Antagonist: An Analysis of Lucy in “The Light We Lost”
The young adult novel, The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo, is one of the few novels of its genre that really puts your thoughts about a protagonist into a new perspective. While I truly enjoyed reading this novel because of the way it was written, I had a hard time not wanting to change the protagonist, Lucy Carter. While most protagonists are seen as the “hero”, “good one”, among other positive attributes, Lucy is not the same case. Her decisions make her more villainous of her own story than she realizes. Lucy is a senior at Columbia University when she meets Gabriel (Gabe) Samson, a young man whom she immediately falls for. Beware: this is not your typical ‘love story’. It brings about the question of whether fate or free will will set the course of your life.
Lucy and Gabriel meet on the tragic day of September 11, 2001 (9/11). As they both see the chaos and despair the day’s events have caused, they kiss, emphasizing their will to live in the here and now. As they get to know each other more, both realize that the 9/11 attack helped motivate them even more to want to change the world for the better. Lucy expresses that she wants to go into advertising, “leaving the world a little bit better than it was when [people] found it” (14). Gabe ends up telling Lucy, “Lucy. Luce. Luz is light in Spanish…thank you for filling a dark day with light” (15). Unfortunately, that same day Gabe ends up receiving a phone call from his ex, Stephanie, who states that she needs him because her brother went missing at World One Trade, causing Gabe to get back together with her. Gabe apologizes to Lucy for doing this, and here, the reader might easily side with Lucy and see Gabe as an antagonist for leaving Lucy that way. However, their story is just getting started.
Lucy does not speak to Gabe during the rest of their last undergraduate year at Columbia University. It is understandable, considering Gabe was back with Stephanie, and even told her that Lucy was just “a girl [he] knows from class.” Gabe’s lack of tact damaged Lucy, as he disregarded her feelings when speaking about her this way. Time passes and as fate would have it, about a year later on Lucy’s birthday, Lucy and Gabe meet once more unexpectedly in a restaurant. Gabe explains that he and Stephanie broke up and that he hates his job. Gabe states, “I think about that [time we met at Columbia], what would have happened if we’d taken it. Two roads diverged” (24). Lucy responds, “the thing about roads, is sometimes you happen upon them again. Sometimes you get another chance to travel down the same path.” They both end up leaving the restaurant and choose to be together. They tell each other that they will never act like their dreams are disposable. Yet, in a way, they both do.
As time passes, Gabe informs Lucy that he realized that if he wants to truly make a difference, like Lucy is trying to do with a show about acceptance, he’s going to have to leave New York. He states, “[His] camera and [him] can do more somewhere else” (44). Lucy, of course, exclaims, “Leave? What about us?” Here is when we start to see the thin line between what fate has in store for one and what one has decided to do. Lucy, said earlier that she would not throw away Gabe’s dreams. But it is now clear she is not as willing to support Gabe’s dreams as she thought she would be, especially if it involves him traveling away without her. Here, Lucy does communicate to Gabe explicitly that she does not want him to live a dream that does not involve her, to which Gabriel responds, “I wasn’t thinking about us…it doesn’t not include you…I want to make everyone here understand that people all over have the same kinds of dreams, that we’re not that different.”
However, instead of elaborating on how they could make their relationship work, Lucy tells the reader that she tried to “turn off that neon sign and ignore what the word leave would do to [her] universe, ignore the questions [Gabe] just left unanswered.” Note how Lucy is more concerned over what Gabe leaving would do to her rather than their relationship as a whole, making her appear egocentric. Also, she does not bother to keep asking questions on the matter. If Lucy had tried to make stronger argument by asking for more answers on how to make their relationship work around this, they would not have had such a tragic ending (SPOILER ALERT! – If you are interested in reading this book on your own to find out more, stop reading this article right now. If not, go ahead and continue reading). When Gabe states that he needs to take the best photography possible before he goes, Lucy tells the reader that there was still time and that he “could love [her] from a distance while [he] was gone, and then come back when [he] finished an assignment”. However, she does not tell this to him explicitly. She just assumes this, and continues on with their relationship. And this is where it all goes down a horrible communicational highway.
