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"Poor Visitor"

Lucy, age nineteen, comes from Antigua to be an au pair 1for an upper

middle class white family living in an unnamed city much like New York. Upon
arrival, she is disappointed because all the landmarks were not as vivid as
they were in her daydreams. In reality, these landmarks are worn down and
dirty. Lucy goes through a variety of experiences for the first time: riding an
elevator, being in an apartment, using a refrigerator. That night Lucy,
exhausted from all the change, sleeps soundly.
On her second day, Lucy experiences the difference between the sun in
Antigua and the one in America. By mistake, Lucy puts on a thin dress,
assuming that in this new place a sunny day in January means warm
weather, as it does in Antigua. She is surprised when she steps outside and
the air is cold. She notes that "I was no longer in a tropical zone and I felt
cold inside and out, the first time such a sensation had come over me" (6).
Now Lucy understands why the people she reads about in books are
homesick. She expects to leave behind her discontentment and sad
thoughts, but her feelings remain.
Lucy often takes comfort in recalling memories from home. She dreams of
her grandmother's meals of pink mullet and green figs cooked in coconut
milk. As she settles in her small room off the kitchen, she looks at her Bible
sitting on the dresser. The Bible was given to her by her cousin just before
she left home. Lucy remembers that as young children, she and her cousin
would sit under her house and read the book of Revelations to terrify one
another. At that time, she never would have imagined a day would come
"when these people I left behind, my own family, would not appear before
me in one way or the other" (8).
While dealing with her feelings of homesickness, Lucy adjusts to her daily
duties. As the au par, Lucy walks the four girls to school, feeds them lunch,
and plays with them in the afternoons. Lucy does not have to fulfill
household cleaning duties; the family has a maid. The maid feels Lucy is
overly pious, speaking and walking like a nun. One day in particular, the
maid challenges Lucy to dance. After seeing the maid dance beautifully, Lucy
knows she cannot compete. She defends herself by asserting that the maid's
music is shallow and meaningless, unsuitable for dancing. The maid's
1 A young person, usually a woman, who lives with a family in a foreign country in
order to learn the language. An au pair helps in the house and takes care of
children and receives a small wage.

response is repugnance. Lucy says, "From her face, I could see she had only
one feeling about me: how sick to the stomach I made her" (12).
Lucy enjoys eating dinner with the family. She observes how pleasant the
family is to one another, that the children are free to eat in whatever manner
they please, and even that they make up naughty rhymes at the table. It is
during mealtime that Lucy earns the name "Visitor" from the family, because
Lucy never seems part of things but stares at them strangely as they
eat. Lewis, the father, looks at Lucy sympathetically and says "Poor Visitor."
The father then tells a story about an uncle who moves to Canada to raise
monkeys and eventually enjoys being around the monkeys more than
humans. Lucy takes this opportunity to tell the family a story about a dream
she has had. In the dream, Lewis is chasing Lucy around the house naked
while his wife Mariah is yelling for Lewis to catch her. Eventually, Lucy falls
into the bottom of a hole with silver and blue snakes. An awkward silence
follows her story. Lucy's intent is to show the family that they are important
enough to her to appear in her dreams. Lewis and Mariah, however, are
aware of the Freudian implications of Lucy's dream. Lucy does not know who
Freud is.
Lucy is distinct from other narratives about immigrants coming to America.
In this novel, Kincaid writes in the pattern of the traditionally white, male,
European or American bildungsroman, but she reinvents the form through a
black, female, Caribbean protagonist. Thus, how Lucy processes what
happens to her is just as important as what actually happens. Lucy goes
through a series of physical adjustments: the novelty of a refrigerator, riding
in an elevator, and living in an apartment. These things in themselves are
neutral, but they are new to Lucy and represent the cultural shift she is
experiencing. In America, Lucy is now bombarded with new ideas, forcing her
to adjust the way she thinks about the world. Throughout her first unhappy
days Lucy is consistently reminded "how uncomfortable the new can make
you feel" (4).
Every day, Lucy encounters things in this new world that disappoint, go
outside her expectations, or challenge her fundamental understanding of the
world. Going outside in a summer dress in January is a key example of Lucy's
difficult adjustment. When Lucy discovers it is cold, her sense of reality is
shaken. She says that "something I took completely for granted, 'the sun is
shining, the air is warm,' was not so" (5). Sadly, Lucy has to learn that her

expectations will not always reconcile with reality. Likewise, Lucy expects the
landmarks to be as lucid as they are in her daydreams. In reality, they are
crowded, dull, and dirty.
When describing her disappointment, Lucy notes:
In a daydream I used to have, all these places were points of
happiness to me; all these places were lifeboats to my drowning
soul...Now that I saw these places, they looked ordinary, dirty, worn
down by so many people entering and leaving them in real life, and it
occurred to me that I could not be the only person in the world for
whom they were a fixture of fantasy. It was not my first bout with the
disappointment of reality and it would not be my last. (3-4)
At the core of Lucy's survival is the dexterity with which Lucy handles
disappointment and continues to forge her identity despite it. Although she is
disillusioned, Lucy does not forsake dreaming; Lucy's dreams remain her
lifeboat during her first days. Even so, she dreams not about the future but of
"pink mullet and green figs cooked in coconut milk" (7). Lucy dreams of
home. These memories are the threads that knit together her innermost
being but which will continue to haunt her as she attempts to sever all ties to
her past.
Lucy's description of her living quarters is a continuation of her quest for
independence, a push past the boundaries of race and class that she
perceives. Lucy's description of her room demonstrates her alienated state
and how she is unable to fit within the categories that society seems to have
made for her. She says:
The room in which I lay was a small room just off the kitchen--the
maid's room. I was used to a small room, but this was a different sort
of small room. The ceiling was very high and the walls went all the way
up to the ceiling, enclosing the room like a box--a box which cargo
traveling a long way should be shipped. But I was not cargo. I was only
an unhappy young woman living in a maid's room, and I was not even
the maid. I was the young girl who watches over the children and goes
to school at night. (7)
This passage is critical for understanding how Lucy perceives herself. First,
she is not cargo. She is not a commodity, not a mere source of labor whose
sole value might be crudely linked with her ability to work. Second, she is not
a maid. Lucy rejects that job title, which would mark her socio-economic
position. In fact, she is not even an au pair. Lucy chooses to describe her

