Mother-Daughter Relationships in “Lucy” Relationships are a prominent and frequent theme throughout many of Jamaica Kincaid’s novels. One example of this can be seen in “Annie John,” which deals with relationships the protagonist has throughout her childhood, particularly, the relationship between mother and daughter. This paper however will explore the mother-daughter relationship that can be found in “Lucy” and how it affects the protagonist’s relationships with the people around her. Lucy” tells the story of a young woman who escapes a West Indian island and reaches North America to work as an au pair for Mariah and Lewis, a married couple, and their four girls.
As in her other books, Kincaid uses the mother-daughter relationship as a means to expose some of her underlying themes. And this is clear within the plot of “Lucy. ” Lucy has an ambivalent relationship with her mother; one that has moved from a very intimate and loving one to one full of deception and contempt.
Lucy does not like her mother, but she does love her. The reader can see evidence of her mixed feelings toward her mother when Lucy quickly walks away from her mother after criticizing her mother’s traditional Christmas Eve viewing of a Bing Crosby movie. She states that her “thirteen-year-old heart couldn’t bear to see her face . . . , but I just couldn’t help myself” (Kincaid, 1991). Lucy’s mother tries to impose her way of life on her daughter, being puzzled about how someone from inside her would want to be different from her (Barwick, 1990. I had come to feel that my mother’s love for me was designed solely to make me into an echo of her; and I didn’t know why but I felt that I would rather be dead than become just an echo of someone” (Kinkaid, 1991). Despite her physical absence, however, Lucy’s mother continually occupies Lucy’s thoughts, inspiring feelings of anger, contempt, longing, and regret. This is put side by side with the various aspects of British culture imposed on Lucy’s home island. As a child, Lucy attended “Queen Victoria Girls’ School” (Kinkaid, 1991), a school with a British educational system where she was taught British history and also British literature.
Lucy remembers being forced to memorize British poems, specifically one about daffodils. She “had been made to memorize it, verse after verse, and then had recited the whole rhyme to an auditorium full of parents, teachers, and [her] fellow pupils” (Kinkaid, 1991), even though she would not actually see the flower until becoming almost twenty years old; Lucy sees the daffodils Mariah shows her as a reminder of her colonial education. The reader can notice a parallel between the interactions between Lucy and her mother, and Lucy’s colonized country and its colonizer or “mother country,” England.
The presence of her mother haunts Lucy’s mind while she is in America; she cannot seem to escape the traits she has inherited. Although Lucy’s mother seems to allow some kind of separation by allowing Lucy to travel to America, she has no intention of making it forever and doesn’t want to completely let go of Lucy; she consistently writes her letters. Similarly the legacy of colonialism is almost impossible to escape from. It has integrated itself into the ways of the country and its native people and it takes great efforts to even try to slightly disconnect from it.
Lucy struggles to settle what she has internalized from her mother with what she discovers about herself, “I was then at the height of my two-facedness: that is outside I seemed one way, inside I was another; outside false, inside true” (Kinkaid, 1991). The mother-daughter dynamic of Lucy and her mother can also be seen as a vessel through which the system of patriarchy is imposed on Lucy. The relationship begins to decline upon the birth of Lucy’s three brothers, when Lucy realizes the greater hopes that her mother and father have for their “three male children” than those they have for her.
She understands her father’s expectations for his sons who are “his own kind,” but to see her mother agree was seen as a betrayal by her (Kinkaid, 1991). “I did not mind my father saying these things about his sons, his own kind and leaving me out… I did not expect him to imagine a life for me filled with Excitement and triumph. But my mother knew me well as well as she knew herself: I, at the time, even thought of us as identical; and whenever I saw her Eyes fill up with tears at the thought of how proud she would be at some deeds her son had accomplished; I felt a sword go through my heart, for there
Was no accompanying scenario in which she saw me, her only identical offspring, in a remotely similar situation” (Kinkaid, 1991). Patriarchy, like colonization, is a system of oppression; a system that imposes male dominance over the female. Lucy’s mother appears to be a victim of That (Barwick, 1990). According to Lucy, her mother was “devoted” to her husband and her “duties; a clean house, delicious food for [the family], a clean yard, a small garden …] the washing and ironing of [their] clothes. ” Unfortunately, she was devoted to a man who “would die and leave her in debt,” (Kinkaid, 1991).
