Jamaica Kincaid extensively exploits the relationship between a mother and her daughter through her literature pieces. ‘Lucy’ is a succinct depiction of this theme and exploits her troubled relationship with her mother. According to Barrio-Vilar (2016), Kincaid’s novel’s ‘Lucy’ is an allegory that seeks to expose the need for Caribbean countries to question and reject the influence of Western culture, politics, and economics to become more independent and have the autonomy to decide their future. The novel is centered on a protagonist Lucy Josephine Potter, who embarks on a journey to the US as an immigrant worker from the British-ruled Caribbean. She works as an au-pair for a family where she quickly becomes friends with her female employer Mariah. The novel follows Lucy’s trials and tribulations as she views Mariah as her mother which brings both angry and tender emotions. Lucy’s battles in the US are mainly based on the effect of her strict upbringing which she blames her mother. Her interactions with other people are influenced by her cultural upbringing and this affects her chances of creating an emotional relationship. This essay will exploit the legacy of colonialism in the Caribbean and how it has influenced the structure of the mother-daughter relationship through Jamaica Kincaid’s novel ‘Lucy’.
Kincaid compares Lucy’s mother, Annie, to colonialist by discussing her need to mold her daughter in her image. One of the effects of colonialism that has been viewed as both a positive and negative influence is gentrification where native cultures were replaced by the colonialist ones. According to Nanni (2017), British colonialism across the world was based on the spread of Christianity and western culture. Former colonies share similarities that trace their root origins to the English culture. For instance, all countries that were colonized by Britain speak English and are majority Christians. Similarly, these countries share an education structure that is comparable to Britain and a society that is based on colonial constitutional rights with origins in the British legal and executive system. This character of colonialists is similar to Lucy’s mother who brings up her daughter in her image. Kincaid states that “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” (p. 16). There are numerous instances when Lucy sees herself as an extension of her mother in terms of character and perceptions. She shares values and beliefs that resemble that of her mother which she blames on her upbringing.
According to Barrio-Vilar (2016) “Kincaid uses the imagery of motherhood to criticize the detrimental effects of colonialism and neocolonialism on the colonial subject”. Lucy moves to the US in a bid to escape what she perceives as emotional and physical oppression from her biological mother Annie. This move is a representation of the freedom from Annie and the colonial values that she represents. She later becomes oppressed by her surrogate mother in the US and this is perceived as the conflict between her British colonial upbringing and American neocolonialism. This forces her to forge and develop her own identity based on her Caribbean roots. This is contrasted to many Caribbean colonies who suffered systematic prejudice that affected their economic, political, and psychological identity under the rule of the British colony. These countries were compelled to create a new identity after their cultural identity had been replaced by the European one during colonialization. This move was accomplished to achieve a certain gradation of independence which has been questioned when a majority of people living in these colonies embody and personify the British culture.
Lucy’s mother’s influence on her is similar to that of former colonies to their colonialists as she exhibits attitudes that bare semblance to former colonies. Lucy idealizes and obeys Annie through the adoption of her beliefs and values. She conforms to the strict rules imposed on her by Annie to avoid being punished. Lucy is constantly subjected to expectations that mimic the British education and colonial values instead of the Arawak/African values that should be embodied by people living in the Caribbean. Annie expects her daughter to conform to patriarchal rules that are based on gender disparity and the propagation of toxic male masculinity. In this manner, Lucy is expected to fulfill her role as a good daughter, and comparable, an obedient colonial subject. The gender disparity is further exploited when Lucy’s brothers are born and Annie becomes more involved with their upbringing than she is with Lucy. This image of Annie is similar to British colonizers who used different modes of oppression including physical violence to ensure that their subjects were obedient. Similar to Annie, the colonizers subjected the native Caribbean people to expectations that were characteristic of British society like education and religious standards. In this way, Annie personifies colonial Britain and plays a role in sowing the seed for resentment and feelings of oppression in her daughter.
In conclusion, Kincaid exploits the positive and negative effects of colonialism and neocolonialism through an allegory that juxtaposes her mother with British colonizers. Lucy is juxtaposed with Caribbean people who were subject to British culture that was dictated through physical, economic, political, and psychological oppression. Annie unconsciously enforces cultural values that embody a colonial system that was once despised by her people. This enforcement results in sentiments of resentment that pushed the daughter away from the mother in search of freedom. Kincaid’s use of literary devices to convey this unique and controversial juxtaposition results in a captivating and insightful novel that exploits colonialism, neocolonialism, and cultural impact simultaneously.