Academic journal article MELUS

"Poor Visitor": Mobility As/of Voice in Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy

Academic journal article MELUS

"Poor Visitor": Mobility As/of Voice in Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy

Article excerpt

Jamaica Kincaid crosses disciplinary borders by writing fiction that is simultaneously diasporic and national, but only half of this equation has received serious inquiry. Since its publication, myriad critical essays have appeared about Kincaid's Lucy: A Novel (1990), a fictionalized autobiographical account of the Antiguan author's migration to New York in the late 1960s to work as an au pair for a wealthy white family; most essays focus on the character interactions in the novel that metaphorically explore the relationship of Antigua to its British colonial past and to the contemporary imperialism and forced diaspora of global capital. For example, Jana Evans Braziel explores Kincaid's use of daffodils in Lucy as a metaphor for diaspora and a way to "reverse colonial 'order' and denaturalize the 'natural'" (113-14). Gary E. Holcomb reads the novel through the lens of black transnationalism, characterizing Lucy as a "sexual migrant" whose travel and sexual liberation work together to resist the "dominant notions of national identity [that] endeavor to enforce homogeneity" through "colonial, racist, and nationalist values" (296). Rosanne Kanhai stresses the important role novels such as Lucy can play in the undergraduate classroom as global feminist interrogations of (white) US feminism's limited focus on the race-class-gender trifecta of identity categories, and Kristen Mahlis analyzes Lucy as a model of the "paradoxical space of female exile" (182) through an analysis of the body in exile, drawing particularly on Kincaid's metaphorical use of "the tongue."

While these articles contain excellent scholarship, they represent the tendency to overlook Lucy as a work of American feminist fiction, one that resounds with commentary on US domestic politics and culture, even, or perhaps especially, as it considers these phenomena in a transnational context. Braziel, for instance, notes the femininity implicit in Kincaid's description of daffodils and Lucy's scornful rejection of it, but focuses her analysis on issues of colonial displacement instead of on the feminist politics that pervade the text. Similarly, Kanhai's essay generalizes its critique of US feminism without a close analysis of Kincaid's writing. I contend that Lucy's position outside of the US literary canon is a notable oversight in American letters, both because Kincaid is a US immigrant and because the story line openly critiques the cosmopolitan American Left of the 1960s, the setting for the book. One exception to this oversight is David Cowart's chapter on Lucy in Trailing Clouds: Immigrant Fiction in Contemporary America (2006), but even this analysis, which emphasizes questions of assimilation in US immigrant narratives, overlooks the novel's strident commentary on particularly American political movements. Lucy's general critical placement outside the purview of American literary studies upholds the novel's own argument about the limited potential for radical change in US culture.

In Lucy, Kincaid uses mobility as a literary trope to examine the assimilative impulses that pervade US feminist agendas; by dismantling the mythologies that surround concepts such as family, sisterhood, conservation, and avant-gardism, she argues that the "purity" such terms metaphorically imply always contains vestiges of imperialism and racism. In Modest_Witness (1997), Donna J. Haraway argues that the American Left's opposition to genetic modification and other forms of biotechnology needs to be considered in the context of the "Western theme of purity of type," in which can be heard "the unintended tones of fear of the alien and suspicion of the mixed" (61). "Like it or not," Haraway writes, "I was born kin to ... transgenic, transspecific, and transported creatures of all kinds; that is the family ... to whom [we] are accountable. It will not help ... to appeal to the natural and the pure" (62). Haraway's critique of leftist politics in the realm of biotechnology aids my reading of Lucy as a systematic deconstruction of the "appeal to the natural and the pure" with which other leftist platforms--feminism, environmentalism, and the bohemian counterculture--are infused. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.