Lucy is a 1990 novel by an author from the Caribbean called Jamaica Kincaid who immigrated to the United States. It tells the story of Lucy, the main protagonist who relocates from a small West Indian nation to live in America. Kincaid uses her life as an inspiration for much of her works of fiction; with Lucy offering a detailed and insightful analysis of the American culture. It shows how the character struggles as an immigrant, a foreigner and a black woman in Americas multicultural society. This essay explores the theme of identity in Kincaids Lucy.
In the novel, it can be seen that the title character is a product of double identity. She is presented both as an immigrant from her native country and as a woman of color in America. Generally, migrants and immigrants are perceived as individuals of who relocate and settle into another country. However, migrants are understood differently because they go through more than merely a physical relocation. Once they leave their native homeland, they try to fit into a foreign land by swapping one identity with another. This change in identity is usually influenced by some components such as gender, class, and race. Lucy goes through such an identity transformation.
On her part, Lucy tries her level best to shake off the identity crisis and achieve independence in the new country. Anyone who reads the novel carefully would be tempted to associate it with the post-colonial literary movement that took place in the Caribbean. Many writers in this movement do not conform to what they perceive to be white colonial values. Instead, they associate themselves with West Indian or African traditions, values and ways of expressing themselves. They satirize the incapacitating effects of colonialism while highlighting how it affected local cultures and changes native societies. All in all, Kincaids novel seems to overstep the boundaries of this movement. The character Lucy does not conform to either West Indian or British values. Rather, she is presented as a headstrong, self-reliant and strong-willed woman who is determined to forge her own path. Therefore, the novel can be analyzed through theories of literature such as psychoanalysis, post-modernism, and feminism.
It is important to look at Lucys historical context and the authors biography to understand why the main protagonist behaves in such a hostile manner. In the early 17th century, Britain colonized Antigua. Once the English settlers conquered several rebellions from the natives, they began cultivating cash crops such as sugar and tobacco. This farming soon saw significant success and began attracting cheap slave labor, although this came to an end in the early 19th century after slave trade was abolished. All in all, Antigua went on to be ruled by Britain; with this rule being similar to that of numerous West Indian colonies. A good example is British education system that went a long way in imparting British cultural values and ideals to the locals.
Under this education system, the scholars and poets who influenced Jamaica Kincaids early works of literature were British, including William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. In the 1960s, Antigua began fighting for independence and eventually gained independence in 1981. It is unfortunate that the local leaders who took over power after independence engaged in corruption and abuse of power. Native politicians who, before independence, accused the British colonialists of various economic and political atrocities now paved the way for the island to be exploited by tourism.
Upon return to Antigua after two decades, Jamaica Kincaid was disgusted by the pathetic state that the nation was now in. It is perhaps this disgust that drove her to write Lucy as an expression of the oppressive regime. Therefore, the novel cannot be seen as a record of the first year of a young female immigrant in the United States, nor can it be perceived as an account of how her dreams come true. Rather, it highlights her disappointment as she comes to terms with a dose of reality. The narrative voice that Lucy uses reverberates strongly throughout the novel. Kincaid gives the character the authority of an observant critic of the new world whereby she is free to do away with her past and face an uncertain future in a foreign land with as much determination as possible.
Given that Kincaid was born in Antigua, she creates a kind of semi-autography through the character of Lucy. This character mirrors the experiences that she went through as an immigrant living in the United States. In the novels plot, Lucy flees to America from the West Indies. Before she fled, she was known as an Antigua girl who has been under physical and mental bondage since she was born. This slavery is due to the cultural norms imposed on her by the society because she is female. Lucy happens to be a creation of a post-colonial society that influences how she thinks of herself being defined and under control of other people. Kincaid underlines the importance of a female claiming and possessing herself because, if she fails to do that, another person will claim and possess her. With this in mind, the novels author highlights her desire to define herself in the form of Lucys character.
The importance of possessing oneself makes the reader understand why Lucy desires to form an identity that is not part of her cultures traditions. She is not shy or timid, but rather headstrong and free willed. Despite these positive traits, she is a naive and inexperienced girl in her late teens who travels to a foreign land with the hopes of becoming the mature lady she has always wished to be. While at it, she articulates her identity as an immigrant. She manages this on her own involution and partly due to the forces of the culture surrounding her, particularly as a black woman living in America. While she is part of the US culture due to her current physical location, she still holds on to some of her Antiguan identity in her heart. From this, we can see that she has a double identity as, in addition to being an immigrant, she is also a black female due to her physical characteristics that associates her with women of color in the United States.
Upon arrival in America, Lucy takes a job as an au pair for a while family with four children. She may not at one time admit that she is part of the African race at any point in the novel since she is more in tune with her Caribbean identity. However, she often lets the reader know she is a woman of color by giving subtle hints. A good example is when she is traveling to her employers rural home on a train. She points out several physical differences between other passengers and herself. While the people having dinner on the train looked like her employers relatives, those serving them looked like Lucys relatives. Here, Lucy seems to be providing an analysis of both race and social class. Black people with an appearance similar to hers looking like they are serving whites such as her employer.
The job that Lucy takes as an au pair that involves domestic chores seems to take a toll on her both in her native Antigua and in America. This happens to be the first area in which her identity as a black person is doubled. At the beginning of the novel, she is introduced as an individual who assumes the convector role of a domestic helper. She may have come to the United States to study as a nurse. However, she is also tasked with the role of looking after her white employers and their four children. She is not happy with the small maids room she is given to live in, which she describes as used to ship cargo. The fact that she is assigned this room hurts her ego since, in addition to being perceived as a domestic help, the authors use of the term cargo suggests that she is also a slave.
Another way Lucys identity is highlighted occurs in the way she crashes with her employers actual maid. The maid makes it crystal clear that she will not be in good terms with Lucy. Considering that both are women of color, it is not surprising that the maid is antagonistic towards her as Lucy has a rather pompous attitude. When Lucy pretends that she does not wish to do domestic work, she exudes an arrogant impression that does not go down well with the since, in America, both are looked down upon as black women although they have different ethnic backgrounds.
Lucys struggles to find her real identity is made worse by the fact that she is black due to the expectations that black women in the United States supposedly have on her. White women in America fail to see the difference between her physical appearance as a black woman and her Caribbean identity. This makes Lucy assume a nanny-like persona by epitomizing a maternal role towards the children of her employer. Although she is not a mother herself, she demonstrates mother-like tendencies towards her employers four daughters, particularly the little girl called Miriam. This can be termed as a fabricated imitation of mother-daughter bond whereby Lucy acts as a mother to a child that does not belong to her. Also, it implies that, in America, black women have a work responsibility that involves looking after children belonging to white women. Despite the fact that Lucy grows fond of her employers children, she is not happy with the notion that black women should look after their white employers children.
In conclusion, it can be seen that the main protagonist in the novel Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid undergoes a significant change after emigrating from her native Caribbean country to America. After living in the United States for about a year, Lucy figures out that she is not the same way she arrived there. It is clear that she attains a better sense of maturity, and has also adopted another identity apart from that of her Antiguan identity. She has now blended with the American society. However, this new society thinks of her as a black woman from America as opposed to a black woman with origins in the Caribbean.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Lucy: A Novel. London: Macmillan. 2002. Print.
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