Study Guide

Lucy: A Novel Quotes

By Jamaica Kincaid

  • Foreignness and the Other

    What a surprise this was to me, that I longed to be back in the place that I came from, that I longed to sleep in a bed I had outgrown, that I longed to be with people whose smallest, most natural gesture would call up in me such a rage that I longed to see them all dead at my feet (1.5).

    Isn't it cool how the experience of being in a foreign place can give you a newfound appreciation for people you used to wish were dead? Lucy's realization here also challenges the notion that living in an affluent home in North America is superior to dwelling in her more modest Caribbean home.

    I was awakened from this dream by the actual maid, a woman who had let me know right away, on meeting me, that she did not like me, and gave as her reason the way I talked (1.7).

    Workers of the world unite! Or not. We might expect that two people in service jobs might join forces or at least be sympathetic to one another. But the maid's intolerance of Lucy's foreign manner of speech is apparently enough to prevent any potential solidarity or bond.

    [. . .] the melodies of [the maid's] song were so shallow, and the words, to me, were meaningless. From her face, I could see she had only one feeling about me: how sick to her stomach I made her. And so I said that I knew songs, too, and I burst into a calypso about a girl who ran away to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and had a good time, with no regrets (1.11).

    Instead of pretending to like music she doesn't dig in order to blend into her new environment, Lucy draws on the music of her own culture to help her through an uncomfortable moment.

    It was at dinner one night not long after I began to live with them that they began to call me the Visitor. They said I seemed not to be a part of things [. . .] For look at the way I stared at them as they ate, Lewis said. Had I never seen anyone put a forkful of French-cut green beans in his mouth before? (1.14).

    Wow, Lewis, way to make Lucy feel even more removed from "things" by calling out her Visitor status. We've got to wonder if Lucy's staring makes him feel a bit like a foreigner, which prompts him to give her the Visitor moniker so he can feel normal again.

    When Lewis finished telling his story, I told them my dream. When I finished, they both fell silent [. . .] Lewis made a clucking noise, then said, Poor, poor Visitor. And Mariah said, Dr. Freud for Visitor, and I wondered why she said that, for I did not know who Dr. Freud was (1.15).

    So, yeah, it's pretty common to turn to doc Freud to explain all things dream-related, especially when it comes to, uh, erotic dreams like the one Lucy shares here. But Lucy's reaction suggests that looking for psychological explanations to such things might be an especially North American tendency.

    From my room I could see the lake. I had read of this lake in geography books, had read of its origins and its history, and now to see it up close was odd, for it looked so ordinary, gray, dirty, unfriendly, not a body of water to make up a song about (2.26).

    And the moral of this story is: beware of geography books. Lucy's observation suggests that a foreigner's experience of life in the U.S. might be rife with disappointments such as this given the extent to which America the Beautiful's landmarks are often hyped up.

    Mariah says, "I have Indian blood in me," and underneath everything I could swear she says it as if she were announcing her possession of a trophy (2.34).

    Mariah seems to want to lay claim to her own foreignness in order to mark herself as unique and to bond with Lucy, but her plan backfires big time as the perceptive Lucy recognizes instantly her superficial reasons for asserting a Native American identity.

    I had met Dinah the night after we arrived here on our holiday, and I did not like her. This was because the first thing she said to me when Mariah introduced us was "So you are from the islands?" [. . .] I was about to respond to her in this way: "Which islands exactly do you mean? The Hawaiian Islands? The islands that make up Indonesia or what? (3.14).

    Hmm. Lucy seems to object to Dinah's failure to distinguish one set of islands from another. Why do you think this offends her?

    [. . .] I wished once again that I came from a place where no one wanted to go, a place that was filled with slag and unexpectedly erupting volcanoes, or where a visitor was turned into a pebble on setting foot there; somehow it made me ashamed to come from a place where the only thing to be said about it was "I had fun when I was there." (3.20)

    Who would've thought living in a popular Spring Break destination would be a hardship? Why is Lucy so ashamed to come from a place known for its partying?

    [. . .] the first thing [Hugh] said to me was "Where in the West Indies are you from?" and that is how I came to like him in an important way (3.20).

    So it turns out that Hugh isn't just the cute guy Lucy meets at the party. He's an informed and sensitive soul who, unlike Dinah, recognizes that not all islands of the world are the same. Swoon.

