Lucy: A Novel | Study Guide

Jamaica Kincaid

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Lucy: A Novel | Symbols



Lucy grew up in the West Indies, which at the time were a colony of Great Britain. People on her island speak British English and are given a British education. When Lucy was 10, she had to memorize a famous poem about daffodils, which was most likely "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by William Wordsworth. Daffodils don't grow on Lucy's island. She had never seen one, yet she was expected to learn the poem by heart and perform it in front of an audience of parents, teachers, and students. Even though her recitation went perfectly, Lucy vowed to forget every word. It made no sense that her education was structured around the culture and history of a country she would probably never visit. Even worse was the fact that the country in question was the one that enslaved her ancestors for hundreds of years. Lucy says as much to Mariah, who absolutely loves daffodils and insists Lucy must see them anyway. She takes Lucy to a field full of the yellow flowers and is surprised when Lucy is struck by the sudden urge to destroy every bloom. To Lucy, daffodils represent the oppression of her people by British colonizers. They are also symbolic of the cultural and experiential gulf between Lucy and Mariah. No matter how enlightened and compassionate Mariah thinks she is, she simply doesn't understand that the things she finds most beautiful may represent tragedy and despair to someone else.


Lucy takes up photography during her first autumn in the United States. She takes pictures of everything‚ÄĒMariah and the children, dirty clothes on her dresser, and random people walking down the street. She even snaps a photo of Lewis and Mariah just as they're about to tell Lucy and the children that they're getting a divorce. Because Lucy is the one taking the pictures, she's never in her photos. Her camera symbolizes her status as an outsider, both in terms of her nationality and her unwillingness to form close and lasting connections.

Lucy loves photography because "a picture of something real" has the capacity to make an object "more exciting than the thing itself." A tube of lipstick haphazardly thrown on a dresser takes on a life of its own when captured on film. It's similar to how the life Lucy imagined having in the United States compares to the reality of living there. While she was still in the West Indies, Lucy thought emigration would erase the reminders of her past so she could start anew and find happiness. That's not what happens. She hasn't forgotten the past, and she isn't nearly as happy as she had hoped. Lucy's attachment to her camera is therefore also symbolic of her desire to recapture the feelings of hope and happiness she had while dreaming about life in the United States.

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