Lucy: A Novel | Study Guide

Jamaica Kincaid

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Lucy: A Novel | Quotes


I did not know that the sun could shine and the air remain cold.

Lucy, Chapter 1

Lucy emigrates from a tropical island to the United States in January. No one had told her it could be so cold on a sunny day. This is just the first of many discoveries Lucy has to make on her own. Growing up in the West Indies did not adequately prepare her for her new life in the United States.


After all, aren't family the people who become the millstone around your life's neck?

Lucy, Chapter 1

Lucy is confused as to why Lewis and Mariah insist that she act as if she's part of the family. To her, family isn't the warm and safe embrace of loved ones—it's a burden, an unwanted tethering of oneself to an undesirable group. In Lucy's mind, being treated like family is the same as being treated like she doesn't matter. Lewis and Mariah treat her much better than that.


How do you get to be that way?

Lucy, Chapter 2

Lucy can't stop wondering why Mariah is the way she is. Why does she see beauty in everything, even things that represent the oppression of others? How can she have so few problems in her life? How can she be wealthy and white and consider herself part of an oppressed minority? Lucy is genuinely baffled about Mariah's worldview, which is radically different than her own. When Lucy finally asks the question out loud, Mariah can only answer with a look of anguish.


Where she saw beautiful flowers I saw sorrow and bitterness.

Lucy, Chapter 2

Lucy grew up in the West Indies, which were still colonies of the British Empire at the time the story takes place. Her school followed a British curriculum, which meant that Lucy learned about things that had nothing to do with her island. For example, she had to memorize a poem about daffodils even though daffodils don't grow on her island. She doesn't see an actual daffodil until she is 19, when Mariah takes her to a field full of them. Mariah adores daffodils and thinks they are the perfect emblem of spring, but Lucy sees no beauty. Instead, she is reminded of the centuries of colonial rule by people who insisted on instilling in her a love of their country instead of her own.


Well, thank God I didn't have to do that.

Lucy, Chapter 2

Lucy says this to Mariah as their train rolls through miles of freshly plowed fields. Mariah sees great beauty in the rich furrowed earth, while Lucy sees the backbreaking work of those responsible for it. Her remark is a comment on the class differences determined by the color of their skin. Historically, white people such as Mariah have profited from the labor of those with brown skin like Lucy.


My sympathies were with Mariah.

Lucy, Chapter 3

When it appears that Mariah and Lewis's relationship is in trouble, Lucy naturally sides with Mariah. This isn't because Lucy has grown to love Mariah—although she has—but because her mother always taught her that women should not take a man's side over a woman's. That advice was meant to discourage Lucy from attaching herself to married men, but Lucy also interprets it as a lesson about men's unreliability and disloyalty.


It was not in my heart to make new ones.

Lucy, Chapter 3

Lucy refuses to allow herself to fall in love with Hugh during her first summer in the United States. Only six months into her newfound and hard-fought freedom, she is unwilling to make deep connections with someone who might disappoint her the way her mother did.


I had thought the untruths in family life belonged exclusively to me and my family.

Lucy, Chapter 3

Lewis and Mariah get into an enormous fight after Lewis runs over a rabbit with the car. He insists it was an accident, but Mariah doesn't believe him. The family holds an impromptu burial ceremony for the rabbit, which surprises Lucy. She is surprised to discover that her family isn't the only one whose members lie to one another in order to keep up appearances. In Lucy's case, she thinks her mother only pretends to love her.


I could see the present take a shape—the shape of my past.

Lucy, Chapter 4

Lucy thought that by coming to the United States she could escape her mother's expectations and the reminders that her mother is no longer wholly devoted to her. She's starting to figure out that she's wrong. The past isn't something that can be left behind. It colors every experience she has and influences every decision she makes. Despite her efforts, she is still just like her mother: taking care of children and living in someone else's home. This realization prompts Lucy to leave the safety of Mariah's home and employment for a life her mother would find completely unconventional.


I knew that if I read only one, I would die from longing for her.

Lucy, Chapter 4

Throughout the novel Lucy insists that she despises her mother. In fact she loves her deeply, which is why it is hurtful to know that her mother hopes for a better future for her sons than for Lucy. Hating her mother is a coping mechanism Lucy develops so she won't get hurt again. She knows that if she opens one of the many letters her mother has sent her, the hatred she has so painstakingly amassed will turn back into love.


I was the sort of person for whom there could never be enough blessings.

Lucy, Chapter 4

Lucy knows she is lucky to have worked for and befriended someone like Mariah who treats her like an equal. She truly appreciates Mariah's gestures of friendship—books on interesting subjects and a museum membership. However, Lucy also knows that she isn't the kind of person who expresses gratitude for her good fortune. That's what "proper" ladies, like her mother and Maude Quick, do. She consciously decides to never be content with her situation. Something better is always lurking on the horizon.


Why is a picture of something real eventually more exciting than the thing itself?

Lucy, Chapter 4

Lucy wonders this while looking at photographs she takes of everyday items such as a necklace or a tube of lipstick. The sentiment also applies to her new life in the United States. When Lucy was in the West Indies, she carried an image in her mind of what her life abroad would be like—exciting, interesting, and full of joy. Now that her fantasy is a reality, she realizes the United States can be just as dull and stifling as her island. Her experiences never match her expectations.


As long as I could pay for it.

Lucy, Chapter 5

Lucy is truly free when she moves out of Mariah's apartment. No one tells her how to live her life or expects anything of her. She is completely autonomous and can do anything she wants as long as she has the money to do so. "As long as I could pay for it" becomes Lucy's new mantra, or, as she puts it, "the tail that wagged [her] dog." It's a celebration of her independence.


I named you after Satan himself.

Lucy's mother, Chapter 5

Readers may be shocked to learn that Lucy's mother named her after Lucifer, but Lucy isn't. She's proud of the image it elicits—that of a dark angel fallen from heaven—and unconsciously adjusts her personality to fit. Lucy has always viewed her mother as a godlike person and, as she sees it, devils are the children of gods.


I wish I could love someone so much that I would die from it.

Lucy, Chapter 5

This is the first—and perhaps only—entry Lucy writes in the journal given to be her by Mariah. Lucy has spent the past year denying that she needs anyone and distancing herself from everyone who tries to get close to her, including Mariah, Hugh, and Paul. She's afraid of the disappointment and heartbreak she associates with deeply intimate relationships. However, she is also desperately lonely. She misses her mother, she misses Mariah, and she is ashamed that her self-isolation hurts others. Lucy wants to love and wants to be loved, but she no longer thinks she is capable of either.

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