  • Lust

    Someone should have told me that there were other things to seek out in a tongue than the flavor of it, for then I would not have been standing there sucking on poor Tanner's tongue as if it were an old Frozen Joy with all its flavor run out and nothing left but the ice. As I was sucking away, I was thinking, Taste is not the thing to seek out in a tongue; how it makes you feel—that is the thing (3.1).

    Ha! As Lucy's introduction to French kissing suggests, physical intimacy doesn't always go as smoothly as the soap operas would have us believe and can instead require some awkward experimentation.

    [. . .] I had to be careful when I thought of [Tanner's] lips on my breasts, for just that, a thought, would make me forget what I was doing. I would sit at my desk in school, I would lie in my bed at night, I would walk down the street, and all the time I would go over and over, very slowly the times Tanner's mouth would crawl back and forth across my chest (3.7).

    And they say men are the ones with sex always on the brain. This is just one example among many in the novel of how Lucy totally defies conventional thinking about how women are less concerned than men with sexual pleasure.

    I liked [Hugh's] mouth and imagined it kissing me everywhere; it was just an ordinary mouth. I liked his hands and imagined them caressing me everywhere; they were not unusual in any way (3.21).

    Hugh's just a plain old dude. . .who happens to drive Lucy crazy with desire. What is the effect created by Lucy's pointing out that Hugh's features are "ordinary" and "not unusual"?

    I was feeling that I was made up only of good things when suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten to protect myself, something Mariah had told me over and over that I must remember to do (3.22).

    Not to get all preachy or anything, but it's probably a good thing for all the kids watching out there that Lucy's failure to take precautions isn't totally without consequences. That would turn this novel from plain old fiction to pure fantasy.

    [Peggy and I] were so disappointed that we went back to my room and smoked marijuana and kissed each other until we were exhausted and fell asleep. Her tongue was narrow and pointed and soft (3.36).

    Lucy doesn't spend any time or energy dwelling on whether hooking up with her pal Peggy means that she's gay or bisexual. But that's not too surprising considering Lucy seems much more concerned with pleasure than with labels.

    I said, "How are you?" in a small, proper voice, the voice of the girl my mother had hoped I would be: clean, virginal, beyond reproach. But I felt the opposite of that, for when [Paul] held my hand and kissed me on the cheek, I felt instantly deliciously strange; I wanted to be naked in a bed with him (4.15).

    Hmm, could a desire to rebel against her strict mother have a little something to do with Lucy's lively libido?

    [. . .] the question of being in love was not one I wanted to settle then; what I wanted was to be alone in a room with [Paul] and naked (4.18).

    Love, shmove. Lucy defies yet another myth about sexuality by showing that women don't necessarily have to be in love in order to enjoy sex.

    [. . .] I was almost overcome with jealousy. Why had such an extraordinary thing happened to her and not to me? Why had Mr. Thomas chosen Myrna as the girl he would meet in secret and place his middle finger up inside her and not me? [. . .] This would have become the experience of my life, the one all others would have to live up to (4.23).

    Whoa, this is one of those moments in the novel that's sure to stop us dead in our tracks. What did you think of Lucy's reaction of feeling jealous that Mr. Thomas chose to molest Myrna instead of her?

    [. . .] except for eating, all the time [Paul and I] spent together was devoted to sex. I told [Mariah] what everything felt like, how surprised I was to be thrilled by the violence of it (for sometimes it was that, violent), what an adventure this part of my life had become [. . .] (4.30).

    Wait, did we just wander into an episode of Sex and the City? Lucy sure is open with Mariah about her sex life. And, given what we know of their relationship, we can't help wondering whether Lucy is boasting just a little in order to make Mariah jealous.

    And then something happened that I had not counted on at all. At the store where I bought the camera, the man who sold it to me—he and I went off and spent the rest of the day and a half of that night in his bed (4.33).

    Shocking, right? Nah, not really: this isn't the first time we've seen Lucy jump into bed with someone she's just met. Why do you think Lucy digs casual hook-ups so much?

  • Friendship

    [. . .] the cousin was someone who thought a good outward appearance and proper behavior should carry the day. I had seen the cousin a few times with the children she took care of; immediately recognizing each other as foreigners, we tried to form a friendship. It was not a success (3.17).

    Drat. Lucy learns that having a foreign status in common doesn't guarantee that friendship will blossom. Why might this be?

    The funny thing was that Peggy and I were not alike, either, but that is just what we liked about each other; what we didn't have in common were things we approved of anyway (3.17).

