It is early March. Mariah is eagerly awaiting springtime and the arrival of daffodils. The mention of daffodils embitters Lucy. She has never seen them, yet as a child at Queen Victoria Girls' School, Lucy was made to memorize a poem about the flower. She remembers having performed the poem well and having received many accolades. At the same time, the young Lucy deeply resented the poem and became determined to erase the poem from memory.
The first day of spring brings a great snow--deeply disappointing Mariah. The snow delays the family's plan to visit their house on the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, Lucy receives several letters from her family and friends. She carries all of them around in her bra. Lucy does not admit to carrying them because she loves them--actually she has quite the opposite feeling about them. Lucy resents these letters, which express or represent her mother's dominating and oppressive presence in her life.
For example, Lucy has written her mother with excitement about her first subway ride. Crushing her enthusiasm and replacing it with fear, Lucy's mother has responded by detailing a horrific murder of a young girl that occurred on that same train. Lucy is terrified and angry that her mother has turned an exciting new experience into an occasion for fear. Lucy resents the fear her mother's correspondence makes her feel.
Lucy begins to compare the fear she feels in this new place to the fear she experienced back home. In Antigua, a young girl is possessed by an evil spirit who beats the young girl continually. The girl eventually has to travel across the sea to escape it. Lucy draws a distinction between the devils you see in America--walking on subways or hiding in alleys--and the ones you cannot see in Antigua. She says, "On the one hand there was a girl being beaten by a man she could not see; on the other there was a girl getting her throat cut by a man she could see. In this great big world, why should my life be reduced to these two possibilities?" (21).
Lucy then remembers her mother's friend Sylvie. Sylvie has a scar on her right cheek from being bitten by another woman. Yet Lucy initially was fascinated by the scar. She describes it as "a half-ripe fruit [that] someone had bitten into" (24) and a "little rosette ... that bound her to something much deeper than its reality" (25). The two women argue over which one of them should live with the man whom they both love. And both women have spent time in jail for public misconduct. Because of this past, tainted especially by incarceration, the friendship of Sylvie and Lucy's mother has not been public.
Lucy contrasts her perception of Sylvie, a woman who lives a "heavy and hard" life, with her perception of Mariah. Standing in the kitchen looking celestial as the sun light falls on her, Mariah seems as if she has never lived a hard life or quarreled over a man.
Soon enough, the cold weather is gone, and Lucy, Mariah, and the four girls make plans to travel to the summerhouse. Lewis stays behind. Before they leave, Mariah takes Lucy to a garden while the girls are in school. For the first time, Lucy sees daffodils. They are beautiful. But Lucy immediately wants to kill them. She later expresses her resentment to Mariah:
I did not know what these flowers were, and so it was a mystery to me why I wanted to kill them. I wished I had an enormous scythe; I would just walk down the path, dragging it alongside me, and I would cut these flowers down where they emerged from the ground. (29)
The day finally arrives when the family goes to the summerhouse. Lucy has never ridden on a train. She observes that all the white people who resemble Mariah's relatives are passengers, while all the people who resemble Lucy's relatives are servers.
Once they arrive at their destination, Gus, a longtime employee of Mariah's family, meets them at the train station to drive them to the summerhouse. The house Mariah grew up in is large and spread out. From Lucy's bedroom she can see the lake. The presence of water comforts Lucy: "I slept peacefully, without any troubling dreams to haunt me; it must have been that knowing there was a body of water outside my window, even though it was not the big blue sea I was used to, brought me some comfort" (35).
Mariah and Gus catch trout one afternoon for dinner. Mariah jokingly makes reference to the Gospel occasion when Jesus fed a crowd of five thousand with four loaves and two fish. Lucy shares with Mariah the first time she heard the story. Instead of being amazed at the story and imagining how grateful the crowd must have been, Lucy inquires whether the fish were boiled or fried. In Lucy's mind, whether someone should feel grateful depends on how the fish are served. At this point, it becomes more clear that Lucy often given a sarcastic, disillusioned twist to many things Mariah is enthusiastic about. Mariah says to Lucy:
I was looking forward to telling you that I have Indian blood, that the reason I'm so good at catching fish and hunting birds and roasting corn and doing all sorts of things is that I have Indian blood.... I shouldn't tell you that. I feel you will take it the wrong way. (40)
Mariah accepts many roles as ways of expressing her identity: mother, nourishing employer, and white woman. All of these roles become integral to Lucy's transformation. In her role as surrogate mother, for instance, Mariah provides a point of comparison for Lucy to examine her relationship with her own mother. There is a contrast here, too; as a white woman, Mariah finds it difficult to face Lucy. The harsh reality of Mariah's place in Lucy's experience becomes a lot for Lucy to bear--one more reason to seek full independence.
Mariah's life seems ideal. She is married to a wealthy lawyer who provides for his family and is a good father. She has four beautiful, blond daughters. She is well educated and makes efforts to expose Lucy to Freudian theory, feminism, and many other ideas. Mariah's untainted idealism is immediately apparent to Lucy. Mariah has been fortunate; she has not encountered the debilitating disappointment that Lucy has experienced when her dreams have gone unfulfilled.
