The Double Lives of Servants: A Comparison and Contrast Between the Representation of Servants in Virginia Woolf's "Between the Acts" and Jamaica Kincaid's "Lucy"

Essay by redguardA+, February 2005

download word file, 11 pages 5.0

Downloaded 32 times

In her novel Between the Acts, Virginia Wolf explores the dichotomy that arises when two entirely separate social classes live under one roof together. Likewise, Jamaica Kincaid gives an intimate portrayal of a young au pair working in a wealthy, white household. Though the two authors differ greatly in the use of servants in their novels, many of their ideas about servants' roles in society are similar. Even though the servants in Woolf's novel are, for the most part, secondary characters, Woolf hints at their importance by using words and phrases suggestive of the servants equality, perhaps even superiority, over the main characters. Kincaid does not bother with subtlety in showing how her servant character Lucy is vastly superior to the people for whom she works. In both books, the authors use careful diction, imagery and symbolism to portray their ideas about servants. For purposes of clarity and length this essay will solely focus on comparing and contrasting the following passages: Pages 31-34 in Between the Acts and pages 32-33 and 58 in Lucy .

In the passage from Between the Acts, Woolf's diction gives the reader information on the position of servants in the household. Firstly, Woolf declines to give the reader the real name of "Mitchell's boy", indicating that his fleeting existence in and out of the household (as well as in and out of the novel), is not important, even though his real name was written in the "Doomsday Book" (31), a book of antiquity that listed family names. Woolf's omission of Mitchell's boy's name is contrasted by the list that follows of three family names "Waythorn, Roddam, and Pyeminster", all of which are also in the Doomsday book. The implication of listing these names while leaving out the real name of Mitchell's boy...