Lucy Summary and Analysis of "Cold Heart"

Lucy and the family are back in the city apartment. Lucy spends this Sunday afternoon in the park with Peggy while the family is picking apples. At the park, Peggy and Lucy look for men with big hands, thinking that large hands are associated with large penises. After returning from the lake house, Lucy decides she will not attend nursing school. Before leaving home, Lucy's mother encouraged her to be a nurse, but now Lucy feels angry that she was not encouraged to have more responsibility such as by becoming a doctor.

The relationship between Lucy and Peggy is becoming stale. Lucy takes note of some significant differences between them. For one thing, Lucy loves to read and go to the museum (Mariah had taken her for the first time earlier in the year). At the museum, Lucy identified with the yearnings of a French artist, Paul Gauguin, to leave the familiar and travel the world. As Lucy is deep in thought, Mariah looks at the expression on Lucy's face and says in alarm that Lucy is very angry. Lucy responds, "Of course I am. What do you expect?" (96).

While attending a party with Peggy's friends, Lucy meets Paul, an artist. Despite Peggy's warning that he is a creep, Lucy wants to sleep with Paul upon first seeing him. Paul feels the texture of Lucy's hair, and she laughs flirtingly. Peggy catches her and is enraged. While they are in the bathroom, Peggy warns Lucy again. Lucy does not want to provoke Peggy, but she knows their friendship has already changed, and she remains determined to see Paul. Seeing Paul's hand in the aquarium reminds Lucy of the drowning of a fisherman back home named Mr. Thomas. In her memory, Lucy is with a girl named Myrna. Crying hard at the news of his death, Myrna reveals that Mr. Thomas would meet Myrna regularly, molest her, and give her a shilling or sixpence in exchange. Instead of feeling sympathy, Lucy is jealous, wishing such a thing would have happened to her.

Even though they are not getting along, Peggy and Lucy talk about living together. She notes that Mariah has been more than kind to her, buying her things and giving her more money than her salary called for. Yet, she decided long before she met the family that she would live alone at this age. (As a young girl, Lucy's mother would praise her relative Maude Quick. Lucy despised everything about her, especially the fact that she was twenty and lived at home.) Meanwhile, the tension between Mariah and Lewis has escalated; they argue more frequently, and Lucy perceives that their separation is imminent.

One night while Lucy is in her room looking at all the photographs she has taken, she hears a knock on her door from Maude Quick. She gives Lucy a letter from her mother and informs Lucy that her father died a month ago from heart failure. Meanspirited Maude is enjoying Lucy's pain. She pours salt in the wound when she relates how sad Lucy's mother has been when she never received return letters from Lucy. Mariah is there to support Lucy and draws her close. Lucy is about to fall apart until Maude says, "You remind me of Miss Annie, you really remind me of your mother" (123). Hearing that, Lucy collects herself and shoots back a sharp retort. Whether or not Lucy actually says the line is not clear, but the statement enables her to stay composed until Maude leaves.

After Maude leaves, Lucy takes a moment to remember her father. Lucy's father never knew his mother. At a young age, his mother left him to be raised by his father. In order to help build the Panama Canal, his father then left the seven-year-old boy to be raised by his grandmother. Lucy's father never saw his father or mother again. Yet, he held in a safe the few possessions that he had kept from his mother. Lucy's father went on to have many illegitimate children, but her mother was the only one he married.

Now that she has heard the news, Lucy sends all her savings to her mother. Mariah contributes twice as much. Then Lucy writes her mother a cold letter. She blames her mother for marrying a man who would leave her in debt even for his burial. Then she reveals her sexual activity in order to reinforce her mother's failure at preventing her from being a slut. While talking in the kitchen, Mariah asks Lucy a critical question: why does Lucy not forgive her mother for whatever she has done? Now Lucy reveals to someone for the first time the source of her hatred towards her mother: the birth of her three brothers and the subsequent emotional and physical neglect by her mother. Lucy was nine when the first of them was born, and ever since then she has mourned the death of that special relationship with her mother.


In "Cold Heart," Lucy revisits the feelings of alienation she had developed upon arrival. Whereas before she was dealing with the dissolution of dreams and goals, now she has come to accept the notion that she will never be completely known by another person. After deciding that she will not fulfill her mother's expectation of becoming a nurse, Lucy says, "As I sat on that bed, the despair of a Sunday in full bloom, I thought: I am alone in the world, and I shall always be this way--all alone in the world" (93).

Lucy's relationship with her best friend Peggy is no longer progressing forward. At one time, Lucy felt that they were relating well, despite their differences: "The funny thing was that Peggy and I were not alike, either, but that is just what we liked about each other; what we didn't have in common were things we approved of anyway" (61). They often would hang out together, and after seeing Peggy smoke, Lucy too began the habit. Now, however, Lucy notes that "the small differences between us were beginning to loom, sometimes becoming the only thing that mattered--like a grain of sand in the eye" (94). Peggy does not read or go to the museum, cultural experiences that Lucy has become passionate about.