    Alright, so we know that this is the honeymoon phase of Peggy and Lucy's friendship and that Peggy's differences later start to drive Lucy bonkers. Why is she so accepting of these differences in the beginning of the friendship?

    My friendship with Peggy was reaching a predictable stalemate; the small differences between us were beginning to loom, sometimes becoming the only thing that mattered—like a grain of sand in the eye (4.12).

    Um, okay, maybe opposites don't attract after all. The phrase "like a grain of sand in the eye" does a great job of expressing how the differences between Lucy and Peggy have become a total irritant to Lucy.

    When I said, "But I like [Paul]," an enormous silence fell between [me and Peggy], the kind of silence that is dangerous between friends, for in it they weigh their past together, and they try to see a future together; they hate their present [. . .] I immediately imagined our separately going over the life of our friendship, and all the affection and all the wonderful moments in it coming to a sharp end (4.19).

    Why do you think the fact that Lucy likes Paul—in spite of Peggy's warning about him—has become such a huge deal for the future of their friendship?

    Because Peggy and I were not getting along, we naturally started to talk about finding an apartment in which we would live together. It was an old story: two people are in love, and then just at the moment they fall out of love they decide to marry (4.27).

    Uh, yeah, this makes a lot of sense. Lucy seems well aware that moving in with Peggy isn't the best idea ever. So why does she end up doing it?

    It was a last resort for [Mariah]—insisting that I be the servant and she the master. She used to insist that we be friends; but that had apparently not worked out very well; now I was leaving (5.15).

    The souring of Mariah and Lucy's relationship suggests the difficulties that can arise when employers and employees try to get chummy (so think twice before you go friending your boss on Facebook).

    It was a cold goodbye on [Mariah's] part. Her voice and her face were stony. She did not hug me. I did not take any of this personally; someday we would be friends again (5.16).

    Why do you think that Lucy's so confident that she and Mariah will be buds again someday?

    It was Peggy who had found the apartment. We were then still best friends. We had nothing in common except that we felt at ease in each other's company. From the moment we met we recognized in each other the same restlessness, the same dissatisfaction with our surroundings, the same skin-doesn't-fit-ness. That was as far as it went (5.18).

    Misery loves company. . .for awhile. Maybe a shared feeling of discontent just isn't enough to sustain a satisfying friendship.

    Friendship is a simple thing, and yet complicated; friendship is on the surface, something natural, something taken for granted, and yet underneath one could find worlds (5.31).

    Hmm, very cryptic. What does Lucy mean when she says of friendship that "underneath one could find worlds?"

    I had seen Mariah. She had asked me to come and have dinner with her. We were friends again; we said how much we missed each other's company (5.35).

    Okay, let's get real here. Given that after this meeting Lucy doubts whether she'll ever see Mariah again, we can't help but question the sincerity of these two. Why do they pretend to be so friendly?

  • Women and Femininity

    [Mariah] had washed her hair that morning and from where I stood I could smell the residue of the perfume from the shampoo in her hair. Then underneath that I could smell Mariah herself. The smell of Mariah was pleasant [. . .] By then I already knew that I wanted to have a powerful odor and would not care if it gave offense (2.14).

    You go, (stinky) girl! Lucy's defiant refusal to mask her own funky smell is a small but significant sign that she's not about to bow down to conventional expectations about how a woman should present herself.

    [Mariah] thought fairy tales were a bad idea [. . .]; apparently stories like that would give the children, all girls, the wrong idea about what to expect in the world when they grew up. Her speech on fairy tales always amused me, because I had in my head a long list of things that contributed to wrong expectations in the world, and somehow fairy tales did not make an appearance on it (3.2).

    So if fairy tales don't make the cut, what do you think would be on Lucy's list of things that give girls wrong expectations?

    I did not like the kind of women Dinah reminded me of. She was very beautiful and it mattered a great deal to her. Among the beliefs I held about the world was that being beautiful should not matter to a woman, because it was one of those things that would go away [. . .] (3.14).

    Yeah, it's probably not a good idea for a woman to base her self-worth on a face that's bound to get all wrinkly.

    Without telling me exactly how I might miss a menstrual cycle, my mother had shown me which herbs to pick and boil, and what time of day to drink the potion they produced, to bring on a reluctant period. She had presented the whole idea to me as a way to strengthen the womb, but underneath we both knew that a weak womb was not the cause of a missed period. She knew that I knew, but we presented to each other a face of innocence and politeness and even went so far as to curtsy to each other at the end (3.24).