duties (watching children and going to night school) rather than allowing a
job description, au pair, to define her. Lucy also includes her "unhappy"
emotional state as a further testament to her alienation in this new
The title of this chapter, "Poor Visitor," underscores these feelings.
Everything is new to Lucy, from the food to the running water. To name
herself too soon would be to limit herself unfairly. She has entered bravely
into a new world, but now she feels alone in it. She searches for some slice of
similarity to home, yet she only finds difference. The family's maid looks
familiar, but in reality she is antagonistic and very different.
Although Lucy is also trying to push past boundaries of race, Kincaid does
not address the subject directly in this chapter. The novel does not introduce
a black-white split but a schism between African-Americans and West
Indians. Lucy's encounter with the African-American maid is perceived as an
intra-racial incident. Although they may appear similar to outsiders, they
know they are different. The antagonistic manner in which the maid
challenges Lucy to dance is the maid's attempt to assert power over Lucy.
The maid derides the way Lucy walks and talks. Yet Lucy thwarts the maid's
attempt, because she does not seek approval from the maid, certainly not on
the maid's terms. Instead she asserts pride in her own culture and "burst[s]
into a calypso about a girl who ran away to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and had a
good time, with no regrets" (12). Lucy demonstrates that she can transcend
the boundaries of race without denying or being ashamed of her own
It is early March. Mariah is eagerly awaiting springtime and the arrival of
daffodils. The mention of daffodils embitters Lucy. She has never seen them,
yet as a child at Queen Victoria Girls' School, Lucy was made to memorize a
poem about the flower. She remembers having performed the poem well and
having received many accolades. At the same time, the young Lucy deeply
resented the poem and became determined to erase the poem from
The first day of spring brings a great snow--deeply disappointing Mariah. The
snow delays the family's plan to visit their house on the Great Lakes.
Meanwhile, Lucy receives several letters from her family and friends. She
carries all of them around in her bra. Lucy does not admit to carrying them
because she loves them--actually she has quite the opposite feeling about

them. Lucy resents these letters, which express or represent her mother's
dominating and oppressive presence in her life.
For example, Lucy has written her mother with excitement about her first
subway ride. Crushing her enthusiasm and replacing it with fear, Lucy's
mother has responded by detailing a horrific murder of a young girl that
occurred on that same train. Lucy is terrified and angry that her mother has
turned an exciting new experience into an occasion for fear. Lucy resents the
fear her mother's correspondence makes her feel.
Lucy begins to compare the fear she feels in this new place to the fear she
experienced back home. In Antigua, a young girl is possessed by an evil
spirit who beats the young girl continually. The girl eventually has to travel
across the sea to escape it. Lucy draws a distinction between the devils you
see in America--walking on subways or hiding in alleys--and the ones you
cannot see in Antigua. She says, "On the one hand there was a girl being
beaten by a man she could not see; on the other there was a girl getting her
throat cut by a man she could see. In this great big world, why should my life
be reduced to these two possibilities?" (21).
Lucy then remembers her mother's friend Sylvie. Sylvie has a scar on her
right cheek from being bitten by another woman. Yet Lucy initially was
fascinated by the scar. She describes it as "a half-ripe fruit [that] someone
had bitten into" (24) and a "little rosette ... that bound her to something
much deeper than its reality" (25). The two women argue over which one of
them should live with the man whom they both love. And both women have
spent time in jail for public misconduct. Because of this past, tainted
especially by incarceration, the friendship of Sylvie and Lucy's mother has
not been public.
Lucy contrasts her perception of Sylvie, a woman who lives a "heavy and
hard" life, with her perception of Mariah. Standing in the kitchen looking
celestial as the sun light falls on her, Mariah seems as if she has never lived
a hard life or quarreled over a man.
Soon enough, the cold weather is gone, and Lucy, Mariah, and the four girls
make plans to travel to the summerhouse. Lewis stays behind. Before they
leave, Mariah takes Lucy to a garden while the girls are in school. For the first
time, Lucy sees daffodils. They are beautiful. But Lucy immediately wants to
kill them. She later expresses her resentment to Mariah:
I did not know what these flowers were, and so it was a mystery to me
why I wanted to kill them. I wished I had an enormous scythe; I would

just walk down the path, dragging it alongside me, and I would cut
these flowers down where they emerged from the ground. (29)
The day finally arrives when the family goes to the summerhouse. Lucy has
never ridden on a train. She observes that all the white people who resemble
Mariah's relatives are passengers, while all the people who resemble Lucy's
relatives are servers.
Once they arrive at their destination, Gus, a longtime employee of Mariah's
family, meets them at the train station to drive them to the summerhouse.
The house Mariah grew up in is large and spread out. From Lucy's bedroom
she can see the lake. The presence of water comforts Lucy: "I slept
peacefully, without any troubling dreams to haunt me; it must have been
that knowing there was a body of water outside my window, even though it
was not the big blue sea I was used to, brought me some comfort" (35).
Mariah and Gus catch trout one afternoon for dinner. Mariah jokingly makes
reference to the Gospel occasion when Jesus fed a crowd of five thousand
with four loaves and two fish. Lucy shares with Mariah the first time she
heard the story. Instead of being amazed at the story and imagining how
grateful the crowd must have been, Lucy inquires whether the fish were
boiled or fried. In Lucy's mind, whether someone should feel grateful
depends on how the fish are served. At this point, it becomes more clear that
Lucy often given a sarcastic, disillusioned twist to many things Mariah is
enthusiastic about. Mariah says to Lucy:
I was looking forward to telling you that I have Indian blood, that the
reason I'm so good at catching fish and hunting birds and roasting corn
and doing all sorts of things is that I have Indian blood.... I shouldn't
tell you that. I feel you will take it the wrong way. (40)
Mariah accepts many roles as ways of expressing her identity: mother,
nourishing employer, and white woman. All of these roles become integral to
Lucy's transformation. In her role as surrogate mother, for instance, Mariah
provides a point of comparison for Lucy to examine her relationship with her
own mother. There is a contrast here, too; as a white woman, Mariah finds it
difficult to face Lucy. The harsh reality of Mariah's place in Lucy's experience
becomes a lot for Lucy to bear--one more reason to seek full independence.
Mariah's life seems ideal. She is married to a wealthy lawyer who provides
for his family and is a good father. She has four beautiful, blond daughters.

