Lucy: A Novel | Study Guide

Jamaica Kincaid

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Lucy: A Novel | Chapter 4 : Cold Heart | Summary



It is autumn, and the sunny, happy feeling of the summer has evaporated. Lucy ruminates about the divisions between the prosperous and poor—which seem to be based on the changing of the seasons. She believes those who enjoy four separate seasons are wealthier and happier than their counterparts from lands that are not "influenced by the tilt of the earth at all." Lucy believes a youth spent in a "sunny, drought-ridden" place made her the angry woman she is today.

The relationships Lucy has made and observed in the United States are starting to fray at the seams. She and Peggy are already growing apart when Peggy takes Lucy to a party hosted by Paul, who is a painter. Paul is immediately taken with Lucy, who has the sudden urge to be naked with him. They start dating, which irritates Peggy, who thinks Paul is a "pervert." Lucy shares nearly everything about her sex life with Mariah. Still, she doesn't reveal that she spent a day and a half having sex with the man who sold her a camera. It's during one of these conversations that Mariah tells Lucy that she and Lewis have "such bad sex." Not long after, Lewis moves out of the apartment. Lucy isn't surprised to find that she has taken Mariah's side.

Lucy's future changes shape as well. She quits nursing school after the summer at the lake house and takes up photography after Mariah gives her a book about it. Mariah sparks Lucy's interest in art by taking her to the museum to see an exhibit by a Frenchman who abandoned his family and moved halfway around the world to paint. Lucy "identifie[s] with the yearnings of this [unnamed] man." Like him, she finds the place she was born "an unbearable prison."

Lucy now has 19 unopened letters from her mother. The 20th arrives marked "URGENT," but Lucy leaves it sealed. A few weeks later, a woman named Maude Quick shows up at Mariah's door. She is Lucy's mother's goddaughter. Lucy's mother adores Maude, who tormented Lucy as a child. Maude tells Lucy that her father is dead. Lucy is on the verge of falling apart when Maude says, "You remind me of Miss Annie, you really remind me of your mother." Lucy is later grateful that Maude said such a spiteful thing—it "saved [her] life." She tells Maude her mother should have never married her father and should never have "thrown away her intelligence" and had children. She rejects Maude's suggestion that she go back home. Instead, she reflects on her father, who had 30 children with multiple women and married her mother in his old age "for her youth and strength." So many women loved him—and tried to kill Lucy and her mother just to be with him—but her mother was the only woman he married.

Maude departs, and Lucy reads the letter she brought. In it, her mother writes that Lucy's father left the family nothing and was deeply in debt when he died. Lucy sends her mother all the money she has saved for getting an apartment with Peggy, which Mariah triples. She includes a "cold letter" that lambasts her mother for marrying "a man who would die and leave her in debt even for his own burial." In addition to cataloguing her mother's faults, Lucy writes about her life as a "slut" and says that she will "never come home ever." Her mother writes back, saying that she will always love Lucy and that "[Lucy's] home would never be anywhere but with her." Lucy burns that and all the unopened letters. A few weeks later Lucy confesses the root of her hatred to Mariah. Lucy has three younger brothers, the first of whom was born when she was nine. Her parents always talked about how successful and important their sons would be. Lucy didn't blame her father for dreaming big on her brothers' behalf, but to hear her mother say such words was "a sword ... through [her] heart." Mariah tries to ease Lucy's pain by talking about women's roles in history, culture, and society and then gives her a book about it. Lucy can't get past the first sentence. Her problem isn't women—it's that she has been "mourning the end of a love affair" for half her life.


Since Chapter 1, readers have known that Lucy's immigration to the United States was directly related to Lucy's desire to escape her family, particularly her mother. However, readers don't learn why Lucy was so eager to leave everyone and everything behind until the end of Chapter 4. Lucy's main issue is that her mother's has higher aspirations for Lucy's brothers than she does for Lucy. While this may not seem like a huge issue, it is devastating for Lucy as a young girl who completely adores her mother. "I, at the time, even thought of us as identical," Lucy remembers. She viewed her mother's high hopes for her brothers as nothing less than a personal betrayal and "began to plan a separation from her that even then [she] suspected would never be complete." She has been heartbroken ever since. Mariah sympathizes with the reason for Lucy's ire. Yet, she doesn't understand that Lucy feels like she has lost "perhaps the only true love in [her] whole life [she] would ever know." Mariah views Lucy's mother's attitude as a natural companion to centuries of patriarchal rule, which she tries to explain with the book. However, that's not the problem. Lucy understands the patriarchy—she knows that men are held in higher esteem and that their stories are the ones most often told. The cause of her grief is that she feels her mother's love for her dimmed after the birth of her brothers.

Lucy's feelings are complicated by the fact that her mother is well liked by everyone else, even Lucy's father—who was prepared to keep fathering children with woman after woman until he fell in love with her—and hateful Maude. It's hard to hate someone like that. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Lucy spent the first half of her life thinking she and her mother were exactly alike. She wanted to be wholly good like her mother. After her perceived betrayal, Lucy goes out of her way to prove they're nothing alike. She smokes marijuana, sleeps with men she's just met, and takes a contrary attitude on nearly every subject. Her behavior is a conscious rebellion born out of disappointment, shame, and the fear that she will never live up to her mother's image of perfection. Every good thing her mother does or says, like promising to always love her, threatens to topple Lucy's anger back into uncontrollable love. That's why Lucy never reads her mother's letters. If she did, she "would die from longing for her." For Lucy, loving her mother and risking heartbreak again is far worse than forcing herself to hate her.

Nearly all the female relationships in Lucy are fraught with judgment and dislike. Lucy has been emotionally wounded by her mother and physically hurt by Maude. She despises Dinah, Mariah's so-called best friend, and Mariah dislikes Peggy, Lucy's best friend. Lucy's father's former lovers have even gone so far as to try to kill Lucy and her mother. Despite all this, Lucy feels an innate allegiance to women over men. Even though she always liked Lewis, she sides with Mariah when their marriage turns sour. In Chapter 3 she says that her "sympathies" are always with women because her mother cautioned her never to "take a man's side over a woman's." This was a warning against laying claim to a married man. Lucy's loyalty to women as a group can also be read as the beginning of her feminist awakening. Lucy takes place in 1968, which coincides with the era of the women's movement in the United States. As she reads the books Mariah gives her and studies artwork at the museum, Lucy realizes that men's voices and stories are prioritized over women's. She decides she's no longer interested in the stories of men, including that of the unnamed male artist whose work she views in the museum exhibit. Many literary critics identify that artist as French painter Paul Gauguin (1848–1903), whose 1862 painting Poèmes Barbares—Savage Poems—graces the first edition cover of Lucy. Rather than identifying with the male perspective, Lucy now automatically sides with the feminine point of view, even if she disagrees with or dislikes individual women.

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