Study Guide

Lucy: A Novel Family

By Jamaica Kincaid

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?

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