The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Lucy is the narrator and central character of the novel. Her voice and her sensibilities lead the reader through the book’s rambling episodes. The contradictions in Lucy’s character are the contradictions that adolescence seems to create. On one hand, Lucy is a keen and sometimes satiric observer of her new world. She laughs at American excesses and pities American provincialism. She also has insight into others’ motivations. She suspects the affair between Dinah and Lewis long before Mariah knows about it, and she understands her mother’s advice about siding with women rather than men to mean that she should never get involved with another woman’s husband. In many ways, Lucy understands herself. She knows that she will not be sorry to part with Hugh; she knows that she cannot tell Peggy about her artistic interest in photography. What she does not understand completely is her relationship with her mother. She does not see that although she may refuse to read her mother’s letters, may refuse all contact with her, she will always be her mother’s daughter, just as her mother predicted.

Mariah functions as the means by which Lucy is introduced to American life and ideas. In that way, like Peggy, she serves as a foil to Lucy. Wealthy, beautiful, naïve about the world outside her own sphere, she is the object both of Lucy’s admiration and of her scorn.

Dinah is scarcely developed as a character in the novel. She exists just fully...

(The entire section is 467 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Lucy Josephine Potter

Lucy Josephine Potter, the protagonist, a young woman who has left her home in the West Indies to work as a live-in child care provider at the home of Mariah and Lewis. She finds the United States to be very different from her former home and experiences homesickness at first. Although she takes excellent care of Lewis and Mariah’s four little girls, she is restless, rebellious, and intent on acquiring her independence by separating herself from her mother, both physically and emotionally. She cannot forgive her mother for denying her the ambitious future her parents planned for her brothers. Even though Lucy has intimate relations with men, she does not allow herself to fall in love with any of them.


Mariah, Lucy’s employer, an attractive, wealthy white woman who genuinely likes Lucy but does not understand her. She tries to make friends with Lucy and does not comprehend the barrier their separate histories place between them. Mariah has always had a pampered, easy life, so she expects happiness. Believing that her husband Lewis loves her, she does not handle the disintegration of her marriage very well, nor does she realize the cause of it.


Lewis, Mariah’s husband, a wealthy lawyer. He falls in love with his wife’s best friend, Dinah. Kind to Lucy and the children, he manipulates Mariah into believing that she has asked for the divorce.


(The entire section is 540 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

As the narrator, Lucy reveals her personality through her thoughts, dreams, and memories, as well as through her interactions with other characters in the novel. A sensual young woman, she does not love any of the men with whom she involves herself. That her mother is the only person she has ever loved becomes clear as the novel progresses. Lucy sees herself as identical to her mother and works hard to free herself and to find her own sense of self.

Lucy describes and comments on the actions and personalities of the people she meets in the United States. Most suffer from her analysis. For example, although superficially Mariah and Lewis have a perfect marriage, Lucy notices its flaws long before either of the pair notices them. An astute judge of character, Lucy knows that Dinah envies Mariah, that Lewis and Dinah are lovers, and that Lewis is manipulating Mariah so it will seem as though Mariah initiates their divorce.

A genuinely caring person, Mariah tries to understand Lucy’s anger and resentment toward her mother and toward British rule of her former home, but her lack of depth makes this an impossible task. The episode in which Mariah attempts to explain to Lucy the beauty of daffodils underscores both Lucy’s anger and Mariah’s lack of understanding. Mariah’s inability to see the world as it is contributes to her downfall. A woman for whom everything has always come easily, she views her life and the lives of the people...

(The entire section is 544 words.)