Despite her intelligence and strength, Lucy’s mother confines her role to the sexist and stereotypical roles linked to women. In Lucy, this festers further resentment, because she wonders why a woman as strong as her mother would marry an irresponsible man who would die and Leave her in debt, “I am not like my mother… She should not have married my father. She should not have had children. She should not have thrown away her intelligence. She should not have paid so little attention to mine… I am not like her at all” (Kinkaid, 1991).
Mariah’s husband Lewis is also used to demonstrate the harmful system of patriarchy. Although the reader hardly ever encounters him, his infidelity with Mariah’s best friend, results in the ruin of their family. Like the British forces that aren’t always present whether during or after the colonial period, these secondary male characters seem to have a huge and devastating impact on the female characters lives and affect them profoundly through their dealings. Kincaid further complexes her criticism of the mother daughter relationship by exploring the relationship between Lucy and Mariah.
Mariah takes on a maternal Role for Lucy acting as her surrogate, “The times that I loved Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother. The times that I did not love Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother” (Kinkaid, 1991). Differing from the relationship with Lucy’s mother, Mariah takes Lucy under her wing and attempts to treat Lucy as one of her own. However this relationship is never fully built. It is complex because of the employer-employee, or more bluntly put, master-servant dynamic, which is only complicated by race.
When Mariah takes her to the field of daffodils, Lucy thinks that if she had “an enormous scythe, [she] would just walk along the path, dragging it alongside [her] and [she] would cut the flowers down at the place where they emerged from the ground” (Kincaid, 1991). And yet, Lucy knows Mariah simply wishes her to love this field of flowers, perhaps for her to love them as much as Mariah has grown to love Lucy. But Lucy is not capable of such love, at least not at this point in her life. She tells the reader that “nothing could change the fact that where she saw beautiful flowers, I saw sorrow and bitterness” (Kincaid, 1991).
Part of this anger perhaps comes from recognizing that Mariah longs to share her world with Lucy, maybe even to the point of drawing her in as part of that world. Lucy, however, wants no part of anyone else’s world; she resists being like Mariah, just as she has resisted her mother for so long. Lucy actually surfaces as an unruly character that fights an internal and emotional battle with herself to reconstruct the person she once was into the person she is learning to be (Barwick, 1990). In an effort to quiet her mother’s voice within her, Lucy refuses to open any of the letters her mother sends her.
She makes it “the object of [her] life” to “put as much distance between myself and the events mentioned in her letter as I could manage” (Kinkaid, 1991). For example, she uses her sexuality as a tool of defiance as well, “I reminded her that my whole upbringing had been devoted to preventing me from becoming a slut; I then gave a brief description of my personal life… as evidence that my upbringing had been a failure and that, in fact, life as a slut was quite enjoyable, thank you very much. I would not come home now, I said.
I would not come home ever” (Kinkaid, 1991). Her final defiance against her mother is to burn all the unopened letters, a symbol of their separation. Lucy eventually meets a girl named Peggy, an au pair as well, when she is taking one of the children for a walk in the park; and is fascinated by her almost despite herself. The two young women are nearly complete opposites of each other, but come to feel a mutual kinship. In fact, these differences seem ideal at first, as “what we didn’t have in common were things we approved of anyway” (Kincaid, 1991).
Despite these differences, Lucy and Peggy form a deep friendship. They share all of their troubles and personal thoughts, “even when we knew the other didn’t quite understand what was really meant” (Kincaid, 1991). When Mariah’s marriage is breaking down, Lucy moves into an apartment with Peggy. Lucy is excited by the move because she is at last becoming independent. She states that “the next day I woke up in a new bed and it was my own. I had paid for it with my own money” (Kinkaid, 1991).
But within a day of moving in with each other, Lucy is already wondering if she can remove herself from the shared living arrangements. Lucy had been unwilling to identify with anyone, fearing a loss of her own identity. Because of the strain and collapse between herself and her mother, as well as with Mariah, the relationship she has with Peggy breaks down as well. At the end, when she writes that she wished that she “could love someone so much that [she] could die from it,” she feels shame.
Life for Lucy has become like the words on the page, a “great big blur” and she is lost within herself because she cannot love and knows that that is very incorrect (Kincaid, 1991). Works Cited Kincaid, Jamaica. Lucy. New York: Plume, 1991. http://bookshare. org/. Barwick, Jessica. “Stranger in your own Skin. ” 1990. VG: Voices from the Gaps: Women Artists and Writers of Color, University of Minnesota. 15 November 2009. http://voices. cla. umn. edu/essays/fiction/lucy. html.
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