Lucy: A Novel | Study Guide

Jamaica Kincaid

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Lucy: A Novel | Plot Summary

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Summary

Winter

An unnamed 19-year-old woman arrives in an unnamed American city in January of an unnamed year. For now, readers know her only as the "I" of her first-person narrative, but by the narrative's end they will learn that her name is Lucy Josephine Potter. She was born in May 1949, and she has come to the United States to start a new life away from her family, particularly her mother.

Lucy has taken a job as an au pair for an affluent white couple, Lewis and Mariah, who have four daughters. The family is storybook perfect—blond hair, wide grins, and sunny dispositions all around. Lucy's new surroundings are a stark contrast to the primitive amenities of home and Lucy's own critical personality. Lucy is homesick, but she doesn't even consider returning to her island. There is no reason to go back.

Spring

Distant and standoffish at first, Lucy warms to her employers and her new city by the spring. Mariah loves spring, and she can't wait to show Lucy a field of daffodils growing nearby. Lucy wants to destroy them at first sight. When she was in school, she had to memorize a poem about daffodils by a famous British poet. Although the poem and its author are not mentioned here, the verse is "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by William Wordsworth (1770–1850). Daffodils don't grow on her island, which at the time is under British rule. Seeing the daffodils reminds Lucy of the colonizers who enslaved her ancestors. While traveling by train to their vacation home on the Great Lakes, Mariah inadvertently points out another colonial reminder when she gestures to the surrounding plowed fields. Mariah thinks the endless expanse of furrowed ground is beautiful. Lucy is glad she didn't have to plow it.

Summer

Lucy loves summer in the United States and decides she will never go home to the West Indies. The United States has seasons, and even the warmest months aren't as stiflingly hot and dry as those on her island. In the city she has made a close friend named Peggy. They have nothing in common except their desire to get away from their families. That's enough for Lucy. She doesn't see much of Peggy over the summer, since she is at the lake house with Mariah, Lewis, and the children for weeks on end. Lucy now cares for Mariah very deeply, as if Mariah were her real mother. After some time at the lake house, Lucy discerns that Mariah and Lewis are just going through the motions of being in love. Then she suspects that Lewis is having an affair with Mariah's best friend, Dinah. Dinah introduces Lucy to her younger brother, Hugh, whom Lucy sleeps with for the rest of the summer. She enjoys his company but she doesn't love him.

Fall

Lucy's melancholy feelings return in the fall, which is full of tumultuous events. Lucy quits nursing school and takes up photography, Lewis and Mariah separate, and Lucy is visited by Maude Quick, a woman from home whom she despises. Maude delivers the news that Lucy's father died a month earlier. Lucy didn't know because she refused to open the letters her mother sent—19 in all—including the latest, which was marked "URGENT." Her father was deeply in debt when he died. Although he had 30 children by multiple women, he had married only Lucy's mother and the responsibility of repaying the debt falls to his widow. Lucy sends her mother all the money she has been saving for an apartment of her own, as well as a sum from Mariah. With the funds, Lucy includes a scathing letter that scolds her mother for marrying a man like her father and boasts about Lucy's promiscuous behavior. She closes it with a vow to never come home again.

Lucy is visibly upset after the news from home. When Mariah asks why she can't just forgive her mother, Lucy tells her what she has never told another soul. Lucy has three younger brothers, the first of whom was born when Lucy was nine. Before that, Lucy was the center of her mother's world. Following her brothers' arrival, all her mother's hopes and dreams were poured into the boys. Her parents dreamed of their sons becoming doctors, lawyers, or otherwise important people, but it was assumed that Lucy would be a wife and a mother. If she had a job, it wouldn't be very noteworthy. Hearing her mother's hopes for her sons was the greatest betrayal of Lucy's young life. It broke her heart and shattered their bond.

Winter, Again

January rolls around again. Much to Mariah's displeasure, Lucy has quit her job and moved into an apartment with Peggy. They are terribly unsuited to be roommates, but Lucy is glad to have a place of her own that is separate from the memories of her past. Her boyfriend, Paul, connects her with a secretarial job at a photographer's office. She likes it there, and her boss lets her use the darkroom after hours. She and Mariah get together one last time after Mariah's anger subsides. Over dinner, Mariah gives Lucy a blank notebook she purchased long ago but never used. Lucy decides to write in it one night when she's alone in the apartment. She inscribes the first page with her full name and then writes, "I wish I could love someone so much that I would die from it." She cries until her tears render the words illegible.

Lucy: A Novel Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Lucy arrives in the United States to work as an au pair.

Rising Action

2 Lucy feels the urge to destroy a field of daffodils.

3 Lewis explodes at dinner after running over a rabbit.

4 Mariah announces that she and Lewis are separating.

5 Lucy learns that her father is dead.

6 Lucy writes a scathing letter to her mother.

Climax

7 Lucy tells Mariah why she cannot forgive her mother.

Falling Action

8 Lucy finds a new job and moves out of Mariah's house.

Resolution

9 Lucy weeps at her desk, longing for love.

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