Constraints can limit oneself from reaching their highest potential, taking away someone’s identity and confining them to be seen in a specific manner. In the novel, Lucy written by Jamaica Kincaid the main character Lucy defies the restrictions of intersectional multiple oppressions and uses her writing as a sense of regaining herself. Lucy resists the constraints of gender, race, colonialism, and as an immigrant woman and through writings of her own and other artistic pursuits she gains a sense of identity of who she is.
Colonialism involves a wealthy and powerful nation controlling over another country through settlements or exploiting their resources. The readers dare exposed to the legacy of colonialism when Lucy becomes a symbol of the neocolonial condition of the economic and social challenges (Barrio-Vilar 102). In the novel, Lucy understands how daffodils suggest different perceptions of the world. “It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t my fault. But nothing could change the fact that where she saw beautiful flowers, I saw sorrow and bitterness” (Kincaid 30). The daffodils were a reminder of the colonial education that forced her to memorize a poem about a flower she had not seen. She rather wants to kill them since they suggest colonial injustice and force Lucy to see the world through Mariah’s colonial perspective. Thus, the novel can be interpreted as an allegory where colonial rule causes challenges and tensions of the former British colonies in the Caribbean (Barrio-Vilar 103). In the novel, Lucy thought a change in the scene would get rid of what she hated the most in life. “I used to think just a change in venue would banish forever from my life the things I despised. But that was not to be so. As each day unfolded before me, I could see the sameness in everything” (Kincaid 90). In trying to escape her homeland she experienced many forms of heartache that which parallel the ones of her island existence. When they referred her homeland to “the islands” they portray it as a tourist attraction, denying the reality of the islands colonized people. Mariah’s friends show a colonial mentality through their own experiences on to the West Indies instead of seeing the lands native characteristics. Colonialism traps Lucy to a certain lifestyle, yet she is still able to defy those confinements.
The gender of a person depicts how one should act and portray themselves in society, based on their physical appearance and mentality. Lucy reclaims control over her life through the developing relationship with Mariah (Barrio-Vilar 109). In the novel, Lucy does not care about the typical expectations of women.
[Mariah] had washed her hair that morning and from where I stood, I could smell the residue of the perfume from the shampoo in her hair. Then underneath that, I could smell Mariah herself. The smell of Mariah was pleasant [. . .] By then I already knew that I wanted to have a powerful odour and would not care if it gave offence (Kincaid 27).
Lucy refuses to live up to the conventional expectations of how a woman should present herself in society, she would rather mask her smell and not care what others think. Lucy’s unwillingness to continue the duties of a proto-mother to Mariah’s children enables her to disrupt the historical legacy of which she is a part of (Barrio-Vilar 111). In the novel, Lucy cannot continue to read the book on the view of women.
[bookmark: OLE_LINK1][bookmark: OLE_LINK2][Mariah] gave [the book] to me. I read the first sentence. ‘Woman? Very simple, say the fanciers of simple formulas, she is a womb, an ovary; she is female—this word is sufficient to define her.’ I had to stop. Mariah had completely misinterpreted my situation. My life could not really be explained by this thick book [. . .] (Kincaid 132).
Lucy feels this book should not define how her life should turn out and that women are only seen as someone who produces a child, an object that creates an offspring for their husband. The book is defining a woman as a womb not even as a person; she’s a female that just creates life and is not even considered life as her own. The gender roles of a female for Lucy challenges her to defy them and be a self-controlling woman on her own.
The racial background of a person defines someone’s status in society; whites are seen as superior and wealthy and blacks as poor and obedient to the white people. Since Lucy’s physical presence is black it shows the economic and racial hierarchies (Barrio-Vilar 111). In the novel, even when Lucy was a young child, she resented imperialism, refusing to sing. “Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves; Britons never, never shall be slaves,’ Lucy knew she was not British in any aspect and realized that ‘not too long ago would have been a slave’ (Kincaid 135). Due to Lucy’s race, she knew she would have been a slave, bond to the obedience of someone else not that long ago. She would not have had the choice to do what she had wanted with her life and be stuck under the control of her master. Even at a young age, she stuck up for herself not singing those words, since she knew at a time, she could have been a slave. Lucy demands control of her own experiences, resisting her employers’ power to determine her connections (Barrio-Vilar 112). In the novel, Lucy felt a connection to the artist rather than his paintings of how her race made her experience life in a trapped confined space. ‘Immediately I identified with the yearnings of this man; I understood finding the place you are born in an unbearable prison and wanting something completely different from what you are familiar with’ (Kincaid 95). As Lucy examined the cultural artefacts she is determined to find her meaning in them rather Mariah wanted her to relate to the exotic subject matter of her race, where Lucy connects to the prison-like area of where she was born instead of the subject matter that relates to her race. The identity of someone can be based on the race which can limit a person’s decisions and choices in society.