Partly to subvert her attachment to Peggy, Lucy starts dating Paul, a struggling artist whom Peggy has expressly forbidden Lucy to see. Again, Lucy does not become emotionally attached to Paul. Lucy even suggests without very much disapointment that Paul sees her as an exotic object. When Lucy considers this situation, she describes plants from her home that are considered a weed there but exotic in America:

And now here they were, treasured, sitting in a prominent place in a beautiful room, a special blue light trained on them. And here I was also, a sort of weed in a way, and across the room Paul's eyes, a sparkling blue light, were trained on me. (99)

Lucy wants to feel unique even if it means being fetishsized or exploited. Paul's hands remind Lucy of Mr. Thomas's hands, the hands of an old fisherman who molested her friend Myrna. When learning of the pattern of molestation, Lucy is jealous rather than outraged. She wishes such a thing had happened to her, not because of the money but because it would have made her special; she would have received special attention. She says, "Why had such an extraordinary thing happened to her and not to me? Why had Mr. Thomas chosen Myrna as the girl he would meet in secret and place his middle finger up inside her and not me?" (105). This reflection shows that Lucy refuses to conform to normative values about sex, and she apparently does not mind being exploited by men if she can exploit the situation for herself in return.

Lucy describes her relationship with Paul in a conversation with Mariah: "Except for eating, all the time we spent together was devoted to sex. I told her what everything felt like, how surprised I was to be thrilled by the violence of it" (113). Here Lucy asserts that she is not violated by its violence but that she "look[s] forward to it" (113). Again she is making her own moral and sexual choices on her own terms.

Throughout her stay with the family, Mariah has taken on the role of nurturing and cultivating Lucy. She is like a "good mother" to Lucy (111). Mariah often pays Lucy more than the salary agreed upon or buys things for her when she goes to the store. When Lucy shared a dream she had, Mariah and Lewis gave her a book on Freudian dreams to show her how to interpret her dream. Now, as Lucy is angry at her mother's low expectations for her future, Mariah gives Lucy a copy of Simon de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. Mariah also takes Lucy to see Paul Gauguin's paintings.

But after feeling indoctrinated into British culture by the British colonial state, Lucy does not want to feel that she is undergoing more indoctrination in America. What Mariah sees as innocent attempts to expose Lucy to modern philosophy and culture, Lucy sees as a suspect encouragement to take on traditional Western values. Thus, Lucy subverts these attempts. She never accepts Freud's interpretation of her dream at the end of "Poor Visitor." As for Gauguin, Mariah perhaps intends Lucy to relate to the exotic subject matter of some of Gauguin's paintings, but Lucy feels a connection with the artist instead. She sees his independent streak in herself: "immediately I identified with the yearnings of this man; I understood finding the place you are born in an unbearable prison and wanting something completely different from what you are familiar with" (95). Whether or not this was the way Mariah wanted her to experience Gauguin, Lucy is determined to find her own meaning in the cultural artifacts she examines.

After asking repeatedly how Mariah has become as she is, Lucy has come to accept that she and Mariah will never truly understand one another. Mariah has asked Lucy why she does not forgive her mother, and in a cathartic moment Lucy reveals the source of her anger: her mother's low expectations for her life, now that her mother has sons to nurture. This is when Mariah gives Lucy a copy of The Second Sex. Lucy stops reading The Second Sex after the first sentence, because she perceives that feminist theory cannot heal the real pain inflicted on Lucy by her mother. Reading such a book is not the healing method she wants. Lucy says,

Mariah had completely misinterpreted my situation. My life could not really be explained by this thick book that made my hands hurt as I tried to open it. My life was at once something more simple and more complicated than that: for ten of my twenty years, half of my life, I had been mourning the end of a love affair, perhaps the only true love in my whole life I would ever know. (132)

The "love affair" is her relationship with her mother. The death of Lucy's father is now the point at which Lucy must make a decision. As she sees it, she can reconcile with her mother or permanently sever ties. Reconciliation and forgiveness would mean that Lucy forfeits her dream of becoming completely autonomous. The alternative is to turn her back on her own mother, but the issue is not so simple as that. The decisions she makes are influenced by considerations for the wellbeing of others and for her own wellbeing. For Lucy, the consequences of the decision seem greater than the obligations to family that most people are familiar with. Lucy's mother has felt like a foreboding, oppressive force even while Lucy has been in America. Lucy has started to have headaches during which she "would see her [mother's] face before me, a face that was godlike, for it seems to know its own forging, to know all the things of which it was made" (94). The influence of Lucy's mother is deeply entrenched within Lucy's thoughts and her psyche, so a full reconciliation could overwhelm her.