    There seems to be some weird telepathy going on here. It's kind of sad to think that traditional feminine norms like innocence and politeness can stand in the way of useful honest communication between women.

    My past was my mother; I could hear her voice, and she spoke to me not in English or the French patois that she sometimes spoke, or in any language that needed help from the tongue; she spoke to me in language anyone female could understand. And I was undeniably that—female (4.7).

    At other times in the novel, Lucy blatantly rejects expectations that go hand-in-hand with being female, but here she's directly claiming the title. What's going on with that?

    They were artists. I had heard of people in this position. I had never seen an example in the place where I came from. I noticed that mostly they were men. It seemed to be a position that allowed for irresponsibility, so perhaps it was much better suited to men—like the man whose paintings hung in the museum I liked to visit (4.16).

    Burn. Why do you think Lucy claims that the "irresponsible" position of painter is better suited for a man than for a woman?

    I laughed a laugh that I could not believe came out of me; it was a gurgly laugh, a laugh shot full of pleasure and insincerity; it was the laugh of a woman on whom not long ago I would have heaped scorn (4.18).

    Aha. So it looks like Lucy can turn on some feminine charm when she wants to, much to her shock. Does this moment make Lucy any less of a rebel against gender norms?

    [. . .] whenever I saw [my mother's] eyes fill up with tears at the thought of how proud she would be at some deed her sons had accomplished, I felt a sword go through my heart, for there was no accompanying scenario in which she saw me, her only identical offspring, in a remotely similar situation (4.51).

    Ouch. Lucy's mother has wildly different aspirations for her sons than she ever had for Lucy. Why is it so profoundly hurtful to Lucy that her mother, in particular, sees her as having less potential than her brothers?

    [Mariah] wanted to rescue me. She spoke of women in society, women in history, women in culture, so I couldn't tell her that my mother was my mother and that society and history and culture and other women in general were something else altogether (4.53).

    Blah, blah, blah. Do you think Lucy is too quick to dismiss Mariah's attempt to help her recognize a relationship between her own experience and the age-old, global problem of misogyny and discrimination against women?

    [Mariah] gave [the book] to me. I read the first sentence. "Woman? Very simple, say the fanciers of simple formulas, she is a womb, an ovary; she is female—this word is sufficient to define her." I had to stop. Mariah had completely misinterpreted my situation. My life could not really be explained by this thick book [. . .] (4.54).

    Hey, maybe Lucy could use the book to kill bugs. Lucy hints that grand theories about women's oppression in the abstract might sometimes just not be all that useful when it comes to understanding the complexities of an individual's situation.

  • Family

    How nice everyone was to me, though, saying that I should regard them as my family and make myself at home. I believed them to be sincere, for I knew that such a thing would not be said to a member of their real family. After all, aren't family the people who become the millstone around your life's neck? (1.6).

    So the thought of family (a.k.a. the "millstone around your life's neck") doesn't exactly make Lucy feel all warm and fuzzy. Dropping in this observation right at the beginning of the novel is super important because it lets us know right up front that Lucy brings a skeptical, unsentimental eye to her observations of family life in the U.S.

    The household in which I lived was made up of a husband, a wife, and the four girl children. The husband and wife looked alike and their four children looked just like them. In photographs of themselves, which they placed all over the house, their six yellow-haired heads of various sizes were bunched as if they were a bouquet of flowers tied together by an unseen string (1.12).

    Ah, one big, happy (and very blond) family. Of course, comparing these people to a flower arrangement hints that this happy image seems staged or forced which leads us to wonder how genuine it actually is.

    I vowed that if I ever had children I would make sure that the first words out of their mouths were bad ones (1.13).

    So Lucy is all about raising rebels (big surprise, right?). Her plan might backfire, though, considering that her own rebellious ways seem to be a reaction against her strict upbringing.

    But I already had a mother who loved me, and I had come to see her love as a burden and had come to view with horror the sense of self-satisfaction it gave my mother to hear other people comment on her great love for me (2.27).

    Horror? Now that's a pretty strong word. But it helps express the shock Lucy feels upon realizing that her mother's love for her may be a bit tainted by her selfish desire for other people to think she's a great mother. Of course, it also suggests that her mother, with her selfish desires, is only human after all.

