LITR 5831 Multicultural Literature

        Art relevant to Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy           

Lucy, pp. 95-6: Going to the museum had become a passion with me. I did not grow up in a place where there was such a thing, but as soon as I discovered it, that was the only place I liked going out to visit. It was Mariah who had taken me there; she had wanted me to see some paintings by a man, a French man, who had gone halfway across the world to live and had painted pictures of the people he found living there. He had been a banker living a comfortable life with his wife and children, but that did not make him happy; eventually he left them and went to the opposite part of the world, where he was happier. I don't know if Mariah meant me to, but immediately I identified with the yearnings of this man; I understood finding the place you are born in an unbearable prison and wanted something completely different from what you are familiar with, knowing it refpresents a haven. I wondered about the details of his despair, for I felt it would comfort me to know. Of course his life could be found in the pages of a book; I had just begun to notice that the lives of men always are. He was shown to be a man rebelling against an established order he had found corrupt; and even though he was doomed to defeat—he died an early death—he had the perfume of the hero about him. I was not a man; I was a young woman from the fringes of the world, and when I left my home I had wrapped around my shoulders the mantle of a servant.

The passage at left from Lucy does not mention Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), but the Plume paperback reproduces Gauguin's Girl with Fan for its cover.

Gauguin 1848-1903, post-Impressionist painter (cf. Van Gogh)

Self-Portrait 1888


Self-Portrait 1888




developed style of primitivism:

  • celebration / romanticization of traditional lifestyles
  • closeness to nature
  • less inhibited sexual expression

As a childl Gauguin lived in Peru, his grandmother's home country

1891--traveled to West Indies, incl. Martinique and Panama Canal construction

Lucy 124-5 father left by his mother; > grandmother

father’s father & Panama Canal


Self-Portrait (1903)

Other fictions developed from life of Gauguin

1942 film based on Somerset Maugham's
The Moon and Sixpence

novel The Way to Paradise (2003) by Mario Vargas Llosa
(b. 1936, Nobel Prize for Literature, 2010)
telling parallel biographical fictions of life of Gauguin and his Peruvian-born grandmother

Gauguin's style: Post-Impressionist

Impressionism (later 1800s)

Edgar Degas, Dancer with Bouquet of Flowers (1878)

Auguste Renoir,Dance at Le Moulin de la Gilette (1876)

Monet, Water-Lilies ()

Monet, Bridge over Pond with Water Lilies (1899)

Gauguin's early paintings in Europe

Winter Landscape 1879

Breton Girls

Gauguin's travels to Tahiti and Marquesas

Tahiti location

location of Marquesas (French Polynesia)


Gauguin's paintings from the Marquesas

Comment on anything (esp. gender as self-other) as we view paintings, but instructor will ask esp. about primitivism.


  • celebration / romanticization of traditional lifestyles
  • closeness to nature
  • less inhibited sexual expression


1. Is Primitivism an imperial or colonial attitude? If so, describe.

Why the modern west's attraction to the primitive? Does it compensate for, or "give the lie to," modern first-world dominance, or is it just more romantic condescension?

2. Do Mariah's attitudes toward Lucy embody primitivist tastes?

3. Does primitivism displace the repressed sexuality of modern civilization on the traditional-society "other?" Does primitivism sexualize the other?

Significance of repression of sexuality in Crusoe? Of its liberation in Lucy?

113 “We have such bad sex”

162 going far away to live in a place of uncommon natural beauty


Example of primitivsm in Picasso (Modernism)

Harlem Renaissance

reconstruction of Gauguin's "House of Pleasure"

Gauguin's paintings from French Polynesia

Tahiti Girls

Two Tahitian Women 1899


Nave Nave Moe (Sacred Spring, Sweet Dreams) 1894


Where do We Come From? What are We? Where are we Going? (1897)

Maternite II (1903)