Culminating Point in Lucy and Gabriel’s Relationship
Time goes by and Gabe talks to Lucy one night about an offer he has been waiting for as a photographer with the Associated Press. He explains that the company wants him to go to Iraq, and that he already gave in his answer; yes. Lucy, shocked that Gabe would make a decision without talking about it with her first, is in disarray. Lucy argues how he did not consult her and even goes so far as to curse at him. Gabe pleads to her that they are not done talking, but Lucy decides to go to sleep and forget about it. Even though Lucy was angry, she should have finished that conversation with him. Gabe wanted to work it out, but Lucy did not even bother listening to the possible plans Gabe had for them. Gabe attempted to talk to her again in the middle of the night, but Lucy states “let’s talk about it in the morning”. He even offers her to move to Iraq with him, but she tells him, “Your dreams are there, but mine are here” (Santopolo, 74). Gabe tried to make it work, but Lucy was so angry and only thinking about her feelings, that she completely rejected every possibility of their relationship still working. While a long distance relationship might have worked, Lucy was not really willing to give it a true shot. Gabe, having given up, tells her “I think you’ll be better off without me.” Lucy does not argue back that she would be better off with him. Here, Lucy transforms into the antagonist she did not believe she was.
About 6 weeks passed since Gabe left, and Lucy decides to email him after not hearing back from him at all. She states; “I’m getting a share in the Hamptons with Alexis! Totally last-minute, but it should be fun. Just saw Ben Folds play on SummerStage – you’d have loved the show. How’s everything going?” Lucy explains that she wrote everything in false cheer, and this is quite sad to hear. She could have simply told Gabe how frustrated and upset she was that he did not email her as soon as he landed, like he said he would. She could have also asked if he was okay or how he felt being very far away. But she lets her pride get the better of her, and doesn’t. Two months after, he finally replies to her, “Glad you’re doing well! Things here are crazy. Sorry I didn’t write sooner. It was a hard adjustment, but I love the work. The feature’s done and they’re keeping me on here for a while. Hope you’re enjoying New York!” Lucy analyzed every word, asking herself if perhaps Gabe met someone new or if he missed her. Many readers might consider this child’s play, and perhaps it is. Lucy was her own worst enemy by asking herself these questions when she should have just asked Gabe directly (by phone might have been better!) This may cause readers to question why did they not just call each other. But alas, Lucy’s email could have also caused Gabe to feel that Lucy had already forgotten him or did not care for him as she said she did. One cannot blame Gabe for responding to Lucy with the same lack of emotional connection as she did.
More time passes now, and Lucy meets Darren Maxwell. Darren is in many ways the opposite of Gabe. However, they both share one thing in common; they both care for Lucy. Lucy gets to know Darren more as she attempts to forget Gabe. This is a huge mistake, because she enters into a relationship with Darren while still thinking a lot about Gabe, which helps cause the tragic demise of (SPOILER ALERT) Gabriel Samson.
Lucy and Darren eventually decide to take it to the next step; a relationship. Shortly after Valentine’s Day, Lucy receives a surprising phone call from Gabe. Gabe, heavily distraught, informs Lucy that he was in Baghdad and was beat up by some of the country’s heavily armed men because he did not give us his camera. Lucy cannot believe her ears when Gabe explains, “When those guys were on top of me, all I kept thinking was: What if I never hear Lucy’s voice again?…The Associated Press is making me take next week off, and I think I’m going to go see my mom…I miss everyone. I miss you the most” (117) Gabe, of course does not end up visiting Lucy. He later writes to her saying that he visited his mom and would be returning to Baghdad with a more hopeful outlook. While Gabe may have come off as a huge wrench for pulling Lucy into a false sense of hope, Lucy did leave a crucial piece of information from Gabe; she was currently dating Darren. Instead of being reasonable that they would not be able to be anything unless she breaks up with Darren, Lucy tells the reader, “How could [Gabe] have called me like that, brought those feelings back to the surface, if [he wasn’t] planning on following through? It wasn’t fair…so much of what [he’s] done, what [he’s] asked of me.” As much as Lucy may be hurting at the moment, she did refuse to speak with Gabe when Gabe desperately asked her to do so, so there is no way of truly knowing how much Gabe would have asked of Lucy. Would Gabe have asked Lucy to be in a long distance relationship with him for 10 months? 7 years? The reader will never know.
