- Lucy and the Mark of the Colonizer
As I go on writing, I feel less and less interested in the approval of the First World, and I never had the approval of the world I came from, so now I don't know where I am. I've exiled myself yet again.—Donna Perry, 'An Interview with Jamaica Kincaid."
"But I couldn't speak, 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."—Lucy
[The third scenario] is the scene where this new thing [cultural positionality] is worked out, and the difficulty we are having is the difficulty of that discourse emerging.—Stuart Hall, "Third Scenario: Theory and Politics of Location." [End Page 237]
In her first post-antiguan novel, Lucy (1990), whose title character travels from Antigua to the United States, Jamaica Kincaid continues a fictional/semi-autobiographical saga that was initiated in earlier texts, Annie John and A Small Place. In a limited way, these texts "acquire mass, density, and referential power among themselves and thereafter in the culture at large"; they constitute a "strategic formation," constructing themselves as counterdiscourse to the dominant culture (Orientalism 20). As an African-Caribbean writer, that is, Kincaid speaks to and from the position of the other. Not only does she specify confrontations along class/race/gender axes, she also unmasks "the results of those distortions internalized within our consciousness of ourselves and one another" (Lorde 147).
In Lucy, Kincaid pursues these confrontations via diverse strategies. Casting aside adolescence, Lucy tells her own story while doubling as a representative of black Antiguans; a willing recorder of the island's oral narrative, she rescripts familiar thematics as well as exploring new ones. For example, Lucy takes place in Manhattan during the 1960s just prior to Antigua's attainment of partial independence from Britain in 1967, contributing another layer to a collective bildungsroman that reverts back in time to the end of Annie John when seventeen-year old Annie sails for Britain. The protagonists of the two novels, while differently named, are similar in their Caribbean sensibilities and their commitment to unmasking hypocrisy. Gender is a paramount issue in both novels, with the image of the mother-child dyad extending in Lucy to a colonizing motherland as well as a biological maternality. Across these two novels, then, sexual politics are seen as integral to the colonial and postcolonial imperative.
The narrator of Lucy is a twenty-year-old black Antiguan female who craves control of her life. She takes a job as an au pair in New York as part of her move toward independence. From the day she arrives in New York from the Caribbean and retires to bed to avoid further overload, she is determined to be an agent rather than a passive receiver. Unlike the protagonists of other texts, she is surrounded almost exclusively by white people, not only in her immediate household but also within her circle of friends.
As an expatriate residing in the United States and occupying diverse subject positions, Lucy has to cope with strategies aimed at colonizing her as a British "subject." She has to negotiate her way through differing representations of power, first with the husband, [End Page 238] Lewis, a middle-aged lawyer, and second with his wife, Mariah, a rich but emotionally dominated and somewhat naive Anglo-Saxon woman from a distinguished Michigan family who initially thinks the world lies at her feet. Worth noting, too, is the fact that Kincaid in a telling reversal of the erasure of African names uses no patronymic for Lewis and Mariah: in this way "the family" of the novel is discursively and deliberately homogenized.
As an indictment of the colonizing project, Lucy is comparable to A Small Place. In the latter, the narrator argues that people in a postcolonial situation tend to act as an oppressed population. They have little sense of the past, present, and future and treat everything on an ad hoc basis. This ahistorical attitude corrupts people by dissolving or eliminating class divisions and the capacity to analyze those differences. Alive...