We’re busy gearing up for another session of The Artist’s Bookshelf by snooping around the current Walker exhibit Body Politics: Figurative Prints and Drawings from Schiele to de Kooning. In the process of gallery slouching, we are struck by a number of observations, one of the most obvious being the predominance of female subjects as depicted by male artists.
Without digging (just yet) in to the complex socio-historical web of how-and-why, let’s just say that we’ll use it as a convenient springboard into our discussion of Jamaica Kincaid’s enlightening novel Lucy. Here we have the literary equivalent of a figurative portrait. But in this instance we are blessed with a portrait of a woman by a woman, and the wide range of revelations that encompasses.
As one prominent critic put it, “ There are two ways of reading this novel… It can be read, somewhat conventionally, with a focus on Lucy, people, and places. In one sense, the novel is the story of an individual. It is a kind of growing up or coming of age story. It seems very much like just one more American book about a girl who wants to be an American. But the novel can and (I think) must also be read from a cultural and political perspective…”
And this is where the novel dove-tails so nicely with the exhibit. Both offer fascinating works that can be taken on a simple, “ what-you-see-is-what-you-get” level. But above and beyond that, they reveal a whole lot more about the substrata from which they arise.
Please consider the following in preparation for Thursday night’s discussion:
Lucy seems to be deeply conflicted about many of the situations and people she encounters. She even describes herself as “a very angry person.” What causes her to be so angry and thus, divided?
Lucy’s personal relationships (e.g., mother, Mariah, Peggy) seem important both to her and to the events and themes of the novel. What do we come to understand about Lucy through these relationships?
Lucy refers frequently to her sexuality and physicality. Why? What can we gather from this emphasis in the novel?
Lucy also speaks frequently about location, climate, landscape, seasons, sunshine water, and other elements of nature. Why? What is the ultimate effect on the reader?
Lucy’s persona is profoundly influenced by her West Indian, Antiguan, home. She seems caught in limbo between that cultural milieu and the USA. How does she respond? How does she resolve the conflict?
Lucy seems to be initially dislocated (both personally and culturally) and searches for something that will anchor her in this sea of dislocation. What are the results of this quixotic journey of self-discovery?
And, finally, one last tidbit of food-for-thought, our favorite quote from the novel, which once again could apply to the exhibit as well,
“How do you get to be the sort of victor who can claim to be the vanquished also?”
If only we knew…
For interesting interviews with Jamaica Kincaid, check out: