Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Cyclical Nature of Existence

Upon arriving in America, Lucy follows a cyclical path, wherein her apparent progress leads her to the very condition she’s tried to reject. Lucy abandons her native land with the expectation that her life will instantly become different and better. However, she exchanges her dissatisfaction with her country for the discontents of immigration, yearning for her island with the same intensity with which she once ached for escape. The isolation and longing she initially experiences parallel her condition at the novel’s conclusion, when, alone in her new apartment, she laments her incapacity for true love. The novel’s structure reinforces Lucy’s cyclical journey, both starting and ending in January. Amid the larger cycle of Lucy’s first year in America, Lucy experiences smaller cycles, vacillating between hope and despair in her aspirations and between closeness and distance in her relationships. This cyclical perspective contrasts with Western industrial society’s linear notions of progress, in which individuals supposedly move increasingly beyond adversity through the systematic application of hard work and reason. Lucy, who lacks no determination or intelligence, shows a more complex reality.

The Difficulty of Mother-Daughter Relationships

Despite her physical absence from Lucy’s life, Lucy’s mother continually occupies Lucy’s thoughts, inspiring anger, contempt, longing, and regret. Lucy relates an enormous amount of her experiences to some memory or observation about her mother, which demonstrates the power of the mother-daughter bond. Yet that power has the ability to do as much harm as good. Lucy once saw her mother as an extension of herself and considered her the great love of her life. Because of the strength of their relationship, Lucy became devastated when the arrival of her brothers diverted her mother’s attention and support. Adolescence furthered tensions between Lucy and her mother, as Lucy resented her mother’s attempts to shape her in her own image. The very separation that Lucy hopes to complete with her journey to America, however, causes her sorrow, for she believes she’ll never again experience the kind of love she shared with her mother. Though Lucy determines that she must break with her mother to achieve adulthood, she suffers intense feelings of loss in the process.

The Power of Circumstance on Perception

Having grown up under colonial rule, Lucy views the world differently from those with backgrounds unlike hers. While Mariah’s affluent North American upbringing prompts her to extol the beauty of daffodils and plowed fields, Lucy sees a symbol of colonial injustice and the labor of those who worked the soil. Lucy notices the racial breakdown of the train’s dining car, but Mariah appears oblivious to the division between the white passengers and the Black help. When the weather turns bad, Mariah laments the obstacle to her desires, whereas Lucy never expects that the conditions outside should accommodate her wants. To Mariah’s wealthy friends, Lucy’s Caribbean homeland, the origin of Lucy’s disappointments and dreams, serves as little more than a site for their relaxation and recreation. As Paul, a white male artist, sings praises of the human quest for freedom, Lucy can think only of the cost that the disadvantaged members of society pay for that quest. Though Lucy relates to some people of circumstances vastly different from hers, she constantly encounters reminders that varied experiences lead to disparate perceptions.