Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The central theme of Lucy concerns Lucy’s coming-of-age in a new land. That process forces her to define her relationship with Mariah, her mother, and her homeland, while at the same time she must learn to recognize her self. In some ways, Lucy seems always to have had a clear understanding of who she is and what she wants, but her anger at her mother dramatizes her real confusion.

From soon after Lucy’s arrival in New York, it becomes clear that she was very angry when she left her homeland and family. She says that she had never expected to miss them and that they had never shown regard for her feelings. She ridicules the fears of New York that her mother expressed in the few letters that Lucy opened, just as she ridicules the paltry news of island life that her mother is able to report. In the course of the novel, readers also see Lucy’s anger at her father for his endless infidelities to her mother, as well as her anger with her mother for enduring the succession of mistresses and illegitimate children his love affairs have produced. All that anger boils over when, after months of refusing to open her mother’s letters, Lucy learns of her father’s death. She is angry at her father for being the sort of man he is and at her mother for putting up with him, for allowing herself to end up widowed and penniless. Although Lucy sends her mother money, she accompanies it with a harsh letter. Later, she sends a kinder one, but she also tells...

(The entire section is 579 words.)

Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Lucy tells her story in a practical, matter-of-fact way, juxtaposing everyday episodes with anecdotes from the past that illuminate the major themes of the novel. Lucy’s alienation from the cultures of the West Indies, Great Britain, and the United States permeates the book. Lucy wishes to block out the past and attempts to do so by not opening the letters she receives from home. So many small details of life in the United States trigger memories of her past that she is unable to free herself completely from it. The major theme in the novel is Lucy’s conflicting feelings about her mother and about her surrogate mother, Mariah. At the end, Lucy tries to break off all communications between these women and herself, but their relationships are clearly unresolved.

Lucy’s search for identity is an outgrowth of her alienation and of her conflict with her mother and with Mariah. As Kincaid develops this theme, Lucy rejects every female role model offered to her: her mother, Mariah, Dinah, Peggy, and Maude Quick. One of her greatest fears is that she will become like one of these women, none of whom has chosen a life course that appeals to her.

The novel is written in rather short, simple sentences, and its language resembles that of a fairy tale. Such use of language, along with the somewhat abrupt beginnings and endings of chapters, helps convey the overall sense of the novel and provides insight into the central theme of Lucy’s conflict...

(The entire section is 509 words.)