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Most teenagers go through a time when they believe that their parents are too overbearing and strict with them. Although this is a normal feeling to have on occasion growing up, Jamaica Kincaid’s novel Lucy reveals the intense situation of an over-bearing parent. Through the novel, we follow the titular protagonist’s escape from this predicament, and from the miserable life that she is living. Lucy decides to begin a new life in America, away from her family and friends and we read the cyclical story of her experience in her new home. Lucy’s ambition to create a new, independent life in America stems from her need to overcome her melancholy past growing up, nonetheless this desire affects her ability to form connections with the people she meets. Lucy’s toxic relationship with her mother is a major component of why she needed to create such an independent life for herself.
Although it is apparent that Lucy knew her mother loved her, she saw this love as a burden. When Lucy describes her mother’s love she says, “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.” (Kincaid 40). She then follows this statement by saying “Thoughts like these had brought me to be sitting on the edge of a Great Lake with a women who wanted to show me her world” (Kincaid 40). Through these quotes we see that Lucy hated the fact that her mother wanted her to be just like her. She also hated the fact that her mother could not grasp why Lucy did not want to be exactly like her, and that is what drove her away. Of course we can see through the novel that Lucy never hated her mother, in fact, deep down she really loved her. This can be seen when Lucy says, “I would hear sounds in our house that made me sure my mother had died and the undertaker had come to take her body away. Each morning when I saw her face again, I trembled inside with joy.” (Kincaid 102). Although we can see that Lucy loved her mother, she believed admitting this to herself would cause her to turn into her mother all together, and never be the independent women she yearned to be. As you can see, throughout Lucy’s upbringing her mother was very overbearing. This causes Lucy to want to live an extremely independent life, which then results in her becoming emotionally detached from all other people.
On the other hand, Lucy does not allow herself to become emotionally attached to the men she meets because of her need to be independent. This idea can be seen in her relationship with Hugh. She repeatedly says she is not in love with Hugh, and that being in love would “complicate her life”. She conspicuously states, “I was only half a year free of some almost unbreakable bonds, and it was not in my heart to make new ones.” (Kincaid 76). Here she is clearly stating that she does not have the desire to create new bonds with others because she was finally free from the old ones. Lucy’s longing for independence is what was holding her back from creating an emotional rather than purely sexual relationship. We can also see this need for autonomy in her relationship with Paul. When describing a photo Paul gave her as a gift she says, “I was naked from the waist up; a piece of cloth, wrapped around me, covered me from the waist down. That was the moment he got the idea he possessed me in a certain way, and that was the moment I grew tired of him” (Kincaid 169). Again here she is showing that she does not want to feel like the possession of someone else. She felt that for so long with her mother back at home, and is trying too hard to escape this emotion. Because of this she does not want anyone to think of her as a possession. Not surprisingly, she keeps Paul around regardless of the fact that she has grown tired of him. She enjoys the pleasures he bring hers, and that is all she focuses on when in a relationship. Evidently, to Lucy, being attached to a man emotionally was the complete opposite of being free. And her main goal when she got to America was to be liberated.
Lucy’s need for independence ultimately carries on to her nonromantic relationships causing saddening results. Her intense fear of being controlled by her mother carries over to her relationship with Mariah. Her views on Mariah changed often, which is why she says, “The times that I loved Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother. The times that I did not love Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother” (Kincaid 177). Lucy is so apprehensive that she is going to fall in to another unhealthy relationship with a motherly figure in her life. After everything that happened to her with her mother, it was hard for her to form a bond with Mariah, who happened to be a mother of four.
Ultimately Lucy quitting the job as Mariah’s au per is what she believes the last step to gaining full independence. Due to her lack of emotional connections with others, her life is not exactly how she imagined full freedom to be like. She says, “I was alone in the world. It was not a small accomplishment. I thought I would die doing it. I was not happy” (Kincaid 176). She has been through so much trying to become self-reliant because of her upbringing, this cause her to have no connection with anyone around her. Lucy was all alone in the world. Earlier in the novel Lucy stated that she believed just a “change in venue” would erase everything in life she despised, but that was not how life worked out for her. She could see her current self was taking the shape of her past (Kincaid 97). The book closes with Lucy writing in a diary that Mariah gave her. She picks it up and writes “I wish I could love someone so much that I would die from it”, and then began to cry (Kincaid 178). These being the final lines in the novel shows the reader the isolation and sadness she feels regardless of all the goals she achieved. By the end of the novel we can see how much Lucy really needs human connection and love.
Throughout the novel we watch Lucy try to gain complete independence from her mother, and from her upbringing back home. Her desire for freedom negatively affects her ability to form emotional connections with the people around her. We see this negatively impact her life, and bring her to a full circle of emotions, leaving home to find happiness and freedom, but still feeling helpless and in despair. She is unable to form a relationship that is not solely sexual with a man, and she cannot connect and bond with any women she meets. Ultimately, Lucy teaches the reader that it is important to make emotional connections with others around you, and pure independence and freedom from people may not always be the best thing in life.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Lucy. 1990.
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