fall in to another unhealthy relationship with a motherly figure in her life. After everything that happened to her with her mother, it was hard for her to form a bond with Mariah, who happened to be a mother of four.
Ultimately Lucy quitting the job as Mariah’s au per is what she believes the last step to gaining full independence. Due to her lack of emotional connections with others, her life is not exactly how she imagined full freedom to be like. She says, “I was alone in the world. It was not a small accomplishment. I thought I would die doing it. I was not happy” (Kincaid 176). She has been through so much trying to become self-reliant because of her upbringing, this cause her to have no connection with anyone around her. Lucy was all alone in the world. Earlier in the novel Lucy stated that she believed just a “change in venue” would erase everything in life she despised, but that was not how life worked out for her. She could see her current self was taking the shape of her past (Kincaid 97). The book closes with Lucy writing in a diary that Mariah gave her. She picks it up and writes “I wish I could love someone so much that I would die from it”, and then began to cry (Kincaid 178). These being the final lines in the novel shows the reader the isolation and sadness she feels regardless of all the goals she achieved. By the end of the novel we can see how much Lucy really needs human connection and love.
Throughout the novel we watch Lucy try to gain complete independence from her mother, and from her upbringing back home. Her desire for freedom negatively affects her ability to form emotional connections with the people around her. We see this negatively impact her life, and bring her to a full circle of emotions, leaving home to find happiness and freedom, but still feeling helpless and in despair. She is unable to form a relationship that is not solely sexual with a man, and she cannot connect and bond with any women she meets. Ultimately, Lucy teaches the reader that it is important to make emotional connections with others around you, and pure independence and freedom from people may not always be the best thing in life.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Lucy. 1990.
Mariah in Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy
Jamaica Kincaid’s novel, Lucy, revolves, in large part, around the immigration and acclimation experiences of the title character, who has left her small Caribbean island to forge a new life in New York City. Yet there is another female in this novel’s cast of characters who is equally important to the development of the plot, and that person is Mariah, Lucy’s employer. Mariah comes to represent a range of symbolic figures for Lucy over the course of the novel. Initially Lucy considers her an erudite and accomplished woman who lives an enviably comfortable life. As time passes, however, Lucy sees how Mariah, despite her position of privilege, lacks knowledge about the world beyond her own tiny microcosm and basic life skills. It is through Mariah that Lucy is able to devise a model for the person who she would like to become, and it is also Mariah from whom she must break free in order to become that person. In these ways, then, Mariah is the agent and catalyst for Lucy’s development.On the surface, Mariah appears to have the perfect life. She has a beautiful family, which is comprised of herself, her handsome husband, and their beautiful and charming daughters. Mariah and her husband are also wealthy, which is evidenced not only by the fact that they can hire Lucy as an au pair, but also by the fact that they travel and have been to the Caribbean. Initially, though, what Lucy notices is that Mariah has a refrigerator that is so full that there is food leftover from the day before, and that the building in which she lives has an elevator-which Lucy has never seen or ridden in her life. These are all exterior markers of Mariah’s achievement of living a particular kind of good life. Lucy believes that Mariah and her husband are sincere when they invite her to “regard them as my family and make myself at home” (p. 7). Despite Lucy’s admiration of Mariah’s seemingly flawless life, she does not connect with Mariah immediately or intimately. For her part, Mariah is equally fascinated with Lucy. She observes that Lucy has an interesting history, and strokes Lucy’s face in a gesture that is tender yet perhaps oversteps boundaries of appropriate behavior. Mariah seems to be completely unaware of her position of privilege and power, and while she does not have bad intentions for Lucy, her actions fail to consider Lucy’s cultural background, experiences, needs, and feelings. Mariah wants Lucy to see the world exactly in the manner that she does. One of the earliest