Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

The Seasons

As Lucy experiences her first year abroad, she shows a keen awareness of the changing seasons, which often parallel her emotional states. Beginning and ending with Lucy’s lonely winters, Kincaid shows Lucy moving from renewal in springtime to contentment in summer and disillusionment in the fall. The link between Lucy’s journey and the seasons promotes the notion that human existence follows a cyclical, rather than linear, path. The seasons also highlight differences between Lucy’s old equatorial surroundings and her new northern climate. Lucy has an attitude toward the seasons that mirrors her mixed feelings about her native country. Though she appreciates the variety of weather and finds the summers less oppressive than at home, in the colder months, she misses the warm sun and vibrant colors of the island. The seasons, then, highlight both Lucy’s inner and outer conditions and grant them larger meaning by connecting them to a natural phenomenon experienced by many.


Lucy’s letters from home illuminate her difficult relationship with her mother. As Lucy takes to piling her mother’s unopened letters on her dresser, she shows a defiance that also betrays her daughterly attachment: she doesn’t discard them and fears the longing she’d feel if she glimpsed her mother’s words. When Lucy finally reads the letter detailing her father’s death and her mother’s misfortune, she comes to her mother’s financial aid but also releases her fury in a letter home, once again demonstrating her mixed feelings. After burning the letters she’s saved, Lucy finds herself able to move forward. She prepares to leave Lewis and Mariah’s apartment and sends a letter home, expressing compassion for her mother but also breaking with her by giving a false address. Throughout the novel, letters serve as markers of Lucy’s struggle to make a new life for herself by escaping her past.


Food appears in the novel as a source of comfort and, occasionally, dissension. Lucy’s best memories of home often involve detailed descriptions of dishes, such as the mullet and figs cooked by her grandmother, the cow’s tongue in lemon juice evoked by her thoughts of Tanner, or the exquisitely fried fish she pictures eating by a vibrantly blue sea. Lucy’s attention to the food of her homeland illustrates that despite her bitterness about her past, her country has sustained her physically and emotionally. But food also elicits painful emotions. The food she remembers in the throes of homesickness may provide comfort, but it also taunts her with its absence. Mariah’s baked fish reminds Lucy yet again of the distance between Mariah and herself and how far she is from home. And Lucy’s mother ridicules her when she inquires about the preparation of fish in a Bible story that Lucy wishes more accurately reflected her island surroundings. For Lucy, food represents the finest moments of her upbringing but also recalls all she’s lost.