She is well educated and makes efforts to expose Lucy to Freudian theory,
feminism, and many other ideas. Mariah's untainted idealism is immediately
apparent to Lucy. Mariah has been fortunate; she has not encountered the
debilitating disappointment that Lucy has experienced when her dreams
have gone unfulfilled.
When there is a great snow on the first day of spring, Lucy is perplexed at
the severity of Mariah's disappointment. Lucy says, "How do you get to be a
person who is made miserable because the weather changed its mind,
because the weather doesn't live up to your expectations? How do you get
to be that way?" (20).
Even Mariah's memories of her childhood are untainted by disappointment.
As an adult, Lucy returns to the home she grows up in, recalling the
difficulties and disappointments. In contrast, every summer Mariah, along
with her husband and four girls, escapes from the city and travels back in
time to a joyous childhood: "[Mariah] wants us to enjoy the house, all its
nooks and crannies, all its sweet smells, all its charms, just the way she had
done as a child" (37).
Having lived a life absent of severe disappointment, Mariah's outlook also
lies in sharp contrast to that of Lucy's mother. Mariah has come to expect the
best from life, while Lucy's mother consistently expects the worst and
imposes those pessimistic expectations on Lucy. Lucy has quit opening
letters from home in order to give herself peace from her mother's haunting
voice. Lucy explains her reasoning:
I had come to see her love as a burden...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. (37)
Lucy wishes to detach herself from the burden of her mother's expectations
as well. She wishes to be free to form her own identity. Interestingly, Lucy
does not reject her mother in favor of Mariah. She says, "The smell of Mariah
was pleasant...By then I already knew I wanted to have a powerful odor and
would not care if it gave offense" (27). Lucy does not desire an ideal life with
no struggle or disappointment. She lives her life with a gravity unknown to
Mariah. Postcolonial literary critics trace Lucy's desire to escape her mother's
grip, together with Lucy's sense of gravity, to oppressive experiences that
resulted from colonialism and decolonization.

Lucy's history persistently pursues her, rearing its head in everyday

situations. In a casual conversation with Lucy just before spring arrives,
Mariah says,
Have you ever seen daffodils pushing their way up out of the ground?
And when they're in bloom and all massed together, a breeze comes
along and makes them do a curtsy to the lawn stretching out in front
of them. Have you ever seen that? When I see that, I feel so glad to be
alive. (17)
Mariah speaks from her cultural milieu; her words are not simply joyous
about wonderful experiences but carry the trappings of Romantic poetry.
That is, her words go beyond adoration of nature to include personification of
inanimate objects and an almost histrionic address to a synthetic audience.
Daffodils are euphoric to Mariah. For Lucy, however, they bring back a very
specific memory. Lucy remembers having to perform the poem "I Wandered
Lonely As a Cloud" by William Wordsworth when she was a young girl.
Like most poems, this one asserts a way of seeing the world that is not
immediately accessible. In Lucy's experience, the poem did not inspire her to
look at nature in a new way, probably because her teachers insisted that she
memorize it instead of appreciate its perspective. This forced encounter with
an alien culture was generated by the British educational system, which
became a form of indoctrination under colonialism that persisted long after
the island's legal obligations to the British had ended. For Lucy, the chance
to appreciate daffodils has been tainted by the way that she was introduced
to them many years ago.
Lucy's own experiences have allowed her to see significance in the many
things Mariah takes for granted. Lucy cannot help but "see hundreds of years
in every gesture, every spoken word, every face" rather than just taking
them as they are (31). Although she does not identify as an African-American
herself, Lucy understands the racial climate in America. While dining on a
train ride to Mariah's summer house, Lucy observes that "The other people
sitting down all looked like Mariah's relatives; the people waiting on them all
looked like mine... Mariah did not seem to notice what she had in common
with the other diners, or what I had in common with the waiters" (33). In
other words, Lucy is immediately aware that the servers and the served are
divided along racial lines. She perceives that the history of race in America
has resulted in this division. But Mariah, who should know the history of
slavery in her own country, does not see this division. She is not perceiving
the various people on the train primarily in terms of race. Or, if she does

