Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

Lucy is an autobiographical novel, loosely representing the events of Jamaica Kincaid’s life during her first year in the United States: Like Lucy, she worked as an au pair for a wealthy family that split up; like Lucy, she started school and quit; and like Lucy, she developed an interest in photography. At the end of Lucy there are slender hints that Lucy is about to discover an interest in writing, just as Kincaid herself did.

Kincaid’s first novel, Annie John (1985), was also autobiographical, telling the story of a young girl growing up in Antigua. At the end of that novel, Annie John, having suffered a serious break with her mother, is leaving home, evidently forever. She is going to England, where she will go into nurse’s training. In that respect, Lucy seems to take up where Annie John left off. The two works also share themes concerning mother-daughter relationships, sexual awakenings, and the debilitating effects of British colonial rule on the former colony. The books also share the same narrative style; both are told in the first person by a narrator who is more interested in developing a series of pictures and anecdotes to create an atmosphere than in telling a conventional linear story, Kincaid’s essay about Antigua, A Small Place, was published in 1988. It is reflective of the political anger that forms a theme of Lucy. In A Small Place, Kincaid details the ruinous effects of British rule on Antigua, attributing to colonialism a legacy of political corruption, racism, poverty, and ignorance. That same indictment forms a thematic element of Lucy. Just as Lucy must recognize herself as inevitable inheritor of some of her mother’s being, so she is also heir to the island that gave her birth, to its beauty as well as to its pain.