Study Guide

Lucy: A Novel Themes

By Jamaica Kincaid

  • Foreignness and the Other

    So picking up and moving to a foreign country sounds pretty awesome, right? Not only do you get the chance to check out cool new people and places, you get the chance to leave behind everything lame about your hometown. When Lucy arrives in the U.S., she's totally stoked to have traded her humdrum existence back in the Caribbean for the promise of big-time adventure in North America. But despite the fact that the U.S. is supposed to be one big old welcoming melting pot, Lucy finds herself struggling to fit into the mix.

    Questions About Foreignness and the Other

    1. How do Lucy's experiences in North America help her to appreciate her home in the Caribbean?
    2. Would you say Lucy's experience in the U.S. is a positive one? Why or why not?
    3. How does Lucy's position as a foreigner give her a unique perspective on life in the U.S.? What insights about North American culture does this position allow her to have?
    4. How does Lucy's status affect the way she's treated by the members of the family she works for?

    Chew on This

    Land of the free? Lucy reveals that the U.S. can be a hostile and unwelcoming place for foreigners.

    Free at last: living in North America allows Lucy to explore her identity in ways that life in the Caribbean could not.

  • Lust

    Warning: Lucy may make you blush (you might even turn fifty shades of red). The thing is, Lucy isn't at all hesitant about opening up to us readers about her very, uh, active sex life. At times, it's even a little tough to keep all of her various lovers straight. Some of Lucy's rather unconventional attitudes toward sexual activity may even end up shocking some of more reserved readers (intrigued yet?). One thing's for sure: Lucy manages to defy many common beliefs—or at least many common beliefs circulating in American culture—about passion, sex, and love.

    Questions About Lust

    1. How would you describe Lucy's attitudes toward physical intimacy and sex?
    2. Do you find Lucy's approach to sex surprising? Troubling? Admirable? Would your reaction to her sexual exploits be any different if she were a guy (be honest!)?
    3. Do you buy Lucy's insistence that she doesn't love any of the dudes she's sexually involved with? Is Lucy afraid of love and intimacy and, if so, why?
    4. What role do you think Lucy's upbringing has played in her views about sex?

    Chew on This

    Sexual experimentation plays a central role in Lucy's search for identity.

    Lucy suggests that sex isn't really the big deal others make it out to be.

  • Friendship

    In Lucy, our title character's friendships pretty much drive her crazy. Sure, Lucy's friendships appear hunky-dory on the surface. Mariah acts like the two are BFFs at times and Lucy becomes so tight with Peggy that they end up roomies by the novel's end. If Lucy had a Facebook page, there'd no doubt be pics of her and her new buds splashed all over it. But the truth is that misunderstandings, differences, and conflicts plague each of Lucy's friendships, leaving her feeling alienated and alone. Yeah, it's a huge bummer.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. How do their different cultural backgrounds affect the friendship between Lucy and Mariah? (Hint: You might consider, for instance, the daffodil episode or the scene in which Mariah tells Lucy about her Indian heritage.)
    2. How important is friendship to Lucy? What qualities does she value in a friend? Is she a good friend herself?
    3. The friendship between Lucy and Peggy is loaded with ups and downs. Is Lucy too intolerant of Peggy's differences? Do their difficulties in getting along end up strengthening or weakening their relationship?

    Chew on This

    Ouch: Lucy suggests that friendship can be painful.

    Most of the characters in Lucy are way too self-centered to form true friendships.

  • Women and Femininity

    Lucy spends a whole lot of time in this novel hanging out with other women, thinking about the women in her past, and contemplating some of the injustices she's experienced as a woman. So it'd be pretty weird if women and femininity weren't a major theme of this book. But you can breathe a sigh of relief because it is. We might even go so far as to say it's impossible to really understand the central characters in Lucy without considering the fact that they're women. Yes, we might say that. . . .but you be the judge.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. Would you say Mariah has progressive attitudes about women? Why is Lucy critical of Mariah's attitudes about women?
    2. To what extent does being women provide a common bond between Lucy and Mariah? How might differences in Lucy's and Mariah's economic class positions and national identity affect their experiences and concerns as women?
    3. How has Lucy's relationship with her mother affected her views about womanhood?
    4. What role does gender play in Lucy's career choices and aspirations?

    Chew on This

    Mariah and Lucy have very different ideas about what equality for women means.