A few months pass since the incident, and Lucy and Gabe finally meet face to face once more. They have a rather formal chat over coffee, and Gabe mentions that he met someone new recently by the name of Raina. He says, “We ended up collaborating on [a] piece” (158). Lucy got the message and, completed devastated, tells him “I’m happy for you, Gabe”. Gabe then tells her, “Thanks. So how’s your boyfriend? Daniel? Derrick?” Lucy informs the reader that it is highly likely Gabe mispronounced Darren’s name on purpose. Here, it is obvious both Lucy and Gabe suffer from seeing each other with someone else. If Lucy had responded by confessing how she truly feels about Gabe seeing someone else, perhaps Gabe would have changed his mind about Raina, and Gabe should have made it clear how upset he was as well. Lucy and Gabe had a chance to talk things over, but they chose to, sadly, ignore the opportunity and continue on with their lives as if all was well.
Lucy and Darren continue with their relationship and eventually decide to marry. As fate would have it for Lucy once more, she is given another shot to think about whether or not she truly wants to continue her relationship with Darren. On her wedding day, she receives a phone call from Gabe. He heart-wrenchingly tells her, “Raina’s not a Pegasus [(someone special)]…She met an aid worker. She liked him better. Said he was more available than I was. Am I unavailable Luce?” (176). Lucy responded “I don’t know. It’s been more than a year since we talked to each other. I don’t know you anymore.” Gabe argues that he is the same person while Lucy makes a fair point stating that if he wants to be in a relationship he has to commit to putting the relationship first, and he did not commit even to her. Then, Lucy lays it out to Gabe that she was getting married and Gabe says “What if…” The reader never finds out what that “What if…” would have been since Lucy responds, “I should probably go.” It is an unfortunate response, because she could have tried asking what that “What if” was, and perhaps Gabe and Lucy would have found a way to make it work. Instead, Lucy does not listen anymore, highly likely scared to fall for another blow. Gabe was at a fault on this as well, seeing how he did say one time he would visit her, and then next thing Lucy knows he is off to his job once more. If they would’ve had a more thorough talk, it could have prevented Gabe’s sad demise. Not surprisingly, Lucy states that she thought about Gabe the rest of the morning.
Afterwards, Lucy and Darren have a daughter named Violet Anne Maxwell. As Lucy gets used to being a mother and loving her life with Darren, she sees an online article where Gabe states that he was lamenting how many of his good friends passed away in a recent attack in Pakistan. Lucy is glad to see Gabe is doing well and does wish for him to be happy. Funnily, it is when she sees that he had broken up with his most current girlfriend, Alina, that she wishes for him to be happy. It is ironic, because when he is with someone else, it seems that she longs for him even more. Lucy even states that she thought about Gabe even more after Violet was born. Lucy may be seen as a selfish person who only thought about herself, instead of truly feeling selfless in wanting happiness for Gabe, even if it meant being with someone else. She only longed to be told by Gabe when he would be back in New York.
Lucy and Gabe’s Crucial Conversation
Eventually, Gabe contacts Lucy again to ask if they could meet for coffee the next day. Darren asks Lucy if she could bring Violet with her, and Lucy could not say no. She states that it would definitely give off the wrong message if she did not bring Violet with her. Once the day arrives, Lucy gets right to it and asks why he was no longer marrying Alina. Gabe states that they both realized their careers were more important than their relationship. This undoubtedly reminds the reader (and Lucy) of how Gabe left for the same reason.
The conversation gets extremely intense and sad for the both of them, as Gabe says, “You’re happy, with Darren, with Violet, you’re happy” (214), to which Lucy replies, “I am”, and confirms to the reader that it was true. Gabe, sadly, declares wistfully, “I’m glad one of us is.” Lucy righteously tells him that it was he who chose to leave, to which he responds, “I know, I’ve been thinking a lot about the choices I made. Why I made them. What life would have been like if I hadn’t.” Lucy asks if he believes he would have been happier if he had stayed, to which Gabe answers “I don’t know. On some days I think I would have been happier if I’d never tried photography at all. I think I was proud of my pursuit, proud of doing something important. But it’s been really hard. It’s taken a lot out of me…I just want so many conflicting things…I miss us, you, what we had. Whenever I’m afraid, I dream about you. Whenever I’m sad, I wish I hadn’t left.” Lucy, heartbroken, tells him not to do that to her and decides to leave. Gabe is quite happy at meeting Violet, but leaves with his head bent so Lucy doesn’t see his tears, and Lucy doesn’t want him to see hers.
Here, a lot of things could have been dealt with if Lucy had stayed longer and told Gabe exactly how she felt about him. It is obvious that she still has feelings for him, and longed to be with him still even if she was happy with Darren. It is that longing for what could have been between them that makes them hurt. However, it is more Lucy’s fault that they did not try to work something out in this moment, because she did not even try to speak out her own conflicted feelings as well.
