theory perspective, one finds that the discourses of power are to be found in almost every facet of human existence. Even the most mundane episode can be a window to the deepest recesses of the struggles within and without to dominate and control. While the scholar and the intellectual may be best able to classify and analyze such discourses in detail, it is often through the artistic expression that we find some of the best insights into who we are, where we have been, and what we have fought against. A great example of this can be found in Jamaica Kincaid’s “Lucy,” where the titular character goes from her native and familiar Antigua to the brave new reality of the United States. Throughout the book, Kincaid presents us with an indirect yet remarkably powerful look at how colonial oppression has shaped the lives of people all over the world. She does this through the experiences of Lucy as she reflects on the culture she was born into, and the culture she has chosen to become a part of. Looking at both her life back in Antigua, and her life in America, we see that the specter of colonial oppression continues to heavily shape identity and culture.
From the very first pages of the book, we get a glimpse into what Lois Tyson has described as the loss of “pre-colonial” culture (Tyson, 423). This is evident when Lucy mentions how she was forced to recite an old English poem while at school in Antigua. The poem is apparently alien to her and her experiences on the Island, as evidenced by how it made her feel (Kincaid, 18). Even though the poem likely comes from an entirely different cultural perspective, she is taught it as if it were crucial to a proper education. A more overt example of this is how she was forced to recite “Rule, Britania!” even though she had no real experience with England (135). This is very much in line with the legacy of colonial oppression in many areas of the world. In this case, the English imposed their own cultural heritage on a people that likely had their own ways of contextualizing and bringing meaning to existence. This robs the original people of whatever insights their ancestors might have come up with, and marginalizes non-European experiences as less of a contribution to the common understanding of humanity. While one can certainly empathize with great poems, and other works of art, no matter their cultural origin, the issue which seems to be brought up in the text, is that of loosing ones ancestral perspective due to colonial oppression. This is even more tragic when we consider the fact that even when the historical victims of colonial oppression seek to rediscover their roots, they find that the task is very difficult, if not impossible, given the deep changes that have already occurred (Tyson, 419). Thus even the process of reclaiming ones identity is subject to the conditions imposed by colonial oppression.
While the book certainly touches upon some of the lingering and seemingly intractable problems associated with colonial oppression, there is also glimpses into how human beings are able to transcend these problems and carve out their own identity; even without an adequate understanding of their roots. We see for example, how Lucy misses her life in Antigua, even though it represents and existence that was constantly stifling her and preventing her from reaching her true potential as a woman. As she implies, this is because while Antigua represents a more restrictive existence compared to her experiences in America, the bonds of family which were forged on the island, are not easily broken (Kincaid, 6). Her experiences in the United States, while liberating and interesting, fail to elicit the same deep emotional connections she had experienced back home (132). So even though Antigua was plagued by both a past colonial oppression, and a modern lack of development and progress, the development of a unique culture within that context became valuable in its own right. Considering that, it would seem that the book presents us with a kind of “reverse colonialism,” where Lucy is being bombarded by a new culture and being forced to adapt to it. While she may be content for a while, the book hints at the possibility that there will always be a part of her that is never whole while living in the free but atomized and lonely reality of the United States. This shows us how uprooting someone can have devastating effects on their psyche. If Lucy feels this sort of angst after making a voluntary decision to move to America, one can only imagine at the sort of cognitive destruction that would hit someone being forcibly relocated to a foreign land and being forced to toil as a slave until death.
In the end then, the story of Lucy is analogous to the story of all those touched by colonial oppression, especially her ancestors who were likely not only physically removed from their land, but mentally removed from their historical cultural experiences. As Lucy’s own experience shows, one can not sever ties which have grown organically over lifetimes, and replace them with new ones, at least not without profound consequences that can potentially last generations.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Lucy. Macmillan, 2002. Print.
Tyson, Lois. Critical theory today. CRC Press, 2006. Print.
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