and most defining moments of their relationship comes when Mariah attempts to convince Lucy to see daffodils as she sees them. Lucy, however, has a different association with daffodils, one that Mariah simply cannot understand. She insists that she will show Lucy the Great Lakes, the magic of spring, the zoo, and any number of sights and attractions that Lucy has never seen. It is as if Mariah wants to mother Lucy; Lucy is so different and so lacking in certain experiences that she presents Mariah with an interesting and challenging project. Clearly, this is a project that is doomed to fail. Mariah and Lucy have radically different frames of reference. Mariah, unaware of the invisible privileges conferred upon her by her class, her race, and her nationality, is not capable of seeing the world and its disappointments and dangers from Lucy’s point of view. She knows little, if anything, about Lucy’s home country and culture. In fact, it becomes painfully obvious to the reader who is familiar with postcolonial theory that Mariah knows very little about her own country and culture in terms of its position as a colonizer, both historically and within contemporary contexts. Mariah’s naivete and ignorance are displayed in the chapter that is titled with her name. When Mariah blindfolds Lucy and leads her to the daffodils, then forcefully encourages Lucy to see the same kind of beauty that she sees, Mariah is unconsciously playing the role of the colonizing master, albeit a seemingly kind and gentle one. She cannot understand why Lucy reacts so violently to this experience, which underscores Mariah’s lack of knowledge about the world beyond the boundaries of her own happy family. Mariah’s happiness, however, is both fragile and ephemeral. The perfect life she has constructed for herself begins to collapse when her husband, Lewis, has an affair with Mariah’s best friend, Dinah. Again, the reader sees just how naÃ¯ve and vulnerable Mariah is, and how actively she tries to defend against chaos in her well-ordered world. When Lewis’s infidelities come to pass, Lucy begins to understand that her perception of Mariah lacked depth, even though her “sympathies were with Mariah” (p. 48) and even though Mariah appears to be the marital partner who is in control because she kicks Lewis out. Despite Lucy’s loyalty, it is after this episode that Mariah falls from the pedestal upon which Lucy had placed her. Through Mariah, Lucy learns a valuable lesson about the nature of appearances and the fragility of the so-called “good life,” the continuity of which is never guaranteed. This lesson is bitter, perhaps, but it is one that cannot be learned from a book, even one of the feminist texts that Mariah gives to Lucy. It is this lesson that also serves as the crucial turning point in the plot of the novel, for it allows Lucy to begin to break free from Mariah and forge her own identity. Mariah, then, is not necessarily a character who exists in this novel for the purpose of experiencing her own transformation, even though she does experience a significant shift. Mariah’s experiences, however, are important to the novel to the extent that they serve as the crucible in which Lucy is able to forge her own transformation. The novel Lucy could, if written from a different perspective, be titled and written about Mariah, for she is a complex character who plays many roles and who undergoes various transformations: changes in her awareness and perception, changes in her friendships, and changes in her interpersonal relationships, most notably her marriage. When Lucy is finally able to identify and observe Mariah’s character weaknesses, she is able to break away from Mariah and pursue her own path. It was important, then, for Mariah to play the role that she occupies in this novel. Mariah was the first, and for a while, the only, female figure with whom Lucy had contact and with whom she could connect after leaving her family and her homeland. For these reasons, Mariah took on special significance, playing the parts of friend, mother, and role model at various points in the novel. Ultimately, however, Mariah becomes the anti-role model. At the novel’s end, Lucy breaks away from Mariah, much as she had broken away from her biological mother and her symbolic mother, her country, when she left her island. Lucy comes to realize that Mariah is not a person to be emulated; in fact, the only way in which Lucy can become her own person is to forge her own path. While the reader does not know where that path will take her, Lucy has clearly learned the lessons that she needed to understand before she could actualize herself as an independent woman. Mariah was the critical figure who allowed Lucy to form this identity through both connection and conflict.
