Study Guide

Lucy: A Novel Foreignness and the Other

By Jamaica Kincaid

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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.

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