    Despite her rejection of some conventional expectations about women, Lucy holds some pretty conservative views about gender.

  • Family

    When Lucy begins working for the family featured in the novel, it's almost like she's joined the cast of one of those old sitcoms from the 1960s. This book's got all the essential elements: the doting mother, hard-working father, and bunch of charming kids who say sassy stuff all the time. As Lucy soon finds out, the image of perfection this family projects is just as phony baloney as the ones projected on television screens. And this turns out to be a mighty valuable lesson for someone who thought she was the only one with a messed up family.

    Questions About Family

    1. What role has Lucy's relationship with her parents played in her life? Why doesn't Lucy open her mother's letters while she's in the U.S.?
    2. We might say that Lucy goes to the U.S. in large part to escape her family troubles, particularly her difficulties with her mother. Is she successful? Why or why not?
    3. How do Lucy's ideas about family change or develop as a result of her experience in the U.S.?

    Chew on This

    Lucy suggests that too much wealth can be bad for a family.

    Cross-cultural pain-in-the-butt: Lucy shows that families everywhere can be stifling and oppressive.

  • Marriage

    Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like. . .uh, wait a minute. These two things actually don't seem to go together at all in Lucy. Sure, Mariah and Lewis might appear to be a lovey-dovey couple. But Lucy is quick to alert us to the ginormous cracks in their relationship long before we see for ourselves the train wreck that their marriage eventually becomes. On top of that, Lucy's own recollections of her parents' loveless marriage don't exactly inspire us to have great confidence in matrimony. But, lucky for us dedicated students, we can probably learn just as much if not more from crappy marriages as we can from happy ones.

    Questions About Marriage

    1. Lewis and Mariah have a somewhat "traditional" marriage in which Lewis has a high-powered career and Mariah pretty much stays home with the kids (whom Lucy helps to watch). How do you think this arrangement affects their relationship?
    2. Lucy gives us the inside scoop on Lewis's and Mariah's crumbling marriage. How accurate are her assessments?
    3. The fact that Lewis cheated on Mariah is obviously a big factor in their break-up. But what responsibility do you think Mariah might hold in the marriage's dissolution?
    4. How has the relationship between Lucy's parents influenced her views on marriage?

    Chew on This

    Marriage brings out the worst in people in Lucy.

    If Lucy ever decided to tie the knot, she'd probably have a way more successful marriage than any of the other characters in this novel.

  • Betrayal

    Lucy features a few really juicy sexual and romantic betrayals—you know, the ones that make for an awesome hour of TV drama. These betrayals end up rocking the worlds of some of the novel's characters so we can hardly underestimate their importance. At the same time, betrayals by family and friends seem to play an even bigger role in our main character's experiences. As Lucy shows, betrayals are never pretty, but they can end up revealing a whole lot about the people around us—and ourselves.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. Why is Lucy so quick to minimize or shrug off sexual infidelities?
    2. Lucy has witnessed the consequences of betrayal both in her own family and in Mariah's family. Yet this doesn't stop her from committing some betrayals of her own. What's up with that?
    3. Mariah doesn't seem to see Lewis's betrayal coming. Why not?

    Chew on This

    Good intentions are sometimes at the source of betrayals in Lucy.

    Lucy suggests that betrayals by family and friends are far more hurtful than betrayals by lovers.

  • Dissatisfaction

    Dissatisfaction isn't a great feeling (duh). In Lucy, our heroine's expressions of her feelings of emptiness and despair can't help but tug at the heartstrings of readers (well, except for that contingent of robot readers). While Lucy's struggles with her discontent seem about as much fun as getting braces put on your teeth, the novel suggests that dissatisfaction can have some surprising perks. After all, as Lucy seems to find, feeling utterly miserable can sometimes give you just the kick in the butt you need to try to change your situation.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. How does Lucy define happiness or satisfaction? How does this differ from the ways other characters in the novel define it?
    2. Do you think Lucy has valid reasons to be so dissatisfied with her life? If so, what do you think those reasons might be?
    3. Does Lucy find much satisfaction during her time in the U.S.? Why isn't she as happy after leaving her babysitting job as she thought she'd be?
    4. Are there values that are more important to the characters than personal happiness?

    Chew on This

    Lucy would've been a whole lot happier if she'd never left her home in the Caribbean.

    Lucy suggests that an obsession with personal happiness is what's wrong with people in the U.S.