    I had come to feel that my mother's love for me was designed solely to make me into an echo of her; and I didn't know why, but I felt that I would rather be dead than become just an echo of someone (2.27).

    Yeah, feeling like an echo of someone else has really got to be the pits. It'd even be worse than being, say, a copy or replication of someone else because an echo implies a much weaker, fainter version of the original.

    They buried the rabbit in a ceremony I could not bring myself to attend. The ceremony was another one of those untruths that I had only just begun to see as universal to life with mother, father, and some children (3.31).

    Aww, poor Peter Cottontail. Do you agree with Lucy's assessment that lies are a universal fact of family life? Why or why not?

    All of them, mother and father and four children, looked healthy, robust—everything about them solid, authentic; but I was looking at ruins, and I knew it right then. The actual fall of this Rome I hoped not to be around to see, but just in case I could not make my own quick exit I planned to avert my eyes (4.4).

    Okay, comparing the break-up of one little family to the fall of Rome might seem just a tad over the top. Lucy's comparison, though, makes clear just how, for better or for worse, central the family unit is to life in the U.S.

    My leaving began on the night I heard my father had died. When I had left my parents, I had said to myself that I never wanted to see them again [. . .] I had wished never to see my father again, and my wish had become true: I would never see my father again (4.10).

    Hmm, let's try putting the pieces of this puzzle together. Why does the death of Lucy's father become the catalyst for her decision to leave her babysitting job?

    I wrote my mother a letter; it was a cold letter. It matched my heart. It amazed even me, but I sent it all the same. In the letter I asked my mother how she could have married a man who would die and leave her in debt even for his own burial. I pointed out the ways she had betrayed herself. I said I believed she had betrayed me also, and that I knew it to be true even if I couldn't find a concrete example right then (4.48).

    Way to kick a gal when she's down. Lucy's letter may seem harsh, for sure. But it does suggest that a tragedy might inspire family members to be more open and honest with one another.

    I reminded [my mother] that my whole upbringing had been devoted to preventing me from becoming a slut; I then gave a brief description of my personal life, offering each detail as evidence that my upbringing had been a failure and that, in fact, life as a slut was quite enjoyable, thank you very much (4.48).

    Some thanks to the woman who lugged you around in her belly for nine months. What do you think Lucy aims to accomplish by letting her mother know just how much of a "slut" she's become?

  • Marriage

    [Mariah] leaned her head backward and rested it on [Lewis's] shoulder [. . .], and she sighed and shuddered in pleasure. The whole thing had an air of untruth about it; they didn't mean to do what they were doing at all. It was a show—not for anyone else's benefit, but a show for each other (3.4).

    So Mariah and Lewis only appear to be one of those older married couples who still have the passion of newlyweds. If Lucy's right, what do you think they're trying to accomplish by putting on this show for one another?

    But to look at [Mariah and Lewis], they seemed as if they couldn't be more apart if they were on separate planets" (3.6).

    We'll refrain from making some corny joke about men being from Mars and women from Venus. But why do you think Mariah and Lewis seem so disconnected?

    My father had perhaps thirty children; he did not know for sure. He would try to make a count but then he would give up after a while. [. . .] My father had lived with another woman for years and was the father of her three children; she tried to kill my mother and me many times (3.33)

    Yowza. After observing her parents' marital woes, it's no wonder that Lucy sees Lewis's infidelity as small potatoes.

    When my mother married my father, he was an old man and she a young woman. This suited them both. She had someone who would leave her alone yet not cause her to lose face in front of other women; he had someone who would take care of him in his dotage (3.33).

    This marriage sounds about as romantic as a bank transaction. Lucy's parents' arrangement shows that marriage can sometimes have very little to do with love.

    Mariah did not know that Lewis was not in love with her anymore. It was not the sort of thing she could imagine (3.34).

    Um, it's kind of scary to think you can be married to someone and have absolutely no clue what's really going on in their head (or heart).

    A strange calm had come over Mariah and Lewis's apartment. They quarreled constantly but never in my presence. I would return to the apartment after running an errand with the children in tow, and I could smell the disagreement in the air (4.29).

    Lucy's description of disagreement as a smell, or something that pervades the atmosphere, is a clever way of signaling just how much Mariah and Lewis's marital problems end up affecting everyone around them despite their efforts to contain their quarreling.

