Feminist interpretation of Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy is another work that could be classified under the feminist canon.  The feminist expressions in this five-part novel could be found in the exchanges between the women characters.  The imaginative and detailed inquiry into the relationships between mothers and daughters, rich and poor, and black and white in the book brings forth the author’s thoughts on feminism.  The fact that Lucy is a semi-autobiographical account of Kincaid’s life experiences makes its voice all the more authentic.  The applicability of feminist theories in Rebecca was in the context of the narrator’s relationship with Maxim and his dead Mistress Rebecca.  In Lucy, by contrast, we see Jamaica Kincaid’s exploration of subtleties and intricacies involved in relationships between different female characters in the story.  Feminism is usually explored in the backdrop of the rights and privileges enjoyed by men.  But Lucy explores the experiences of Lucy Josephine Potter (the protagonist in the novel) as an au pair to a rich white family living in New York.  The voice of Lucy Potter resonates with the voice of the author herself, in that the socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds of the author and her heroine are very similar.  In this respect, the novel assumes a historical/colonial backdrop alongside its obvious feminist perspectives.

The fact that Lucy is a Jamaican immigrant of African origin has historical undercurrents with the institution of black slavery in America.  For instance, she compares the small room given to her by her white employers with a box for the shipment of cargo – a phrase that is commonly used during the years of the slave trade.  The idea of cargo-and the strong denial that follows it, “But I was not cargo”–refers to the transport of black slaves to the Americas, connecting the history of black slavery to the lead protagonist’s position of a servant to her white masters, with her little room resembling a prison cell.  Toward the end of the novel, Lucy alludes to this historical metaphor of slavery.  Her white employers Mariah and Lewis, kind though they are, fail to liberate Lucy from her bondage.  If anything, their very kindness is a statement of Lucy’s distance from their personal lives and that she is confined to the rigid system of class hierarchy and racial exploitation.  But, Lucy’s refusal to see herself as a “cargo” toward the end of the novel is suggestive of her feminist consciousness.