perceive this unpleasant reality, she must be subordinating it to something

else, such as memories of an idyllic childhood.
Mariah may be uncomfortable with Lucy's willingness to see reality through
the perspective of race, but she offers her own racialized perspective. Mariah
wants to tell Lucy that the reason she is good at catching fish, hunting, and
roasting corn is because she has Native American ancestry. Her
understanding of Native Americans is derived from a romantic notion of "the
noble savage," however, rather than the reality of having known and loved a
relative of Indian ancestry. Mariah hesitates because she feels that Lucy "will
take it the wrong way" (40). As presented, Mariah's assertion seems
ridiculous; simply having Indian blood would not be enough for someone to
infer that she has inherited culturally learned behaviors such as hunting and
fishing. Lucy understands that Mariah is expressing a tension in her
racialized comment:
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. How do you get to be the sort of victor who can claim to be
vanquished also? (41)
Mariah seems to be looking for pardon from Lucy in claiming the status of a
victimized minority in America. But Lucy is not willing to accept Mariah's
assertion of victimhood, even if she feels an affinity with people who are
truly victimized.
"The Tongue"
At age fourteen, Lucy experienced her first kiss. She kissed her best friend's
brother, Tanner. The kiss was not typical of a young child--she sucked
Tanner's tongue as if trying to discover its flavor. Lucy now describes how she
likes to eat cow's tongue, "served in a sauce of lemon juice, onions,
cucumber, and pepper" (44).
Lucy remembers this experience while feeding the girls stewed plums and
yogurt. She often tells the oldest girl, Miriam, various tall tales in order to get
her to eat. Mariah, in contrast, prefers a straightforward and truthful
approach with children: "Mariah thought fairytales were a bad idea,
especially ones involving princesses who were awakened by long deep
sleeps" (45). Mariah does not want her girls to have the wrong expectations
growing up.

By now, Lewis has joined the family at the summerhouse. They will be there
from mid-June to mid-September. Lewis often has very little to do there; he
seems to come mainly in order to indulge Mariah. Lucy takes a moment to
describe what she does know about Lewis. He is handsome. He is also a
lawyer who loves to tell fantastic stories. Lucy likes him. But she is quick to
clarify, "I was not in love with him nor did I have a crush on him. My
sympathies were with Mariah. It was my mother who told me I should never
takes a man's side over a woman's" (48).
After observing an intimate moment between Mariah and Lewis, Lucy recalls
the sensation she felt when Tanner would place his hands on her breasts and
suck them. Young Lucy soon learns that this sensation can be felt with other
boys. She begins to meet a particular boy to kiss every Saturday. On a whim,
she ends the rendezvous because she has found unpleasant the smell of his
hair oil.
Since Lucy cannot drive, the girls walk through the forest on the way to the
lake every day. Lucy's favorite charge is Miriam. She cares for Miriam as her
own mother cared for her. She says, "I loved Miriam from the moment I met
her. She was the first person I had loved in a very long while, and I did not
know why. I loved the way she smelled" (53). When walking to the lake, Lucy
does not mind carrying Miriam on her back when the young girl tires. During
the walk, Lucy remembers that as a young girl her mother used to walk
through the rainforest and throw rocks at a monkey. One day the monkey
caught the rock and threw it back at Lucy's mother. The rock hit the young
girl on the head and caused a huge scar that remains on Lucy's mother to
this day.
When Lucy and the girls arrive at the lake, they meet Mariah's best
friend Dinah. Instantly, Lucy does not like Dinah. She thinks that Dinah is
conceited, the type of woman who envies other women and their lives.
Nave Mariah adores her best friend, though, loving the way Dinah
embraces life.
Lucy has grown to love Mariah. More and more Mariah reminds Lucy of the
things she likes about her mother. Mariah desires Lucy to have friends. But
she disapproves of Lucy's best friend Peggy. Peggy wears shades, smokes,
and hates children. She is precisely the type of influence Mariah does not
want Lucy to have. Because she likes the cigar Peggy smokes, Lucy begins to
smoke as well. Yet, since Mariah is not Lucy's mother, she only forbids Peggy
to come around the house or the children. In the meantime, Mariah has a
party for Lucy to meet young people her own age. Lucy does not connect

with them. They are all wealthy and well-traveled. Most of them have been
where Lucy is from as tourist and only say, "I had fun when I was there" (65).
Lucy does find one person of interest at the party, Hugh, Dinah's brother. He
is three years older and five inches shorter than Lucy. Hugh is different from
the others because he traveled for a year in Africa and Asia. Hugh and Lucy
become intimate--she has not been touched like that in a long time. Lying
naked on the grass with Hugh, Lucy remembers the first time she got her
period. Lucy's mother laughed when she found out and told her of a time she
would wish for it to come. Not having used protection with Hugh, Lucy
nevertheless is not panicked by the possibility of being pregnant, because
her mother already showed Lucy what herbs to take to make her period
come if it were missed. Instead, what Lucy dreads is having to write to her
mother to ask for them. Fortunately, Lucy's period comes, so she does not
have to write home. With Hugh, Lucy feels wonderful. She enjoys
daydreaming about their physical relationship but does not feel in love or
attached. When Hugh leaves on the fifteenth of September, Lucy is content
to see him go.
Mariah and Dinah are socially engaged. The latest issue they are confronting
is that houses are being built on the farmland where they grew up. Mariah
writes and illustrates a book and donates the profits to the cause of saving
the farmland as it was. One of Mariah's daughters sarcastically asks: what
was on the land before their own house was built? Lucy too resents the
notion of preserving this aspect of the past. Internally, she dislikes how
people like Mariah and Dinah do not see the connections between their own
sense of comfort and the decline of the world around them.
During this summer, the first signs of problems in Lewis's and Mariah's
marriage surface. A seemingly innocent incident of a rabbit eating shoots
from Lewis's vegetables escalates. Over dinner they discuss whom the culprit
might be, and Lewis has such an angry outburst that it causes the children to
cry. He screams, "Jesus Christ! The goddam rabbits!" (75). Later that
summer, Lewis and Mariah take a drive in the marshlands, and Lewis runs
over a rabbit. While Lewis is secretly triumphant, Mariah is hysterical. Lucy
reveals that she is able to perceive Dinah as the culprit in an affair long
before Lewis confesses to it.
Often we can say that key elements of a person's history have already been
written before the person is born. As an inhabitant of a colonized island, the