Lucy and Darren: A Troublesome Time
As their lives continue, Lucy ends up finding out that Darren called her “Paper Doll” because she “ticked every box” (217). She is told that Darren had made a list of what he was looking for in a girlfriend: “Brunette. Ivy League educated. Brooklynite. Between five-two and five-five. Grew up on the East Coast. Good body.” This makes Lucy question whether what Darren felt for her was real, making it “seem less real, more calculated. [She] didn’t like how it made [her] feel, reduced to a series of attributes.” Darren’s response to this was: “The checklist just helped me focus my attention on women who were worth it.” As time goes by, Lucy and Darren have a second child named Liam. This might be one of the most controversial issues to the story, because around the time Liam was conceived, Lucy nervously tells Darren she had forgotten to take her contraceptives. Darren, shockingly replies “That’s good, it’s a good time for a second baby” (222). It can be widely accepted that Darren did not really ask for Lucy’s consent to have another child. However, Lucy does not say anything against it even though she was clearly not ready for another, and does not argue with him.
An Unexpected (Yet Expected) Turn of Events That Mark Them Even More, Forever
As Gabe continues his career as a photographer, Lucy learns that there was another attack in Kabul (near Gabe). She instantly messages Gabe asking if he is okay. Gabe responds, “I’m alive. I’m unharmed. I wasn’t there. But my friends were…I’m not okay.” Lucy does not respond to this because according to her, she did not know how. She could have asked for more details or tried to be there for him. She ends up saying she is sorry she did that, but it is unfortunately too late.
Later on, Gabe informs Lucy that his mother passed away recently and he needed her. Lucy informs Darren that she will be going to see Gabe and help him out, to which Darren replies: “He doesn’t have you” and Lucy says “Of course not.” Lucy never truly made it clear to Darren just how much Gabe meant to her. Lucy and Violet end up visiting Gabe and Violet becomes quite attached to wanting to make Gabe feel better. She tells her father she wants to have Gabe over. Lucy did not object because she felt that her marriage was strong enough to withstand having Gabe in her home. Darren also agreed, and Lucy tells the reader she never asked Darren why he agreed which, again, shows a strong lack of communication from Lucy in her relationships. Lucy, Gabe, and Violet end up spending a day together baking, and by the end Lucy and Gabe end up staying in touch via email.
Lucy and Darren begin to experience a lot of downs, with Lucy stating that Darren kept trying to turn her into the woman he imagined was perfect. Wanting Lucy to spend more time at home than at work was among the things Darren was trying to change about Lucy, even going so far as to try to stop her from going away for a week for work because it meant too much time away from her kids. This all leads to Lucy beginning to suspect one day that Darren is cheating on her with a woman named Linda. However, it turns out he never did, and Lucy never bothered asking him directly what was going on.
A distraught Lucy ends up “liking” a lot of Gabe’s online posts, because she is hurt that Darren was cheating on her (or so she thought he was). Lucy and Gabe meet once more, and Lucy tells him she suspects Darren is cheating on her. Of course, Lucy never told Darren she was going to go out with Gabe. They begin drinking and eating, and Lucy tells the reader that with Gabe she felt safe, hurt that Darren was distant from her, and craved for closeness and comfort. Here, Lucy is only thinking about herself without considering what the consequences would be if she gave false hope to Gabe. They end up doing it. Lucy then declares that she would move to Jerusalem with Gabe if she did not have her kids to worry about. Gabe gives her his new address and tells her, “I never thought I’d have a second chance with you; I’m not going to screw it up. You’re my light. You always have been” (274). It is not Gabe who screws it up at all.
Afterwards, Lucy finds out that Darren never cheated on her. Linda was the name of a realtor who sold him a house where they spent during a summer vacation, and he believed if he bought it then they would be as happy as they were before. Lucy tells the reader that tears pool in her eyes now that she sees Darren still loves her and wants to make things work, and her guilt over what she did wanted to swallow her whole. Lucy sleeps with Darren that same day she recently did it with Gabe. Lucy thinks over how Gabe loves her because of, while Darren loves her in spite of. Yet, she decides to stay with her family because she “would never forgive herself if [she] hurt [her] kids. Even if it meant surrendering that feeling forever” (283). It may be horrible to see Lucy express her feelings this way, because it can make the reader root for Gabe and how she used him in a time when she thought her marriage was over. Now that it is back on, Lucy is no longer willing to give up everything for Gabe.