I Am Who (You Say) I Am: Issues of Identity in Kincaid’s Lucy and Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea
In the beginning of Jean Rhys’ novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette Cosway, a young creole woman, lives in poverty with her mother, Annette, and her brother, Pierre, on the island of Jamaica. In the society in which they live, Antoinette is oppressed and discriminated against because of her race, class, and gender. Not only does Annette favor Pierre, but the entire family is targeted by the Jamaicans, first because of their race and the fact that they are poor, and later because of their wealth. Life is no better for Lucy Josephine Potter, the native Antiguan title character in Jamaica Kincaid’s novel, Lucy. Living in Manhattan as an au pair, Lucy is constantly faced with reminders of the oppression she endured in her country, both at the hands of her mother and her British colonizers. She soon realizes that no matter how much distance she places between herself and the past, she cannot escape this oppression. The situations that these two girls face may be similar, but they both deal with them in extremely different ways. While the historical and cultural circumstances in which Antoinette grows up cause her to define herself solely as a victim, Lucy finds strength within the oppression she is forced to endure; as a result, Antoinette is driven into madness while Lucy is able to build an independent life for herself.
Due to the patriarchal society in which the Cosway’s live, Annette is constantly dependant on men. She sees Pierre as someone who will grow up to protect her. Thus, it is not surprising that Annette clearly favors her son over her daughter. As a result of this favoritism, Annette fails to care for Antoinette as well as she cares for Pierre; it never bothers Annette that her daughter’s clothes are old and dirty until visitors come to their house, at which point she looks at Antoinette’s dress and orders the maid, Christophine, to “throw away that thing [and] burn it” (Rhys 25). It is only then that Annette realizes that her daughter does not own any clean, decent dresses. Despite her mother’s neglect, Antoinette always strives to be a good daughter. When she finds her mother frowning, she lovingly attempts to smooth out the wrinkles on her forehead. Yet Annette only “[pushes Antoinette] away . . . calmly, coldly, without a word, as if she [has] decided once and for all that [she is] useless to her.” Instead of spending time with her daughter, Annette simply wants to “sit with Pierre . . . without being pestered” (Rhys 20). While this is enough to make anyone feel neglected, it is when the Jamaicans burn down the Cosway’s house that we are able to see just how little Antoinette means to her mother. A day after escaping the riot, Antoinette is taken to see her. When Annette notices her daughter, she simply looks from her to the door, waiting for her beloved Pierre to enter. When she is told that her son died in the fire, she flings Antoinette from her and screams “No, no, no . . . why did you bring the child to make trouble, trouble, trouble” (Rhys 48). Annette eventually goes mad over Pierre’s death, and abandons her daughter. Due to the patriarchal society in which she lives, Annette cannot bring herself to care as deeply for Antoinette as she does for Pierre, for Pierre can offer her the security that she seeks. As a result of the neglect and abandonment that Antoinette suffers, she views herself as a victim of her own culture.
Lucy, on the other hand, refuses to brand herself with the term ‘victim.’ While she too has been oppressed on the basis of her gender, she does not allow these experiences to define her as a person. While growing up in Antigua, Lucy and her mother enjoyed a good relationship. However, after Lucy was ‘blessed’ with two brothers, the situation soon changed. Her brothers became the agents in all of her mother’s dreams. They are the ones who will grow up to become prestigious doctors. Since Lucy’s brothers are male, they are the ones who will be able to take care of and support their mother later on in life. However, this does not make Lucy feel worthless. Instead, it motivates her to make something out of her life.
Not only are Antoinette and Lucy oppressed because of their gender, but because of their race and class as well. Antoinette grows up in a predominantly black society; the only Caucasian people living there are the rich descendants of the plantation owners. While Antoinette’s family is a product of colonialism, they do not reap any of the benefits, such as money and power. As a matter of fact, in the beginning of the novel, they are no richer than the black Jamaicans, and thus do not fit in with the rich white class, who, according to Antoinette’s friend Tia, are “real white people, [with] gold money.” When Tia, who is a black Jamaican, tells Antoinette that she and her family are “nothing but white nigger[s] now,” it is obvious that the townspeople have no respect for the Cosway family (Rhys 24). Children constantly taunt Antoinette: “White cockroach, go away, go away. Nobody want you. Go away” (Rhys 23). Her family is nothing but a joke to the Jamaicans, who laugh and sneer at Annette and eventually poison her horse so that she has no transportation to town and must stay near her house. While Antoinette feels victimized by the Jamaicans, she realizes that they pose no real threat to her security.
