Study Guide

Lucy: A Novel Dissatisfaction

By Jamaica Kincaid

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?

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