Lucy, the novel’s protagonist and narrator, seeks independence from the colonial and maternal forces that shaped her youth, but her journey to North America to serve as an au pair for a wealthy family only highlights many of the influences that have hindered her and reveals the ambivalence behind her apparent drive for freedom. For all her bitter remarks about her mother and her native land, she frequently experiences intense homesickness and longing for her mother’s love. Though she no longer lives under British rule, she resents the upper-class privileges of her American employers. She replicates her difficult relationship with her mother in her dealings with Mariah and, to a lesser extent, Peggy. As she did at home, she embarks on sexual relationships with men who please her physically but leave her emotionally detached. Lucy realizes early on that her hopes of creating a glorious new life for herself bear little resemblance to reality, and with each new disappointment, Lucy develops a fatalism that at once strengthens her and makes her vulnerable. Though Lucy’s harsh view of the world prepares her for the hardships of living on her own terms, it also, at times, drives her to despair.

Much of Lucy’s quest for freedom results in isolation. She spends her first weeks as an immigrant without much human connection, and though she grows close to Mariah, Miriam, and Peggy, her most important relationships eventually unravel, and she finds herself, for the first time, truly living on her own. She has even further separated herself from her mother, and, by implication, her entire homeland, by giving a false report of her whereabouts. While Lucy, to some degree, has achieved her independence, it doesn’t bring her the joy she imagines. On the contrary, the novel’s conclusion finds her tearfully yearning for the capacity to love. Lucy’s alienation is typical of the immigrant experience, but only some of her loneliness clearly relates to her new surroundings. Her estrangement goes back to her place of birth and follows her beyond her adjustment to America. For Lucy, isolation transcends immigration to form an essential part of her existence, regardless of location or circumstance.