employee of Mariah Lewis, and a child of her mother, Lucy already has had
much of her history guided by circumstances she could not control. She was
born into a native culture influenced by a colonizing power, but now that she
generally has escaped it, her experience is shaped powerfully by what her
host family chooses to expose her to. In this context, storytelling is the
method that Lucy uses to appropriate her own history. Through the medium
of storytelling, Lucy grapples with issues of sexuality, making her narrative
voice the one common thread that links the complex elements of her past
and her present.
We encounter Lucy's sexuality when she remembers experiences of the past
and delves into present experiences. Opening the chapter, Lucy tells the
story of her first kiss. The opening scene describes fourteen-year-old Lucy:
I was sucking the tongue of a boy named Tanner ... because I liked the
way his fingers looked on the keys of the piano as he played it, and I
had liked the way he looked from the back as he walked across the
pasture, and also, when I was close to him, I liked the way behind his
ears smelled. Those three things had led to my standing in his sister's
room (she was my best friend), my back pressed against the closed
door, sucking his tongue. (43)
Kincaid draws a striking image in this scene. Her diction is jarring. The coarse
verb "sucking" displaces the intimacy of "kiss." Lucy's attraction is neither
emotional nor romantic; it is purely physical, including the smell behind the
boy's ears and the shape of his behind. To the young Lucy, the boy is an
object to be tried, tested, and experienced: a novel delicacy. Lucy's narrative
voice reveals that she is detached from the emotional aspects of the kiss.
Instead, she compares the boy's tongue to boiled cow tongue served with
sauce (44). Like all of Lucy's sexual encounters in this book, her sensations
are physical rather than emotional.
In this vein, Hugh can be thought of as Tanner's American counterpart. He is
the brother of Mariah's best friend, while Tanner is the brother of Lucy's best
friend. Different from the rest of the young people at the party, Hugh has
gone outside of his milieu, spending time in Africa and Asia. Many of the
other people at the party have traveled, but they have been more like mere
tourists, failing to leave behind the conveniences of home to immerse
themselves in a new worldview. Lucy feels in a better mood when she is with
Hugh (even Mariah notices it). Yet, Lucy knows the she still is not feeling
love. Again she focuses on the physical. She explains, "If I enjoyed myself
beyond anything I had known so far, it must have been because such a long

time had passed since I had been touched in that way by anyone" (67). That
is, for now it is enough for Lucy to feel good being touched in a sexual way.
She says, "Just thinking about hands and his mouth could make me feel as if
I were made up of an extravagant piece of silk" (71). Lucy makes a point to
demonstrate that Hugh is not the only person who can produce pleasant
sensations for her.
The chapter closes with a characteristic account of Lucy's kind of
relationship. She and Peggy
were so disappointed that we went back to my room and smoked
marijuana and kissed each other until we were exhausted and fell
asleep. Her tongue was narrow and pointed and soft. And that was
how I said goodbye to Hugh, my arms and legs wrapped tightly around
him, my tongue in his mouth, thinking of all the people I had held in
this way. (83)
This merely physical notion of love implies that there is something easily
translatable about the person with whom one is intimate. That is, Lucy
asserts that her friend Peggy can give her the same sensations that Hugh
does. Lucy has set herself on not loving someone uniquely, because that sort
of love would be a significant threat to her personal freedom, bringing the
kind of attachments that she is trying hard to prevent or sever.
By choosing sex instead of love, pleasure instead of intimacy, Lucy not only
demonstrates her independence but also creates a world where men are not
part of the center of her world. Neither Tanner nor Hugh is in Lucy's center.
Unlike Mariah, she does not romanticize men or her relationships with them.
Immediately upon meeting Mariah's best friend Dinah, Lucy suspects that
she is having an affair with Lewis. She says, "A woman like Dinah was not
unfamiliar to me, nor was a man like Lewis. Where I came from it was well
known that some women and all men could not be trusted in certain areas"
(80). Lucy's father is one of these men. He fathered over thirty children but
married only Lucy's mother. This act has placed Lucy's mother at the center
of much controversy in that jealous women have attempted to murder Lucy's
mother. But given her father's experience, Lucy is not surprised when Lewis
unmasks his true nature.
In a cruel exercise of his power, Lewis runs over a young rabbit that might be
the one eating the vegetables in his garden, but it is a rabbit that Mariah and
the children have grown to love. Although the aggressive and wandering
aspects of man's nature are known to Lucy, Mariah remains unaware. Lucy

notes, "Mariah did not know that Lewis was not in love with her anymore. It
was not the sort of thing she could imagine. She could imagine the demise of
the fowl of the air, fish in the sea, mankind itself, but not that the only man
she had ever loved would no longer love her" (81). Mariah can face universal
tragedy, social injustice, and the exploitation of natural resources, yet she is
unwilling to face this calamity within her own life. Mariah's passion for trivial
issues and apathy towards pivotal ones is puzzling to Lucy.
Lucy generalizes from Mariah's situation to point out idiosyncrasies in
American culture. Mariah is upset about the development of the countryside
in which she grew up, but Lucy believes that development is necessary for
local progress and that not everything can be preserved. Lucy's propensity
for lack of ties influences this point of view. But even Mariah's daughter,
Louisa, does not fully understand Mariah's advocacy. Louisa asks, "Well, what
used to be here before this house we are living in was built?" (73). Mariah
does not grasp how her own consumption and participation in her society are
part of the same trend of economic development that she now decries.
"Cold Heart"
Lucy and the family are back in the city apartment. Lucy spends this Sunday
afternoon in the park with Peggy while the family is picking apples. At the
park, Peggy and Lucy look for men with big hands, thinking that large hands
are associated with large penises. After returning from the lake house, Lucy
decides she will not attend nursing school. Before leaving home, Lucy's
mother encouraged her to be a nurse, but now Lucy feels angry that she was
not encouraged to have more responsibility such as by becoming a doctor.
The relationship between Lucy and Peggy is becoming stale. Lucy takes note
of some significant differences between them. For one thing, Lucy loves to
read and go to the museum (Mariah had taken her for the first time earlier in
the year). At the museum, Lucy identified with the yearnings of a French
artist, Paul Gauguin, to leave the familiar and travel the world. As Lucy is
deep in thought, Mariah looks at the expression on Lucy's face and says in
alarm that Lucy is very angry. Lucy responds, "Of course I am. What do you
expect?" (96).
While attending a party with Peggy's friends, Lucy meets Paul, an artist.
Despite Peggy's warning that he is a creep, Lucy wants to sleep with Paul
upon first seeing him. Paul feels the texture of Lucy's hair, and she laughs
flirtingly. Peggy catches her and is enraged. While they are in the bathroom,
Peggy warns Lucy again. Lucy does not want to provoke Peggy, but she

