Melissa Harris Perry and others have been deconstructing just how disturbing the movie, The Help, really is. I haven’t seen it, nor have I read the book, but I recently picked up another book at my mom’s recommendation that deals with some of the same themes in a way that was powerful, complex, and surprising in so many profound ways. Published in 1990, it’s called Lucy and it’s written by the incredible novelist, Jamaica Kincaid.
Lucy, believed to be strongly autobiographical, focuses on the experiences of Caribbean immigrant au pair, Lucy Josephine Potter. We see American culture–family, gender, class–all through Lucy’s eyes. She is a fearless witness, a truth teller, and a woman changed by her observations. Much of the novel is focused on her deconstructing the emotional life of the family she works for, as well as missing and avoiding her own mother back home. It’s a gripping take on the classic bildungsroman form, where a young protagonist makes the transition to adulthood. The writing is so compelling, so beautiful. You won’t be sorry that you read the words of such an audacious, important writer. Here’s Kincaid in her own words:
The thing that I am branded with and the thing that I am denounced for, I now claim as my own. I am illegitimate, I am ambiguous. In some way I actually claim the right to ambiguity, and the right to clarity. It does me no good to say, “Well, I reject this and I reject that.” I feel free to use everything, or not, as I choose. I was forced to memorize John Milton and that was a very painful thing. But I’m not going to make myself forget John Milton because it involves a painful thing. I find John Milton very beautiful, and I’m glad that I know it. I’m sorry that the circumstances of how I got to know it were so horrid, but, since I know it, I know it and I claim every right to use it.