Study Guide

Lucy: A Novel Setting

By Jamaica Kincaid

Setting

Big U.S. City; Apartment; Second Half of the Twentieth Century

Lucy's all secretive about exactly where her adventure in the U.S. takes place. From her initial descriptions, we get the impression that she's definitely in a big city. Some readers and critics have even taken the liberty of assuming that it's New York City, but we'll play it super safe and stick to Big U.S. City.

What's way more important than figuring out the exact city that the story is set in is recognizing just how much of a contrast this location is with Lucy's home in the Caribbean. Right in the beginning of the novel, she hints at how different this place is from what she's used to:

As I sat in the car, twisting this way and that to get a good view of the sights before me, I was reminded of how uncomfortable the new can make you feel. (1.1)

We get the sense that the characteristics of a big city leave Lucy feeling pretty displaced or lost. She observes the unfriendliness and anonymity that are part and parcel of city life:

When people walked on the streets they did it quickly, as if they were doing something behind someone's back, as if they didn't want to draw attention to themselves, as if the cold would cause them to dissolve. (1.9)

Man, these people are as chilly as the weather.

All of this is much different than the type of more intimate, homey place Lucy is used to. She remarks:

How I longed to see someone lingering on a corner, trying to draw my attention to him, trying to engage me in conversation, someone complaining to himself in a voice I could overhear about a God whose love and mercy fell on the just and the unjust. (1.9)

We can't help but get the sense that it took going all the way to this big city in the U.S. for Lucy to realize just how much she appreciates this crazy dude proselytizing on her street corner back at home.

Speaking of contrasts, it's pretty apparent just how different Mariah and Lewis's apartment is from Lucy's former living situation. Describing her arrival at their pad, she notes:

I got into an elevator, something I had never done before, and then I was in an apartment and seated at a table, eating food just taken from a refrigerator. In the place I had just come from, I always lived in a house, and my house did not have a refrigerator in it. (1.2)

A refrigerator might not seem like the lap of luxury, but for Lucy it totally is. These details not only help to set the scene, but they give us a heads up on how Lucy's economic background will influence what she notices while she's in the U.S.

As for the time period of the novel, our friend Lucy doesn't give us much help on this one either. She does mention the small detail that her parents went to see the movie White Christmas starring Bing Crosby, which debuted in 1954. And since characters in the novel are still using landlines rather than cell phones, it's probably a safe bet that the story takes place sometime in the second half of the twentieth century.

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