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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 657

Lucy seems to take up where Annie John left off, and Lucy seems much like a slightly older, angrier Annie. The novel opens with Lucy’s arrival in New York, where she will care for the four little daughters of Lewis and Mariah.

From the first, Lucy’s affluent new surroundings feel foreign to her. Although she likes the family for whom she works, they call her “the Visitor” because she seems so distant from them. Lucy, though, has divorced herself from her past and has committed herself to her new land and the strange things (such as snow) in it. Mariah promises her that in the spring she will see daffodils, but to Lucy, daffodils are simply the subject of a poem by William Wordsworth that she was once made to memorize in school. The daffodils become an emblem of the British (and American) visions of the world that are irrelevant to a West Indian.

As time passes, the many differences of race, class, and geography between Lucy and Mariah take on added weight. They will never really understand each other. On the train ride to the family’s summer home on the Great Lakes, Lucy sees miles of freshly plowed fields and comments that at least she will not have to do plowing. The remark mystifies Mariah, but Lucy seems to be referring to her awareness of her ancestors in slavery and her consciousness that plowed lands cost someone some hard labor. In fact, although Lucy has come to love Mariah, seeing in her some of her mother, she is also constantly aware that Mariah knows little of the world that produced Lucy.

In her spare time, Lucy has made a friend, Peggy. Mariah does not like Peggy, who smokes, uses slang, and wears cheap, provocative clothes. Peggy and Lucy roam the streets at night, smoking marijuana and considering the sexual possibilities of the men they see in the park, although they never actually approach those men. During the summer at the Great Lakes, Lucy misses her friend; perhaps that is how she enters a love affair with Hugh, the brother of Mariah’s friend Dinah. Unlike most of Mariah’s associates, Hugh at least knows where the West Indies are; that sensibility earns him Lucy’s approval. Lucy recognizes, however, that she wants no lasting attachments, and the affair ends when the family’s vacation is over.

Back in New York, Lucy watches her employers’ marriage break up. At the same time, Lucy’s longstanding conflict with her mother comes to a head. For months, Lucy has not opened her mother’s letters; now a family friend tells her that her father has died and that her mother badly needs money. Lucy writes her mother an angry letter, blaming her for marrying a man who would not leave even enough money to cover his funeral. She says that she will never come home, but she also sends her some money. When the mother writes back, she says what Annie’s mother said: that she would always be Lucy’s mother and that the island would always be her home.

Lucy writes again, a more conciliatory letter this time, but she includes a false address. Then she quits her job and moves into an apartment with Peggy. She knows that she will not like living with Peggy, and she suspects that her new lover, Paul, is unfaithful. Her meditations as her life changes link her conflicts with her mother and her awareness that she is the product of British colonial rule. As the British had assumed that their black subjects (who had once been their slaves) could produce nothing worthwhile, so had her mother assumed the same about Lucy, whose anger boils at the recognition. At the novel’s end, she takes out a blank journal that Mariah has given her and begins to write her name. Clearly, her future lies in the written word.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 869

A roughly autobiographical novel, Lucy deals with the experiences of a young Antiguan woman who, like Jamaica Kincaid herself, comes to New York City to work as a nanny in an effort to escape her repressive family and the narrow island life in which she has grown up. Her experiences in the city disillusion her, but while she copes with her disillusionment, she must come to terms with her family back in Antigua.

The episodic action of the five chapters of Lucy is narrated by Lucy herself, beginning with her first morning on her new job in New York. Even when the family was driving her home from the airport and pointing out famous sights to her, Lucy recalls, her feelings were a sort of sadness. What she discovers is the difference between her romantic expectations and the gritty reality of the city. The difference is made even more powerful by her memory of warm, sunny Antigua, a place she had never expected to miss, for when she was at home she felt in constant conflict with her family. Now, however, she identifies this surprising sadness as homesickness for foods of home such as green figs and pink mullet, for a cousin, even for a favorite nightgown from her childhood.

The family she works for is kind to her, and Lucy admires their blonde good looks and happy informality. They recognize Lucy’s unhappiness, however, and Lewis, the husband, begins to call her “Visitor.” One night, Lucy tells the family a dream full of sexual images she dreamed about Lewis. Mariah and Lewis are obviously uncomfortable, but to Lucy, the dream simply indicates that she has made Mariah and Lewis important people in her life.

In early March, Mariah, knowing how Lucy longs for warm weather, describes the beauty of daffodils to her. The description makes Lucy remember how in school she had had to recite a poem about daffodils (evidently William Wordsworth’s famous “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”). She recited it perfectly, but underneath she was angry about the task and the poem, which to her represented Great Britain’s colonization of Antigua. Her anger emphasizes the gulf between Lucy and Mariah.

While Mariah plans a trip to her family home on the Great Lakes, Lucy is thinking about her own family. Her mother’s letters are filled with threats and warnings of the city’s dangers. This makes Lucy remember her mother’s disreputable friend Sylvie, a woman who had a scar on her cheek from a human bite and who had spent time in jail, a powerful contrast to Mariah’s inoffensive beauty. At the chapter’s end, the family has arrived at the family summer home at the Great Lakes. Lucy is unimpressed and is angered by Mariah’s claim that she is a good fisherwoman because she has Indian blood. To Lucy, the boast is the sort that only a victor can make, and she asks, “How do you get to be the sort of victor who can claim to be the vanquished also?” Mariah, however, does not understand Lucy’s anger.

At about this time, Mariah’s best friend, Dinah, arrives at the lakes. Lucy dislikes Dinah, who clearly sees Lucy as only a servant. Lucy also sees that Dinah is a vain woman who is envious of Mariah’s possessions, even of her family.

Lucy is rather isolated while the family is at the lakes; she misses her disreputable friend Peggy, a young woman whose gaudy clothes, heavy smoking, and rebellious behavior have made Mariah forbid Lucy to bring her around the children. Loneliness makes Lucy interested in Dinah’s brother Hugh, an attractive and worldly man who sees Lucy as an individual and who soon becomes her lover.

While at the lakes, Mariah decides to write a children’s book about the environment. Lucy is rather amused at Mariah’s naïve inability to see any relationship between the threatened environment and her own high standard of living. At about this time, too, Lucy recognizes that Lewis has begun a love affair with Dinah.

Back in New York again, Lucy enters a period of change. She stops her nurse’s training. She takes a new lover, Paul; ironically, as she and Peggy grow apart, they begin to plan to find an apartment to share. Mariah asks Lewis to leave the household. Most important, Lucy receives a letter marked “urgent” from her mother. She ignores it as she has her mother’s previous letters, until at last a cousin comes to her in person to tell her that her father has died, leaving her mother destitute.

Angry with her mother for marrying an unfaithful man who cannot manage money, Lucy nevertheless sends her some of the money she has saved toward the apartment. Shortly after that, she quits her job with Mariah, takes work as a photographer’s assistant, and moves in with Peggy. At the novel’s end, Lucy seems to have severed almost all of her emotional ties to others; in the last scene, she writes her name in a new journal and records her longing to love someone, a statement that makes her feel overcome with shame.

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