knows their friendship has already changed, and she remains determined to
see Paul. Seeing Paul's hand in the aquarium reminds Lucy of the drowning of
a fisherman back home named Mr. Thomas. In her memory, Lucy is with a
girl named Myrna. Crying hard at the news of his death, Myrna reveals that
Mr. Thomas would meet Myrna regularly, molest her, and give her a shilling
or sixpence in exchange. Instead of feeling sympathy, Lucy is jealous,
wishing such a thing would have happened to her.
Even though they are not getting along, Peggy and Lucy talk about living
together. She notes that Mariah has been more than kind to her, buying her
things and giving her more money than her salary called for. Yet, she decided
long before she met the family that she would live alone at this age. (As a
young girl, Lucy's mother would praise her relative Maude Quick. Lucy
despised everything about her, especially the fact that she was twenty and
lived at home.) Meanwhile, the tension between Mariah and Lewis has
escalated; they argue more frequently, and Lucy perceives that their
separation is imminent.
One night while Lucy is in her room looking at all the photographs she has
taken, she hears a knock on her door from Maude Quick. She gives Lucy a
letter from her mother and informs Lucy that her father died a month ago
from heart failure. Meanspirited Maude is enjoying Lucy's pain. She pours salt
in the wound when she relates how sad Lucy's mother has been when she
never received return letters from Lucy. Mariah is there to support Lucy and
draws her close. Lucy is about to fall apart until Maude says, "You remind me
of Miss Annie, you really remind me of your mother" (123). Hearing that,
Lucy collects herself and shoots back a sharp retort. Whether or not Lucy
actually says the line is not clear, but the statement enables her to stay
composed until Maude leaves.
After Maude leaves, Lucy takes a moment to remember her father. Lucy's
father never knew his mother. At a young age, his mother left him to be
raised by his father. In order to help build the Panama Canal, his father then
left the seven-year-old boy to be raised by his grandmother. Lucy's father
never saw his father or mother again. Yet, he held in a safe the few
possessions that he had kept from his mother. Lucy's father went on to have
many illegitimate children, but her mother was the only one he married.
Now that she has heard the news, Lucy sends all her savings to her mother.
Mariah contributes twice as much. Then Lucy writes her mother a cold letter.
She blames her mother for marrying a man who would leave her in debt
even for his burial. Then she reveals her sexual activity in order to reinforce

her mother's failure at preventing her from being a slut. While talking in the
kitchen, Mariah asks Lucy a critical question: why does Lucy not forgive her
mother for whatever she has done? Now Lucy reveals to someone for the
first time the source of her hatred towards her mother: the birth of her three
brothers and the subsequent emotional and physical neglect by her mother.
Lucy was nine when the first of them was born, and ever since then she has
mourned the death of that special relationship with her mother.
In "Cold Heart," Lucy revisits the feelings of alienation she had developed
upon arrival. Whereas before she was dealing with the dissolution of dreams
and goals, now she has come to accept the notion that she will never be
completely known by another person. After deciding that she will not fulfill
her mother's expectation of becoming a nurse, Lucy says, "As I sat on that
bed, the despair of a Sunday in full bloom, I thought: I am alone in the world,
and I shall always be this way--all alone in the world" (93).
Lucy's relationship with her best friend Peggy is no longer progressing
forward. At one time, Lucy felt that they were relating well, despite their
differences: "The funny thing was that Peggy and I were not alike, either, but
that is just what we liked about each other; what we didn't have in common
were things we approved of anyway" (61). They often would hang out
together, and after seeing Peggy smoke, Lucy too began the habit. Now,
however, Lucy notes that "the small differences between us were beginning
to loom, sometimes becoming the only thing that mattered--like a grain of
sand in the eye" (94). Peggy does not read or go to the museum, cultural
experiences that Lucy has become passionate about.
Partly to subvert her attachment to Peggy, Lucy starts dating Paul, a
struggling artist whom Peggy has expressly forbidden Lucy to see. Again,
Lucy does not become emotionally attached to Paul. Lucy even suggests
without very much disapointment that Paul sees her as an exotic object.
When Lucy considers this situation, she describes plants from her home that
are considered a weed there but exotic in America:
And now here they were, treasured, sitting in a prominent place in a
beautiful room, a special blue light trained on them. And here I was
also, a sort of weed in a way, and across the room Paul's eyes, a
sparkling blue light, were trained on me. (99)
Lucy wants to feel unique even if it means being fetishsized or exploited.
Paul's hands remind Lucy of Mr. Thomas's hands, the hands of an old