    [Mariah] said, "I am going to ask Lewis to leave." She looked at me with concern on her face; she put out a hand to me, offering me support. But I was fine. I would not have married a man like Lewis (4.36).

    Hmm, that is a little weird. Why is Mariah so concerned with Lucy's reaction to the breakup of her marriage?

    In the letter I asked my mother how she could have married a man who would die and leave her in debt even for his own burial (4.48).

    What, did Lucy think her mom had psychic powers or something? In any case, her mother's experience suggests that marriage can come with some surprises, right up to the bitter end.

    [Mariah] said they were getting a divorce; she said the children were in a state of confusion and she was worried about their well-being; she said she felt free. I meant to tell her not to bank on this "free" feeling, that it would vanish like a magic trick [. . .] (4.50).

    Way to rain on the divorce parade. Why does Lucy believe that Mariah's feeling of freedom is bound to disappear?

    The holidays came, and they did feel like a funeral because so many things had died. For the children's sake, [Mariah] and Lewis put up a good front (5.14).

    Looks like Mariah and Lewis are just as phony in divorce as they were in marriage. Is the argument that their pretense is for the children's sake enough to justify the dishonesty?

  • Betrayal

    "How typical," [Mariah] said, giving the impression that she had just experienced a personal betrayal. I laughed at her, but I was really wondering, How do you get to be a person who is made miserable because the weather changed its mind, because the weather doesn't live up to your expectations? (2.5).

    Yeah, taking the weather personally seems pretty extreme. Lucy's observation goes to show that having a self-centered view of the world might make you feel constantly betrayed when things don't go your way.

    Mariah said, "These are daffodils. I'm sorry about the poem, but I'm hoping you'll find them lovely all the same." (2.17).

    Now that wasn't very cool, Mariah. Lucy poured her heart out to you about her traumatic memory of daffodils. By dumping her in a field of them, Mariah shows that she doesn't take Lucy's feelings very seriously—talk about insult to injury.

    I saw Lewis standing behind Dinah, his arms around her shoulders, and he was licking her neck over and over again, and how she liked it. This was not a show, this was something real [. . .] (3.32).

    Since Lewis and Dinah have "real" affection for each other (as opposed to the false affection Lucy observes between Lewis and Mariah in an earlier moment in the novel), is his betrayal more understandable?

    A woman like Dinah was not unfamiliar to me, nor was a man like Lewis. Where I came from, it was well known that some women and all men in general could not be trusted in certain areas (3.33).

    Is Lucy being too hard on the guys here or is there any truth in what she thinks?

    At the door I planted a kiss on Paul's mouth with an uncontrollable ardor that I actually did feel—a kiss of treachery, for I could still taste the other man in my mouth (4.34).

    A passionately treacherous kiss: how romantic. Instead of causing her to feel all guilt-ridden, Lucy's betrayal seems to turn her on.

    [. . .] whenever I saw [my mother's] eyes fill up with tears at the thought of how proud she would be at some deed her sons had accomplished, I felt a sword go through my heart [. . .] To myself I then began to call her Mrs. Judas, and I began to plan a separation from her that even then I suspected would never be complete (4.51).

    Ooohh, Lucy invokes the ultimate symbol of betrayal (Judas, that dude who betrayed Jesus) to emphasize just how much her mother's favoritism has hurt her and damaged their relationship.

    One day I was living in the large apartment of Lewis and Mariah (without Lewis, of course, for he had gone to live somewhere else all by himself, allowing a decent amount of time to pass before he gave Mariah the surprise of her life: he had fallen out of love with her because he had fallen in love with her best friend, Dinah), and the next day I was not (5.9).

    As in other places in the novel, Lucy seems pretty dismissive of Lewis's betrayal of Mariah—here, she even sticks her commentary on it in a parentheses which really ends up downplaying it. Why do you think she refuses to see it as a big deal?

    The reality of [Mariah's] situation was now clear to her: she was a woman whose husband had betrayed her. I wanted to say this to her: "Your situation is an everyday thing. Men behave in this way all the time. The ones who do not behave in this way are the exceptions to the rule (5.13).

    Your husband cheated on you with your best friend? No biggie. Do you think Lucy's assessment of Mariah's situation as an "everyday thing" would be helpful for Mariah to hear? Or would it be a totally insensitive thing to say?

    Not long after that I learned, through my usual habit of eavesdropping on conversations between my mother and her friends, that a woman with whom my father had had a child and who had tried to kill my mother and me through obeah was named Enid (5.22).