Immigrant women face struggles of acceptance and approval in other countries, but some defy the treatment they face. Lucy yearns for a borderless world where her cultural differences do not restrict her choices (Barrio-Vilar 103). In the novel, Lucy tries to relate to music through her own culture.
The melodies of [the maid’s] song were so shallow, and the words, to me, were meaningless. From her face, I could see she had only one feeling about me: how sick to her stomach I made her. And so, I said that I knew songs, too, and I burst into a calypso about a girl who ran away to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and had a good time, with no regrets (Kincaid 12).
In the uncomfortable moment with the Maid, Lucy draws on the music of her own culture to blend into the new environment. The maid does not like Lucy because she is an immigrant, Lucy wants to feel accepted and tries to bond about music to make her feel less alienated from the atmosphere she is in. The experiences Lucy had in the United States proves not to be as liberating as she hoped for as an immigrant (Barrio-Vilar 104). In the novel, Lucy gets to observe the lake for the first time and results in disappointment for it is not what she had expected. “From my room I could see the lake. I had read of this lake in geography books, had read of its origins and its history, and now to see it up close was odd, for it looked so ordinary, grey, dirty, unfriendly, not a body of water to make up a song about” (Kincaid 35). As a foreigner, the experience of life in the United States might be full of setbacks and the idea of living there can have a false impression. Lucy is suggesting that as an immigrant one might be treated differently than the other, for they are looked down upon in the society. She describes the water as unfriendly and dark, the way people have treated her with no respect or welcoming feeling. Immigrant women can defy the confinements that they face while being in other countries using voice and power to defend themselves.
Writing or other artistic outlets can be a guide to help one regain their sense of self and identity. Lucy’s self-determination sets off for a new life journey to reinvent herself through her creative work (Barrio-Vilar 103). In the novel, Lucy finds satisfaction in the taking of photographs recognizing that the photo is more intriguing than the real object. “Why is a picture of something real eventually more exciting than the thing itself?” (Kincaid 121) The new camera that Lucy takes photographs which depicts Lucy’s sense of self is evolving. The beauty she finds in her photos validates her vision and the journey of her photos illustrates the obstacles she encounters in self-fulfilment. Lucy’s choices and stages in her journey roadmap the available options for her evolution to finding self-identity (Barrio-Vilar 103). In the novel, Lucy was able to reinvent herself and build on that with her instincts. “I understood that I was inventing myself, and that I was doing this more in the way of a painter than in the way of a scientist. I could not count on precision or calculation; I could only count on intuition” (Kincaid 134). Lucy now realizes the self-worth that lays within her. She must have the trust and faith within herself to achieve her highest potential. Lucy understands she is changing and finding out who she is through the art of writing similar to a painter rather than through science or math. Lucy finds her identity in the expression of writing and other artistic pursuits that develops the person she has become to be. To find one’s original self or identity, self-expression through writing and artistic channels connects one to a sense of who they are.
Jamaica Kincaid illustrates Lucy in the novel defying her constraints in colonialism, through her gender, race and as an immigrant woman. Kincaid uses her writing techniques to create an identity and sense of self for Lucy. All the restrictions in life she faces based on all these factors, Lucy overcomes.
- Kincaid, Jamaica. Lucy. FSG, 1990.
- Barrio-Vilar, Laura. ‘Everything Remains the Same and Yet Nothing is the Same’: Neocolonialism in the Caribbean Diaspora through the Language of Family and Servitude. Journal of International Women’s Studies, vol. 17 no. 3, 2016, pp. 102-116.