Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid, 1985, Penguin Books Type of work · Novel Genre · bildungsroman, Caribbean novel Language · English Time and place written · New York City, 1982–1983 Narrator · Annie John Point of View · First person Tone · It varies according to the age of Annie John. As a child, the language and imagery is very rich. As she ages, the tone grows more serious while also having more comic touches. Tense · Past tense Setting (time) · Sometime in the 1950s Setting (place) · A city on Antigua Protagonist · Annie John Major conflict · Separation from mother and definition of self
Rising action · Annie’s fear of separation from her family Annie’s viewing of her parents as a sexual unit Annie’s rebelliousness and insolence against her mother Annie’s friendship with Gwen and the Red Girl. Climax · Annie John has a breakdown as a result of the confrontation with her mother and her need to finally become a separate self. Falling Action · Annie recovers and recognizes herself as a separate person. She leaves Antigua to study in England. Themes · Mother-daughter relationship, Colonizer and colonial education, Gender Relations Context
Jamaica Kincaid was born was born on May 25, 1949 at Holberton Hospital in St. John, Antigua. She was originally named Elaine Potter Richardson. Richardson was her mother’s surname. Her parents were not married and her biological father never played a role in her life. Her mother, Annie, married her stepfather, David Drew, soon after Kincaid’s birth. Kincaid considers Drew her father and he serves as the model for the fathers in each of her novels. Annie and David Drew had three subsequent children, all boys. Jamaica Kincaid’s mother taught her to read at the age of three.
Kincaid won a scholarship to the Princess Margaret School and excelled as a student, despite her occasionally mischievous attitude. She left Antigua at age seventeen and moved to Scarsdale, New York to work as an au pair. She stayed in Scarsdale for a few months, before moving to Manhattan to be an au pair for the family of Michael Arlen, a New Yorker writer. She remained with the Arlen family for four years. As she worked, Kincaid acquired her general equivalency diploma and started taking photography classes at the New School for Social Research.
Eventually, she won a scholarship to Franconia College in New Hampshire, but dropped out after two years. After returning to New York in 1973, she changed her named to Jamaica Kincaid to be anonymous as she tried her hand at writing. Ingenue published her first article, “When I was Seventeen,” in the same year. She soon became friends with Scott Trow, who wrote the “Talk of the Town” column in the New Yorker. Trow eventually introduced her to William Shawn, the magazine’s editor. In 1976, Kincaid became a New Yorker staff writer herself.
In 1979, she married William Shawn’s son, the composer Allen Shawn. They had two children, Annie and Harold, in 1985 and 1988. They currently live in Bennington, Vermont where Shawn is a professor at Bennington College. Kincaid’s first book, At the Bottom of the River, is a collection of short stories that received the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award soon after its publication in 1983. Annie John was published two years later in 1985. The publication of Annie John was unique in that the New Yorker published each of the novel’s chapters separately before they were compiled and published as the novel.
For this reason, reviewers initially wondered if they should categorize the book as a novel or a collection of short stories. The independent nature of the chapters makes their compilation somewhat episodic, which is to say that each chapter involves a series of episodes about a certain time in a young girl’s life. The strong voice of the narrator links the different segments together, but the book still differs from a tightly constructed novel in which every episode interlaces to form a close knit whole.
Annie John represents a classic bildungsroman or growing up novel, which chronicles the moral, psychological, and intellectual development of a character. More specifically, Annie John can also be recognized as a Caribbean bildungsroman. Many Caribbean bildungsromans not only focus on the central character’s growth, but they also parallel their experiences with those of the West Indian colonies where they live. In Caribbean bildungsromans include Merle Hodge’s Crick Crack, Monkey (1970), as in Annie John, the protagonist’s growth toward maturity parallels her society’s progress from colonialism to independence.
In Annie John, the protagonist’s conflict with the dominant mores of society can best be seen through her problematic relationship with her mother. The complexity of the narrator’s emotions towards her mother demonstrates the often-difficult relationship between Antigua and its British protectorate. About Annie John Annie John chronicles the life of the main character, Annie John, from the age of ten until the age of seventeen. Annie John lives with her mother and father in a city on the island of Antigua. summary of Ch. 2
Through the description of the daily routine of their family from Annie John’s point of view to show the family relationship, especially the intimacy between Annie John and her mother. By sharing the trunk with her mother, it symbolizes the mother-daughter’ heritage, and the trunk also brings out the story of her mother. Compared to the intimacy Annie John owns, she pities for her father’s abandoned by his parents. The turning point of the chapter is when Annie John turns twelve, her body grows big that she faces the first separation and rejection from her mother. This feeling of being rejected makes her becomes bitter.
