full title Lucy

author Jamaica Kincaid

type of work Novel

genre Bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel); American immigration literature

language English

time and place written Late 1980s, New York City

date of first publication 1990

publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

narrator Lucy Josephine Potter narrates Lucy not long after her first year in the United States.

point-of-view Lucy has a first-person narrator who reflects extensively on her own thoughts and emotions and the characters of those around her while frequently detailing incidents from her past.

tone Acerbic, cool, reflective, melancholy

tense Past

setting (time) Lucy’s first year in the United States

setting (place) An unnamed North American city much like New York, a vacation area near the Great Lakes, and, through flashbacks, the Caribbean island of Lucy’s youth

protagonist Lucy

major conflict Lucy struggles against the deep feelings for her mother and homeland that undermine her quest for a new life in the United States.

rising action Lucy experiences intense homesickness upon arriving to America, forms a complex mother-daughter-like relationship with Mariah, and witnesses the demise of Lewis and Mariah’s marriage, all of which contribute to her sense that a change of location can’t lift the burdens of her past.

climax When Lucy learns of her father’s death and her mother’s resulting poverty, she erupts with rage and pain, and her feelings drive her to both confront and break with her past by writing an angry letter to her mother and burning all of her mother’s unopened correspondence.

falling action Lucy decides to move out of Lewis and Mariah’s apartment in order to pursue the independence she’s craved from youth, and writes a conciliatory letter to her mother that gives a false new address, through which Lucy at once makes peace with and abandons the forces of her childhood.

themes The cyclical nature of human existence; the difficulty of mother-daughter relationships; the power of circumstance on perception

motifs The seasons; letters; food

symbols “The islands”; photographs; daffodils

foreshadowing Lucy’s notice of the falseness in Mariah and Lewis’s displays of affection to each other; the unopened letters marked “urgent” from Lucy’s mother; Peggy’s anger over Lucy’s affection for Paul