However, when Annette marries rich Mr. Mason, the situation changes. No longer is Antoinette’s family considered the fallen mighty; nor are they simply considered a joke. Now they are part of the rich, white class, and stand as representatives of their ancestors who owned the plantations on which the Jamaicans once worked as slaves. Annette realizes that her family must be extremely careful because of their regained wealth. Yet, Mr. Mason underestimates the situation in Jamaica, and thus, to his dismay, does not share his wife’s wariness. Annette constantly asks her husband if the family can leave Coulibri, the town in which they live, on the grounds that “the people [there] hate [them]” (Rhys 32). She realizes that when they were poor they were simply “something to laugh at,” and now that they are no longer poor, they are no longer safe. The Jamaicans now “talk about [them] without stopping. They invent stories about [Mr. Mason] and lies about [Annette].” However, when Annette reveals this to her husband, he replies that the Jamaicans are simply curious and “too damn lazy to be dangerous” (Rhys 32). It is this underestimation of the Jamaicans by Mr. Mason that eventually leads to the riot in which the Jamaicans burn down his family’s house. First Antoinette is victimized because of her poverty, and then she is victimized because of her wealth.
While Antoinette faces discrimination as a creole woman in a majority population of Jamaicans, Lucy faces discrimination as a West Indian in a majority population of Caucasians. Even her employers’ African-American maid, who has origins somewhat similar to Lucy’s, is quick to criticize her:
She said that I spoke like a nun, I walked like one also, and that everything about me was so pious that it made her feel at once sick to her stomach and sick with pity just to look at me. (Kincaid 11)
However, instead of feeling stupid and worthless, Lucy responds to these insults by displaying pride in her heritage. While she is faced with many racial stereotypes, she stays true to herself and her history. After the maid is finished blatantly criticizing Lucy, she suggests that they dance, even though “she is quite sure [Lucy does not] know how.” When she plays an album sung by three white singers, Lucy bursts out with an energetic calypso about “a girl who ran away to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and had a good time, with no regrets” (Kincaid 12). She is not ashamed of her origins, but rather takes pride in them. Lucy is “determined to be an agent rather than a passive receiver” (Ferguson 52). She refuses to allow the circumstances in which she is placed to define her. When she travels to Manhattan from her native country of Antigua she stays in a “box in which cargo traveling a long way should be shipped” (Kincaid 53). While Antoinette would accept this, Lucy strongly states “I [am] not cargo” (Kincaid 7). In her essay, “Lucy and the Mark of the Colonizer,” Moira Ferguson states that “from the beginning, whether consciously or not, Lucy sets out to undermine metropolitan authority and asserts her right to contest it” (52).
There are many times in Antoinette’s and Lucy’s lives in which identities are offered to them by others. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester refuses to accept Antoinette for who she is. His insistence on calling her by another name represents this. In response to a question, Rochester replies, “Certainly, I will, my dear Bertha.” Antoinette tells him “Not Bertha tonight,” but when he tells her “Of course, on this of all nights, you must be Bertha,” she gives in and obediently replies “As you wish” (Rhys 136). Since she has internalized the victimization of her past, she is unable to find the strength to stand up to her oppressive husband.
Lucy, on the other hand, “rejects the available identities offered” to her by “her mother… , the British Empire, her well-meaning employer Mariah,… and her employers’ African-American maid” (Simmons 121). Her mother attempts to mold her daughter into who she wants her to be, and to want to have what she wants her to have: “A career as a nurse;… a sense of duty to [her] parents; [and] obedience to the law and worship of convention” (Kincaid 133). Yet, Lucy refuses to allow her mother to be in charge of her own identity. Since she does not share the same dream as her mother, she pursues her own. She gives up on going to nursing school at night, and rejects her conventional upbringing by becoming promiscuous. Lucy makes the decision to define her own destiny.