fisherman who molested her friend Myrna. When learning of the pattern of
molestation, Lucy is jealous rather than outraged. She wishes such a thing
had happened to her, not because of the money but because it would have
made her special; she would have received special attention. She says, "Why
had such an extraordinary thing happened to her and not to me? Why had
Mr. Thomas chosen Myrna as the girl he would meet in secret and place his
middle finger up inside her and not me?" (105). This reflection shows that
Lucy refuses to conform to normative values about sex, and she apparently
does not mind being exploited by men if she can exploit the situation for
herself in return.
Lucy describes her relationship with Paul in a conversation with Mariah:
"Except for eating, all the time we spent together was devoted to sex. I told
her what everything felt like, how surprised I was to be thrilled by the
violence of it" (113). Here Lucy asserts that she is not violated by its violence
but that she "look[s] forward to it" (113). Again she is making her own moral
and sexual choices on her own terms.
Throughout her stay with the family, Mariah has taken on the role of
nurturing and cultivating Lucy. She is like a "good mother" to Lucy (111).
Mariah often pays Lucy more than the salary agreed upon or buys things for
her when she goes to the store. When Lucy shared a dream she had, Mariah
and Lewis gave her a book on Freudian dreams to show her how to interpret
her dream. Now, as Lucy is angry at her mother's low expectations for her
future, Mariah gives Lucy a copy of Simon de Beauvoir's The Second Sex.
Mariah also takes Lucy to see Paul Gauguin's paintings.
But after feeling indoctrinated into British culture by the British colonial
state, Lucy does not want to feel that she is undergoing more indoctrination
in America. What Mariah sees as innocent attempts to expose Lucy to
modern philosophy and culture, Lucy sees as a suspect encouragement to
take on traditional Western values. Thus, Lucy subverts these attempts. She
never accepts Freud's interpretation of her dream at the end of "Poor Visitor."
As for Gauguin, Mariah perhaps intends Lucy to relate to the exotic subject
matter of some of Gauguin's paintings, but Lucy feels a connection with the
artist instead. She sees his independent streak in herself: "immediately I
identified with the yearnings of this man; I understood finding the place you
are born in an unbearable prison and wanting something completely different
from what you are familiar with" (95). Whether or not this was the way
Mariah wanted her to experience Gauguin, Lucy is determined to find her
own meaning in the cultural artifacts she examines.

After asking repeatedly how Mariah has become as she is, Lucy has come to
accept that she and Mariah will never truly understand one another. Mariah
has asked Lucy why she does not forgive her mother, and in a cathartic
moment Lucy reveals the source of her anger: her mother's low expectations
for her life, now that her mother has sons to nurture. This is when Mariah
gives Lucy a copy of The Second Sex. Lucy stops readingThe Second
Sex after the first sentence, because she perceives that feminist theory
cannot heal the real pain inflicted on Lucy by her mother. Reading such a
book is not the healing method she wants. Lucy says,
Mariah had completely misinterpreted my situation. My life could not
really be explained by this thick book that made my hands hurt as I
tried to open it. My life was at once something more simple and more
complicated than that: for ten of my twenty years, half of my life, I had
been mourning the end of a love affair, perhaps the only true love in
my whole life I would ever know. (132)
The "love affair" is her relationship with her mother. The death of Lucy's
father is now the point at which Lucy must make a decision. As she sees it,
she can reconcile with her mother or permanently sever ties. Reconciliation
and forgiveness would mean that Lucy forfeits her dream of becoming
completely autonomous. The alternative is to turn her back on her own
mother, but the issue is not so simple as that. The decisions she makes are
influenced by considerations for the wellbeing of others and for her own
wellbeing. For Lucy, the consequences of the decision seem greater than the
obligations to family that most people are familiar with. Lucy's mother has
felt like a foreboding, oppressive force even while Lucy has been in America.
Lucy has started to have headaches during which she "would see her
[mother's] face before me, a face that was godlike, for it seems to know its
own forging, to know all the things of which it was made" (94). The influence
of Lucy's mother is deeply entrenched within Lucy's thoughts and her
psyche, so a full reconciliation could overwhelm her.
A full year has passed since Lucy arrived in the United States. She reflects on
the changes that have occurred since then. She sees herself then and now as
two separate people. Before, Lucy was a simple girl who wanted to conform
to convention, become a nurse, and obey her parents and the law. Now, Lucy
is in the process of inventing herself, still becoming aware of who that self is.

Lucy then begins to sort out what she does and does not know about herself
through a series of recollections. During an embarrassing conversation with a
woman who had visited her homeland, Lucy realizes that even though her
family has lived on the small island for generations, she has never really
seen more than a quarter of it. Upon further contemplation, she recognizes
that the only history of the island she knew was that of its colonization by
the British. Lucy contrasts this present awareness of colonization with her
experience as a child. As a young schoolgirl, Lucy disliked the British for
superficial reasons like their looks, clothes, and choice of music. At the time,
she wished to be ruled instead by the French.
At this point, Lucy defines the past as "the person you no longer are, the
situations you are no longer in." She summarizes some of the main changes
that have occurred within the past year. Mariah, once perpetually happy, is
now sad, since Lewis has left her for Dinah, Mariah's best friend. Lucy no
longer lives with the family. She decided to leave after the news of her
father's death. Lucy now has new feelings of guilt, recalling that she actually
wished her father dead. Yet, Lucy's guilt is self-proclaimed, and she feels "like
Lucifer, doomed to build wrong upon wrong."
Lucy notes that she did not regret not opening her mother's letters until after
she had learned of her father's death. With that thought, she sends her
mother a last letter telling them she is moving and provides a fake address.
When Lucy informs Mariah of her decision to move, Mariah feels betrayed,
realizing she is truly alone.
The holidays that year are miserable. Lewis gives Mariah a fur coat that she
hates but pretends to like, and Lucy receives an African necklace from
Mariah. The New Year arrives, and Lucy moves into her new apartment with
her best friend Peggy. The apartment is middle class: it has a kitchen, sitting
room, two bedrooms, and a bath.
It is a Sunday, and Lucy is glad she does not have to go to church. Sitting at
the desk Mariah has given her, Lucy begins to ponder her name: Lucy
Josephine Potter. Josephine comes from her mother's uncle, Mr. Joseph.
Supposedly, he was rich from the money he made from sugar in Cuba. After
his death, however, the family discovered he had lost his fortune and was
living in a tomb. Potter is probably from the English slaveholder who owned
her family. Lucy recalls that as a young child, she called herself by different
names: Emily, Charlotte, and Jane. One day she announced to her mother
that she wanted to change her name to Enid. Lucy's mother became very
enraged. Not until later did Lucy discover that an obeah named Enid was