When there is a great snow on the first day of spring, Lucy is perplexed at the severity of Mariah's disappointment. Lucy says, "How do you get to be a person who is made miserable because the weather changed its mind, because the weather doesn't live up to your expectations? How do you get to be that way?" (20).
Even Mariah's memories of her childhood are untainted by disappointment. As an adult, Lucy returns to the home she grows up in, recalling the difficulties and disappointments. In contrast, every summer Mariah, along with her husband and four girls, escapes from the city and travels back in time to a joyous childhood: "[Mariah] wants us to enjoy the house, all its nooks and crannies, all its sweet smells, all its charms, just the way she had done as a child" (37).
Having lived a life absent of severe disappointment, Mariah's outlook also lies in sharp contrast to that of Lucy's mother. Mariah has come to expect the best from life, while Lucy's mother consistently expects the worst and imposes those pessimistic expectations on Lucy. Lucy has quit opening letters from home in order to give herself peace from her mother's haunting voice. Lucy explains her reasoning:
I had come to see her love as a burden...I had come to feel that my mother's love for me was designed solely to make me into an echo of her; and I didn't know why, but I felt that I would rather be dead than become just an echo of someone. (37)
Lucy wishes to detach herself from the burden of her mother's expectations as well. She wishes to be free to form her own identity. Interestingly, Lucy does not reject her mother in favor of Mariah. She says, "The smell of Mariah was pleasant...By then I already knew I wanted to have a powerful odor and would not care if it gave offense" (27). Lucy does not desire an ideal life with no struggle or disappointment. She lives her life with a gravity unknown to Mariah. Postcolonial literary critics trace Lucy's desire to escape her mother's grip, together with Lucy's sense of gravity, to oppressive experiences that resulted from colonialism and decolonization.
Lucy's history persistently pursues her, rearing its head in everyday situations. In a casual conversation with Lucy just before spring arrives, Mariah says,
Have you ever seen daffodils pushing their way up out of the ground? And when they're in bloom and all massed together, a breeze comes along and makes them do a curtsy to the lawn stretching out in front of them. Have you ever seen that? When I see that, I feel so glad to be alive. (17)
Mariah speaks from her cultural milieu; her words are not simply joyous about wonderful experiences but carry the trappings of Romantic poetry. That is, her words go beyond adoration of nature to include personification of inanimate objects and an almost histrionic address to a synthetic audience. Daffodils are euphoric to Mariah. For Lucy, however, they bring back a very specific memory. Lucy remembers having to perform the poem "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud" by William Wordsworth when she was a young girl.
Like most poems, this one asserts a way of seeing the world that is not immediately accessible. In Lucy's experience, the poem did not inspire her to look at nature in a new way, probably because her teachers insisted that she memorize it instead of appreciate its perspective. This forced encounter with an alien culture was generated by the British educational system, which became a form of indoctrination under colonialism that persisted long after the island's legal obligations to the British had ended. For Lucy, the chance to appreciate daffodils has been tainted by the way that she was introduced to them many years ago.
Lucy's own experiences have allowed her to see significance in the many things Mariah takes for granted. Lucy cannot help but "see hundreds of years in every gesture, every spoken word, every face" rather than just taking them as they are (31). Although she does not identify as an African-American herself, Lucy understands the racial climate in America. While dining on a train ride to Mariah's summer house, Lucy observes that "The other people sitting down all looked like Mariah's relatives; the people waiting on them all looked like mine... Mariah did not seem to notice what she had in common with the other diners, or what I had in common with the waiters" (33). In other words, Lucy is immediately aware that the servers and the served are divided along racial lines. She perceives that the history of race in America has resulted in this division. But Mariah, who should know the history of slavery in her own country, does not see this division. She is not perceiving the various people on the train primarily in terms of race. Or, if she does perceive this unpleasant reality, she must be subordinating it to something else, such as memories of an idyllic childhood.
Mariah may be uncomfortable with Lucy's willingness to see reality through the perspective of race, but she offers her own racialized perspective. Mariah wants to tell Lucy that the reason she is good at catching fish, hunting, and roasting corn is because she has Native American ancestry. Her understanding of Native Americans is derived from a romantic notion of "the noble savage," however, rather than the reality of having known and loved a relative of Indian ancestry. Mariah hesitates because she feels that Lucy "will take it the wrong way" (40). As presented, Mariah's assertion seems ridiculous; simply having Indian blood would not be enough for someone to infer that she has inherited culturally learned behaviors such as hunting and fishing. Lucy understands that Mariah is expressing a tension in her racialized comment:
Mariah says, "I have Indian blood in me," and underneath everything I could swear she says it as if she were announcing her possession of a trophy. How do you get to be the sort of victor who can claim to be vanquished also? (41)
Mariah seems to be looking for pardon from Lucy in claiming the status of a victimized minority in America. But Lucy is not willing to accept Mariah's assertion of victimhood, even if she feels an affinity with people who are truly victimized.