Lucy: A Novel | Study Guide

Jamaica Kincaid

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Lucy: A Novel | Chapter 2 : Mariah | Summary

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Summary

It's March, and Mariah can't stop talking about spring. Lucy has never experienced spring, and Mariah wants to share it with her via long walks and a trip to her family's house on one of the Great Lakes. Her longing to show Lucy "daffodils pushing their way up out of the ground" reminds Lucy of a poem she had to memorize and recite in school. Parents, students, and teachers praised her performance, but Lucy immediately vowed to "erase from [her] mind, line by line, every word of that poem." The night after the school recital, she dreamt she was smothered by daffodils. She shares the memory with Mariah, who says enviously, "What a history you have."

The first day of spring brings with it a snowstorm. The snow eventually melts, but the hardness inside Lucy does not. She decides that this "heavy and hard" feeling must be a sign that her life is beginning. Mariah does not feel this same weight—she sings and dances around the kitchen and tells Lucy she loves her. Everything about Mariah is perfect, from her hair to her skin to her celestial glow. She takes Lucy to a garden filled with yellow flowers. Lucy wants to mow down the entire field, which makes sense when she learns the flowers are daffodils. Mariah mistakes Lucy's rage for joy. When Lucy finally speaks, she points out that at 10 she had to learn a poem about flowers she wouldn't see until she was 19. "[N]othing could change the fact that where [Mariah] saw beautiful flowers I saw sorrow and bitterness," Lucy says.

Mariah, Lucy, and the children take a train to the lake house. Lucy notices that everyone eating in the dining car looks like Mariah, while the people waiting on them look like Lucy. Mariah doesn't notice. The next morning, Mariah opens the compartment's blinds so Lucy can see the freshly plowed fields Mariah loves so much. Lucy says she's glad she didn't have to do the plowing.

Mariah wants Lucy and the children to love the lake house just as much as she does. The children do, but Lucy doesn't. "I already had a mother who loved me," Lucy writes. She finds that love is a burden, as if its purpose was "to make [Lucy] into an echo of [her mother]." She would literally rather be dead than be an echo of someone else.

Mariah cooks trout she caught for dinner. She makes a joke about feeding "the minions," which upsets Lucy. That word haunts her, she writes, because "the place where [she] came from was a dominion of someplace else." That night, Mariah says she had been looking forward to telling Lucy that she "[has] Indian blood," which is why she's so good at fishing, hunting, and roasting corn. Now she worries Lucy will take it "the wrong way." Lucy wonders aloud how Mariah got to be the way she is.

Analysis

Lucy and Mariah are foils of each other. Pale-skinned, blue-eyed Mariah is carefree and joyful while brown-skinned Lucy is unhappy and full of barbed quips designed to injure. The root of their differences—and Lucy's displeasure—goes back to before either of them was born. Mariah is an affluent white woman from a nation that subjugated people of color for hundreds of years. Lucy is an immigrant from a nation that was conquered and controlled by another, primarily white, nation. Because of their backgrounds, they see the world in significantly different ways. Mariah doesn't notice inequalities that are very clear to Lucy, such as the racial composition of the train's dining car. Mariah is someone who would probably claim to be colorblind, or beyond the concept of race. However, race is very real to Lucy, especially now that she's in a place where people who look like her are the minority. She can't help but contrast her understanding of the world with Mariah's. As Lucy explains it, it's as if Mariah thinks everyone agrees with her that the world is round but Lucy knows "the world [is] flat and if [she] went to the edge [she] would fall off."

The difference in Mariah's and Lucy's viewpoints is best illustrated by the daffodils, which Mariah loves and Lucy hates. Daffodils don't grow in the West Indies, and Lucy had yet to see one when she had to memorize the unnamed poem about them, which literary experts believe to be "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by English author William Wordsworth (1770–1850). It was only after her performance that Lucy realized learning the poem didn't make any sense at all. Little of her education did. At this moment she begins to understand how policies implemented by white colonizers—such as the English literary curriculum for her West Indian school—shift students' perception of the world. Instead of accepting the implicit message that being English is better than being West Indian, Lucy internally rails against it. That's why she sees a "scene of conquered and conquest ... of brutes masquerading as angels and angels portrayed as brutes" in the field of daffodils. In contrast, Mariah—who has never known subjugation or second-class status—simply sees beautiful blooms that signal the start of spring. Interestingly, Jamaica Kincaid isn't the first West Indian author to use daffodils as a symbol of English colonization. In her 1968 short story, "The Day They Burned the Books," Dominican author Jean Rhys (1890–1979) positions daffodils as an object beloved by an Englishman and hated by his mixed-race son. According to American essayist Judith Raiskin (b. 1957), daffodils have since become "a touchstone in contemporary postcolonial fiction."

Because Lucy is told in the first person from Lucy's perspective, readers never truly know what Mariah is thinking. Yet, her words and actions in Chapter 2 indicate that she exoticizes and romanticizes Lucy's status as an immigrant and a cultural, racial outsider. She seems envious of Lucy's history when she hears about the poem and tries to present herself as an outsider by saying she has "Indian blood." She speaks of her so-called Indian heritage as if it were a prize. Lucy doesn't understand much about Mariah, but this is the strangest thing of all. "How do you get to be the ... victor who can claim to be the vanquished?" she wonders to herself. In other words, how can Mariah be a member of the ruling majority yet brag about an identity that has been historically oppressed? The same privilege that blinds Mariah to the weight of Lucy's experiences also allows her to believe she and Lucy are very much alike. She's genuinely surprised every time Lucy demonstrates otherwise.

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