hired by her father's lover to kill Lucy's mother and her unborn child. Lucy
recalls another time when Lucy's mother was pregnant, malnourished and
cranky, and Lucy asked why she had been given her name. Lucy's mother
responded under her breath that she was named after the devil himself,
Lucifer--a character Lucy had read about in Milton's Paradise Lost.
Later that day, Paul brings flowers as a housewarming gift and takes Peggy
and Lucy out for dinner. That night Paul sleeps over in Lucy's bed.
On Monday, Lucy starts her job for Timothy Simon, a photographer who takes
pictures of still life but really wants to travel the world. Lucy types, answers
the phone, and is allowed to develop film in his darkroom when he is not
using it. Life in the apartment with Peggy becomes mundane as they grow
apart. Lucy feels increasingly alone and isolated. She suspects Paul is
cheating with Peggy, but she does not care.
The book closes as Lucy opens a blank book and writes her name on a page
in blue ink: Lucy Josephine Potter. The sight of her name on the page causes
her to cry she writes: "I wish I could love someone so much I would die from
"Lucy" is an highly reflective chapter as Lucy looks back on her year and tries
to sort out who she has become and who she is becoming. The physical
changes are minor. For example, she now wears her hair closely cut. Yet Lucy
knows that a world of change has occurred within, and she tries to process
these changes consciously.
Through recollections of past events, Lucy articulates the effects of
colonialism on her life. She realizes her ignorance about her homeland when
a white tourist describes to her some places on her small island where she
has never stepped foot. Lucy resentfully describes what factual knowledge
she does have: "I know this: it was discovered by Christopher Columbus in
1493; Columbus never set foot there but only named it in passing, after a
church in Spain" (135). Lucy recalls that even as a young child she resented
the notion of imperialism, even though she has never been formally taught
or made aware of the modern concept. Lucy remembers refusing to sing,
"Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves; Britons never, never shall be
slaves," following her natural, logical observation that she was not British
and that she "not too long ago would have been a slave" (135).

Lucy's departure from Mariah's apartment begins with the death of her
father. She tries to imagine the details of the funeral: the coffin, his clothes.
When Lucy goes to Mariah in order to sort out her mixed emotions, she
arrives at the notion of guilt. Lucy sees that guilt has been a central emotion
in her life, though she has not always understood it:
Guilty! I had always thought that was a judgment passed on you by
others and so it was new to me that it could be a judgment you pass
on yourself. Guilty! But I did not feel like a murderer; I felt like Lucifer
doomed to build wrong upon wrong.
Guilt is not, however, what Lucy feels when she leaves the apartment.
Mariah is angry when Lucy announces her decision. Mariah believes that her
support and nurturing has merited loyalty from Lucy, especially now that
Lewis has left. But Lucy has no sympathy, at least not for Mariah, and she
only wants to say to Mariah, "Your situation is an everyday thing. Men
behave this way all the time" (141). Once again, Lucy wants Mariah to
confront the reality that Lucy and other women from her country have lived
with. The guilt belongs to so many men, not to Mariah or to Lucy.
In this context, some of Lucy's statements involve misandry, perhaps a
cultural misandry that either oppresses men or gives them license to act
immorally: "Everybody knew that men have no morals, that they do not know
how to behave, that they do not know how to treat other people" (142). After
moving into her new apartment with Peggy, Lucy expresses this stereotype
once again, suspecting that Peggy and Paul are having an affair. But Lucy
does not care. She accepts the possibility not only because it is what she
expects, but also because Lucy's primary concerns are not for other people,
but for herself.
Naming is a powerful concept in this book. As a young girl, Lucy inquired into
how she was named. All parts of her name represent important aspects of
her identity. Lucy sees the influence of colonialism in her last name, Potter,
which she infers is derived from an English slaveholder who owned her
relatives prior to their emancipation. A huge part of Lucy's anger is also
related to her name through is her mother's low expectations for Lucy. Her
mother encouraged her three brothers to go to college while only expecting
Lucy to be a nurse. Lucy's middle name, Josephine, indicates this low
expectation, because with this name her mother chose to name her after a
supposedly rich uncle who died broke and lived in a tomb. Lucy's mother
deals another harsh blow to Lucy when she tells her daughter that she is
named after the Devil himself, Lucifer.

The reference to Lucifer in Milton's Paradise Lost is apt. In the epic poem, the
victory of good over evil is clear, but Milton makes Lucifer very sympathetic
for his desire to be free from God's control. Lucy revels in being the anti-hero
like Lucifer, rejecting normative morality and convention. While Milton makes
clear that God's morals are good and therefore have no need of being
challenged, merely human conventions are artifacts of human pride in
setting one's own path. Lucy rejects many sets of cultural norms out of the
pride that so many readers admire in Lucifer, although she cannot replace
those norms with anything but another set of human norms. And it is not
clear that she wants any new set of norms as she forges her new identity.
Lucy articulates her anthem of radical freedom through self-invention:
I understood that I was inventing myself, and that I was doing this
more in the way of a painter than of a scientist. I could not count on
precision or calculation; I could only count on intuition. I did not have
anything exactly in mind, but when the picture was complete I would
know. (134)
Lucy remains stuck in a contradiction, wanting to be free to love with her
whole being, which would mean that she is no longer free. At some point,
radical freedom must resolve itself into real commitments, but Lucy is not
quite ready for this idea. Lucy's false belief that the past is "the person you
no longer are, the situations you are no longer in" (137) provides her with a
great deal of difficulty as she symbolically and literally starts a new page in
her journal. After having rid herself of all attachments, her first desire
expresses her difficulty: "I wish I could love someone so much I would die
from it" (164).