Study Guide

Lucy: A Novel Daffodils

By Jamaica Kincaid

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Ah, the daffodil—how could this innocuous little plant symbolize anything other than qualities of beauty and life that flowers generally represent?

Welcome to Lucy's world. Here, daffodils are pretty much the devil.

Of course, some of the novel's characters are all about daffodils and the traditional things they symbolize. Lucy relays Mariah's view of them to us:

[Mariah] said, "Have you ever seen daffodils pushing their way up out of the ground? And when they're in bloom and all massed together, a breeze comes along and makes them do a curtsy to the lawn stretching out in front of them [. . .] When I see that, I feel so glad to be alive." (2.1)

For Mariah, daffodils undoubtedly represent life; just look at how she personifies them as being alive and able to curtsy. Plus, as she goes ahead and tells us, they have so much life in them, it's practically contagious, since they make her feel so alive. The daffodil, in particular, is supposed to symbolize rebirth or new beginnings—you can't get much livelier than that.

Of course, Lucy has a much different take on Mariah's beloved flowers. Upon first seeing the daffodils after Mariah plunks her down in the field, Lucy remarks:

Along the paths and underneath the trees were many, many yellow flowers the size and shape of play teacups, or fairy skirts. They looked like something to eat and wear at the same time; they looked beautiful; they looked simple, as if made to erase a complicated and unnecessary idea. (2.16)

Yeah, sure, they may look like lovely "play teacups and fairy skirts," Lucy admits. But she goes on to explain to Mariah how having to memorize a poem about daffodils as part of her colonial education (hop on over to Lucy's "Character Analysis" for more discussion of this) makes her see them in a totally different light. For Lucy, the daffodils conjure up "a scene of conquered and conquests; a scene of brutes masquerading as angels and angels portrayed as brutes" (2.20).

As lots of literary critics have pointed out, for Lucy daffodils symbolize all of the pain and injustice of being forced to live under British colonial rule. As Linda Lang-Peralta puts it, "The daffodils had become for her a symbol of barbaric colonization." (Source). Not so pretty.

The depiction of daffodils in Lucy suggests that symbols aren't necessarily universal and that even the most seemingly innocent object can mean vastly different things to different people.

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