And one day she sees the parents making love by accident that makes her feels betrayed and starts to show rebellious acts to her mother. Her disappointment with her mother leads her to turn to expect to go to school and be close to other girlfriend. The initial portions of this chapter describe Annie’s early childhood with her mother. Annie views that early world as a paradise in which her mother and she were completely united. The ritualized baths ( her mother adds herbs and spices that the obeah woman, a local healer, recommends, because Annie’s father had children by other women too, and sometimes these women curse Mrs.
John on the street ) were particularly intimate scenes during which the mother and daughter almost joined their bodies back together, as they had been before Annie’s birth. Since Annie desires to stay permanently united with her mother, these moments of bathing represent some of her happier times with her mother. (“My mother and I often took a bath together. Sometimes it was just a plain bath, which did not take very long. Other times it was a special bath in which the barks and flowers of many different trees, together with all sorts of oils, were boiled in the same large cauldron. “)
After the bath, they usually go to town where her mother teaches Annie how to shop and get the best products for the best prices. Annie thinks that her mother is very beautiful and very wise. Earlier in the day, Annie had rushed home from Sunday School excited to tell her mother about a prize that she had won. Instead, she had found her parents making love. In particular, she had seen her mother’s hand tracing a circle around her father’s back, a motion that provides the title to the chapter “A Circling Hand. ” Because her mother’s hand was involved in a sexual act, Annie now wants to fully reject it.
Annie sees her parents’ sexuality as a means by which they exclude her. In particular, she feels that her mother has completely betrayed her by forming a union with her father. For Annie, her mother has fully neglected and betrayed her through her sexuality and therefore their mother-daughter relationship was permanently changed. Annie’s anger at the existence of her parents’ sexuality will continue throughout the novel. (“I was sure I could never let those hands touch me again; I was sure I could never let her kiss me again. All that was finished. “)
Annie’s troubles with her mother originate with unwillingness to find her own identity that is separate from that of her parents. Annie’s relationship with her mother begins to fall apart when Annie realizes that her mother and she are separate people who will not always be completely united. The awareness of separateness begins early, such as when Mrs. John suggests that Annie may one day have her own home, or when she wants Annie to stop looking like a “little her. ” When Annie discovers that her parents are a sexual unit, she feels particularly exiled and angered.
Annie sees her mother’s sexuality with her father as an act of betrayal against her. Annie’s mother’s trunk (way of remembering ) Annie’s mother trunk and the other trunks in the story symbolize the self. When Annie is a young girl, her favorite pastime involves looking through her mother’s trunk. Annie uses the stories about the objects in the trunk to define who she is. At that young age, Annie shares her mother’s trunk because she has no separate self of her own. Annie’s mother trunk came all the way with her from Dominica and therefore seems to be the object that ontains all the family history. Eventually when Annie decides that she has a separate self, she wants her own trunk. It, in turn, will become her history and a representation of her self, as her mother’s was for her. When Annie leaves Antigua for England, she brings her trunk with her. Her trunk bears a label that reads, “My name is Annie John,” a strong affirmation of Annie’s new sense of self. Mirror the body Young lady business Gender Relations Although Annie’s father appears a gentle and reticent man, he serves as a testament to the unequal gender relations in Antigua.
Annie’s father is about thirty years older than his wife. He had numerous sexual affairs before marrying Annie’s mother and the women with whom he slept frequently harass Annie’s mother on the street. Now that he has his married life secured, he provides for the family while his wife takes care of his domestic and sexual needs. While as a man Annie’s father could philander, Annie’s mother interprets Annie’s mere discussion with a group of boys as inappropriate sexual misconduct and calls her a “slut. With these two standards, it becomes clear that the behavior expected of men and women in Antigua are quite different. Although the women who curse at Annie’s mother appear unfriendly, even Kincaid’s depiction of them is sympathetic. They, after all, committed the same sexual act as Annie’s father, but have been left in the difficult economic position of raising their children without a husband. Obeah Obeah is the local spiritual system that relies upon the use of herbs as well as sorcery and spells. Obeah reappears many times in the novel from the way that Mrs.