In addition to her mother attempting to push an identity upon Lucy, the British empire does as well. As a subject under Britain rule, Lucy studies such literature as Milton’s Paradise Lost. Through reading this and other British works, the idea is planted in Lucy’s head that beauty consists of blue eyes and white skin. However, she does not allow this idea to label her as ‘ugly.’ Instead, she finds beauty in her brown skin and course, kinky hair. Lucy has the strength to refuse the ideas being forced upon her by her colonizers, and allows herself to define her own ideals. She is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in either. At age fourteen she “stand[s] up in choir practice and [announces] that [she does] not wish to sing ‘Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves; Britons never, never shall be slaves,” making it quite clear that she is not Briton, given the fact that not too long ago she would have been a slave (Kincaid 135).
Lucy’s employer, Mariah, also attempts to mold her into who she wants her to be. Mariah believes that her view of the world is correct, and cannot fathom that it should be any other way. As a young child in Antigua, Lucy is forced to memorize Wordsworth’s poem in which he discusses the beauty of daffodils. However, Lucy does not see daffodils as a sign of beauty, but rather as a sign of oppression. This fact is made quite clear in the dream she has the night after she must recite the poem in front of the entire school:
“I dreamt, continuously it seemed, that I was being chased down a narrow cobbled street by bunches and bunches of . . . daffodils, . . . and when finally I fell down from exhaustion they all piled on top of me, until I was buried deep underneath them and was never seen again.” (Kincaid 18)
Mariah is persistent in trying to force the beauty of daffodils upon Lucy. She does not realize that, to Lucy, they represent something too horrible to be beautiful. However, Lucy does not allow Mariah’s beliefs to become her own. Despite hearing of Lucy’s dream, Mariah brings her to a garden full of the dreaded flowers. She says to Lucy, “I’m sorry about the poem, but I’m hoping you’ll find them lovely all the same” (Kincaid 29). She is so sure that the world is how she sees it, that she continues to attempt to make Lucy see it the same way. Yet, Lucy refuses to allow her to do this. She replies, “Mariah, do you realize that at ten years of age I had to learn by heart a long poem about some flowers I would not see in real life until I was nineteen?” (Kincaid 30). Lucy is taught that Britain is a glorious and beautiful country, and that Antigua’s beauty has no hope of measuring up to it. However, she refuses to accept this, along with Mariah’s ideas of beauty. Instead, Lucy finds the strength to live by her own standards of beauty.
Despite all of the oppression Lucy must endure, she remains a strong and independent individual, with a job and an apartment of her own. She has the ability to do “what suits [her]. . . , as long as [she can] pay for it” (Kincaid). However, Antoinette handles her oppressive circumstances differently. She believes that since she always has been a victim, she will remain a victim, and there is no point in trying to overcome it. It is because of this that she is driven into madness.
Because of her failure as a strong individual, Antoinette is unable to escape from her oppressive husband. When he learns of her past, out of complete embarrassment he immediately moves her to England. There, Antoinette is locked up in the attic and hidden from the outside world. Now she is trapped; it is too late to escape. Eventually, Antoinette is forced into madness. “She sits shivering and she is so thin” (Rhys 177). She is drunk more often that not. At the very end of the novel, she lights the house on fire. Antoinette sees no way out, for she believes that once a victim, always a victim. By accepting everything that comes her way, she becomes an extremely passive person, allowing herself to be victimized again and again. If Antoinette defined herself as more than simply a victim, then she would have been able to find happiness. But since she has internalized the victimization of her youth, she is destined to always be a victim.
In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette views herself as a victim due to the historical and cultural circumstances in which she grows up. As she becomes older, she allows these experiences to define her as a person. The title character in Kincaid’s Lucy faces similar circumstances, yet she refuses to allow them to dictate her identity. It is for this reason that while Antoinette is driven into madness, Lucy is able to build an independent life for herself.
Ferguson, Moira. “Lucy and the Mark of the Colonizer.” Jamaica Kincaid. Philadelphica: Chelsea House Publishers, 1998.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Lucy. New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1990.
Rhys Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1966.
Savory, Elaine. Jean Rhys. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Simmons, Diane. Jamaica Kincaid. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994.