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Lucy feels burdened by her past. Lucy's mother is a foreboding presence who never physically appears in America but who still influences Lucy thoughts and actions. Lucy's relationship with her mother has multiple resonances. On one level, the author uses it to explore the complex tension between mothers and daughters more generally. On another level, it represents the often strained relationship between imperial nations and their colonies.
Kincaid further complicates this theme through the character of Mariah. Mariah serves as a maternal figure for Lucy while Lucy is in America. The novel establishes a clear dichotomy between Lucy's mother and Mariah. Whereas Lucy's mother is oppressively dependent and painfully neglectful of Lucy's needs, Mariah treats Lucy like one of her own. Mariah exposes Lucy to museums, gives her gifts, and looks out for her general well-being as she adjusts to her new environment. Even so, this surrogate relationship is not without complications; the unequal power dynamics between employer and employee always loom beneath the surface.