Gabe ends up calling Lucy a couple of days later and tells her, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m coming home. I’ve never seen anything like this before…I just keep thinking about you…I was wrong when I asked you to come to Jerusalem. I should’ve offered to stay in New York. Is Darren still with that Linda? Have you talked to him about it?” Lucy (horribly) responds, “Gabe, you’re doing good work there. I saw your photograph…you’re showing the world what’s happening. You’re living your dream.” Gabe answers quite tornly, “I thought I’d be able to make a real difference, but…they’re just pictures, Luce. They haven’t changed a thing. The world is still shit. And now…it feels like too much of a sacrifice. I miss you. I think about you all the time” (287). Lucy tells him that she misses him too and painfully tells him that Darren never cheated on her and bought her a house. She also makes it clear to him that she loves him but she cannot break up her family. Gabe states: “I think I have to come for me. I’m going to give my notice [and hopefully be back by the end of the summer]…I won’t expect anything from you. But life is so short, Lucy. I want you to be happy. I want us both to be happy.” Lucy tells him to stay safe until then. She tells the reader that she wanted them both to be happy too but that she didn’t see a way to make it happen. Here, the reader can easily be angered and frustrated with Lucy, because there are so many options she has. The obvious one is to tell Darren how she truly still feels about Gabe. Of course, she never does. Gabe tells her he loves her and Lucy does the same.
As fate would have it again, Lucy becomes pregnant for the third time. This time, it is actually Gabe’s. However, at she first she only guesses it could be his but decides to wait until Gabe is back in New York to deliver the news of him possibly fathering a child. This is arguably the most tragic mistake of all, because Gabe does not make it back to New York. Lucy does not make that phone call that could have changed everything, especially Gabe’s fate. Soon after she finds out she is pregnant, Gabe is tragically hurt in an explosion to which he was too close to. Lucy receives a phone call from the executive editor at The Associated Press, informing her of the news. Lucy flies off to Jerusalem, where Gabe is currently in a coma, and is highly unlikely to ever wake up again. It is one of those moments where the reader may wish to rewrite Lucy’s character and change her decisions. However, it cannot be done. Lucy tells Gabe that it could be his baby, because she believes there is a chance he could hear her. The doctors inform her that she must make the choice of whether or not he will remain alive with the assistance of machines. Before making a choice, Lucy decides to submit to a paternal test to see if her child is Gabe’s baby. It is.
Lucy questions if it was all fate that led their lives that way, or if it was by choice. Based on all the key points that have been named, it was the decisions both Lucy and Gabe made that led them to where they ended up. Lucy was more to blame for this turn of events than Gabe, because of the way she responded to every situation she did not like. She could have chosen to work something out with Gabe from the very beginning, but didn’t. She could have made it clear to Darren that she still had feelings for Gabe but didn’t because she was scared to be left alone again. She could have told Gabe that she was expecting a child that could be his, but decided not to and it could have highly likely made Gabe return to New York much sooner.
Unfortunately, Lucy decides to disconnect Gabe from the machines, because it turns out Gabe had stated in a letter that if something were to happen to him, he did not want to stay connected to machines. The novel finalizes with Lucy writing a letter to Gabe and her son, a letter she debates when she will give it to their child, and explains that she has not told Darren yet that her third child is Gabe’s, not his. Lucy explains to her son that she sees it was her and Gabe’s choice for each other that led to this. Arguably, it was Lucy’s major decisions that caused such a sad ending to their lives together.
It is Lucy’s free will, rather than the course fate had chosen for her, that is more antagonistic to her story. It is clear that fate wanted Lucy and Gabe together, constantly putting them together. While Gabe could have also gone back to the United States sooner to be with Lucy, Lucy chose not to take the risk and work something out with him. Even when Gabe called her on her wedding day, Lucy decided to go forward with the ceremony. This was a strong call from the heavens letting her know that there is a great chance to be had with Gabe, but she neglects it. It can also be argued that she may not have loved Gabe as she believed she did, because her choice to stay with Darren when she realized Darren wasn’t cheating on her. She told Gabe to move on with his career and life, without her. Lucy could have chosen to live her life with Gabe, but she was afraid to take a chance. Lucy’s, arguably, terrible decisions are what made her her very own antagonist in her life.
What do you think? Leave a comment.