    Whoa. The fact that an innocent kid like Lucy could've been killed as a consequence of her father's betrayal of this Enid lady suggests that betrayal can potentially have violent and unintended consequences.

    Peggy was on an outing by herself. Paul was on an outing by himself. I had noticed that this happened more and more; the two of them were busy at something, and I suspected it was with each other. I only hoped they would not get angry and disrupt my life when they realized I did not care (5.36).

    Lucy's boyfriend and her best friend are fooling around together behind her back? This could easily turn into an episode of Jerry Springer (especially if the two end up having a three-headed baby together). But Lucy doesn't even bat an eye. How come?

  • Dissatisfaction

    Oh, I had imagined that with my one swift act—leaving home and coming to this new place—I could leave behind me, as if it were an old garment never to be worn again, my sad thoughts, my sad feelings, and my discontent with life in general as it presented itself to me (1.5).

    You can run, but you can't hide (from your discontent, at least). The phrase "as if it were an old garment" underscores that dissatisfaction isn't some superficial thing like clothing that can be easily shed.

    I wrote home to say how lovely everything was, and I used flourishing words and phrases, as if I were living life in a greeting card—the kind that has a satin ribbon on it, and quilted hearts and roses, and is expected to be so precious to the person receiving it that the manufacturer has placed a leaf of plastic on the front to protect it (1.10).

    Liar, liar. We know that Lucy's life in the U.S. is hardly the rosy picture she wants to present to her peeps back home. Why does she project this false image?

    I would not miss the long hot days, I would not miss the cool shaded woods, I would not miss the strange birds, I would not miss animals that came out at dusk looking for food—I would not miss anything, for I long ago had decided not to miss anything (3.35).

    Sounds like a plan: Lucy seems to want to reduce her chances of getting in an unhappy funk in which she's missing everything. Whether this can actually work is anyone's guess, but it does suggest how central feelings of loss can be to dissatisfaction.

    [Mariah] had too much of everything, and so she longed to have less; less, she was sure, would bring her happiness. To me it was a laugh and a relief to observe the unhappiness that too much can bring; I had been so used to observing the results of too little (4.3).

    Uh-huh, having too many nice things sure sounds like a drag. How, exactly, might having too much make you unhappy?

    I understood that I was inventing myself, and that I was doing this more in the way of a painter than in the way of a scientist [. . .] I did not have position, I did not have money at my disposal. I had memory, I had anger, I had despair (5.4)

    So despair might not be so bad, after all? Lucy seems to see it as a pretty useful resource for artistically shaping who she is.

    I noticed how hard and cold and shut up tight the ground was. I noticed this because I used to wish it would just open up and take me in, I felt so bad. If I dropped dead from despair as I was crossing the street, I would just have to lie there in the cold (5.12).

    Wow, Lucy is just a ray of sunshine, isn't she? Maybe her next job should be at Disneyworld.

    I had spent my entire life not knowing the luxury of plumbing, hot and cold tap water [. . .] I could very well have gone through my entire life without knowledge of such things, and on my list of unhappinesses this would not have made an appearance. But not so anymore (5.20).

    If you ever get the chance to try caviar or fly in a Learjet, maybe you'd better just pass. As Lucy finds out, getting a taste of luxuries can actually be the source of potential unhappiness if you later find yourself in reduced circumstances.

    History is full of great events; when the great events are said and done, there will always be someone, a little person, unhappy, dissatisfied, discontented, not at home in her own skin, ready to stir up a whole new set of great events again. I was not such a person, able to put in motion a set of great events, but I understood the phenomenon all the same (5.20).

    Another reason not to knock dissatisfaction: it can move people to shake things up and even make great historical events happen.

    I was living apart from my family in a place where no one knew much about me; almost no one knew even my name, and I was free more or less to come and go as pleased me. The feeling of bliss, the feeling of happiness, the feeling of longing fulfilled that I had thought would come with this situation was nowhere to be found inside me (5.31).

    Hmm. Lucy seems to suggest that freedom—freedom from attachments, freedom to do whatever you want—doesn't necessarily lead to happiness.

    I was alone in the world. It was not a small accomplishment. I thought I would die doing it. I was not happy, but that seemed too much to ask for (5.35).

    Why does Lucy say that being alone in the world isn't a small accomplishment? And why on earth would she conclude that happiness is too much to ask for?