The driving force of the novel is Lucy’s past. The story begins with Lucy arriving in North America and the reader is unsure why she left her home. Lucy is continuously referring to and hinting at past events. As her character develops, one learns that Lucy’s past experiences are heavily ingrained into her perspective through which the reader hears the story. As such, Lucy’s past is at the root of the recurring themes within the novel.
At several points in the story, Lucy makes observations that may be unobvious to the reader. Lucy seems to see thing coming before they happen. Kincaid does this to give the impression that Lucy is notably intelligent, which turns out to be central to the novel. The author spends a lot of time dwelling on Lucy's ability to understand things, as if to point out she has a superior intellect. Readers discover later that the rift between Lucy and her mother was caused by the mother having lower expectations for Lucy. In this manner, Lucy’s expression of her intelligence is directly linked to her rebellion from her mother, which happened in the past. Past of course effects future, and Lucy's fallout with her mother also resulted in her inability to love. Lucy finally obtains independence and freedom from her mother but she is unable to love because she believes that she will not be able to love anyone like she loved her mother. Due to the fact that Lucy's mother neglected her and pushed her aside after the arrival of her brothers Lucy can no longer give herself completely to anyone for fear that they will just leave her like her mother did.
Another theme that works its way into the novel is the notion of reality. Lucy feels that the people she meets lead fake lives that could be improved if they focus on what matters. She is skeptical of the happiness because of her observations about Lewis and Mariah’s relationship. She is also skeptical because of the negative events that happened back home. She was unhappy enough to leave and it is fundamentally difficult for her to believe everyone is as happy as they seem. This has the effect of making Lucy seem pessimistic. From her perspective, however, she is simply realistic. This viewpoint originates from her past experiences.