John takes a bath, to the healing of Annie, to the Obeah blessed clothing that Annie wears on her way to England. Obeah is a powerful part of the native culture that remains, despite the cultural dominion of the British Empire. In particular, Obeah links the Caribbean culture its pre-colonization people, while simultaneously suggesting the blend of Amerindian, African, and European cultures that make up the islands. Obeah particularly is intimately connected with strong female characters. The male figures in the novel, Annie’s father and grandfather, both shun it.
Annie’s grandmother particularly seems to dwell in a mystical world of obeah that fully defies the logical world of the colonial culture. She arrives and leaves Antigua on days that the ferry does not run, for example. She is the only one to be able to heal Annie, despite the efforts of the obeah woman and the local Doctor. The existence of obeah in Annie’s world demonstrates the power of the local spiritual beliefs to survive, despite the colonial conditions. Questions: 1. Is the strong attachment of Annie John for her mother a particular or common phenomenon?
What’s the implication of this attachment if it is related to the colonizer and the colonized ? (mother’s involvement) 2. What’s the attitude for Annie John to those women of her father’s girlfriends? Analysis of Major Characters Annie John Annie John is the narrator and central character in the novel, who therefore dominates the text. Because she is the narrator, everything that the reader hears and sees is filtered through her voice. Likewise, the depiction of her self and of all the other characters comes as she wills it.
As it most evident through her depiction of her mother, her description of what actually happens often takes place with a highly subjective perspective. Although just a growing girl, Annie is a complex figure. In her early youth, she struggles fiercely against the idea of separation from her mother. Her fears about being left alone in the world dominate her early days and when they are not entirely resolved transform into bitterness and hatred. At the same time, as she grows into her adolescence, she learns to harden herself against efforts to restrict her personal freedom and articulation.
Both Annie’s mother and her teachers have a firm idea of who Annie should become. Annie manages to evade these definitions and develop a uniquely dual consciousness by both her abilities and her insolence. On the one hand, her ability to adhere to the colonial order allows her to become the best student in the class who is made the class prefect and later promoted several grades above her level. On the other hand, she keeps up her feisty spirit by being rambunctious outside the classroom. She entertains the other girls with dirty songs, becomes a thief and a liar, and even an expert in marbles.
While some of these activities carry a dishonest taint, they all prove crucial to Annie’s personal development in a colonial atmosphere that tries to define who it thinks that she is. Annie’s attitude often carries a certain arrogance, especially toward the end of the book where she believes many of the other characters to lack the necessary spirit, like Gwen, however even her defiance and arrogance seem understandable, since they are the tools that allowed her to thrive in a colonial environment that sought to define who she is. Annie’s mother (Mrs. John)
The characterization of Mrs. John only comes from Annie because Annie is the sole narrator of the novel. Because Annie hates her mother for much of the book, Mrs. John’s character often comes across negatively. Given Annie’s strong emotions toward her mother, however, these impressions are not generally credible. Initially, Mrs. John appears to be a wonderful mother. She is strong, capable, and beautiful. When she walks through the markets in town, the sellers all run to greet her. She contains powerful knowledge about nature, the rituals of obeah, and even about death.
It is she who first teaches Annie about death and she who later has the strength to prepare a dead child for the grave. Her ability to not be cowed by the ugly natural elements of the world show her to be a courageous woman, especially in Annie’s eyes. The kindness of Annie’s mother can initially be seen from the lengthy baths that she gives her, the fact that she kisses her before sleep even though Annie is supposed to lose the kiss as punishment, and the time that she takes to retell Annie the family history as seen in her trunk. When Annie starts to dislike her mother, the mother still appears to be reasonable.
Annie’s initial anger at her mother starts because her mother insists that they are separate people, which Annie cannot accept. Because Annie’s anger at her mother appears to be an outgrowth of Annie’s immaturity, it does not appear initially that Annie’s mother has done anything wrong in suggesting the true fact that she and her daughter are separate people. Annie’s mother is also a sexual creature, which is one of the reasons that Annie hates her. Mrs. John manages to captivate her husband’s attentions as they eat lunch together and later they are actually shown having sex.
The legacy of sexual promiscuity seems to hang over Annie’s mother early life. Her flight from Dominica at age sixteen took place after a fight with her father that appears most likely linked with her being engaged in some early sexual activity. Still, although Annie envies her parents’ sexual union, Mrs. John does not seem to neglect her daughter by having sexual relationships with her husband. Because Annie’s description of her mother is not believable, there is no way to determine if Mrs. John actually neglected her daughter in her attentions to her husband or not.
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