Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
As was the case with At the Bottom of the River, Kincaid’s first book, Annie John is a novel about the pain and necessity of adolescent rebellion for a young girl growing up in the Caribbean. Annie is presented as a strong-willed, independent child who charts a course for growing up that is largely of her own making. A point that the author seems to want to make, however, is that this individuality comes at the cost of considerable emotional distress.
Annie’s independence of spirit is exhibited early in the novel. Annie’s attraction to funerals as a young girl, besides marking her as a young girl possessed of a fiercely unique spirit, is already a movement away from her parents, in that it denotes a nascent awareness of her own mortality and the need to be, ultimately, separate.
Annie is distressed when she realizes that her mother means for her to begin to assert her own identity. This realization leads Annie to “act up” more, and in ways that her mother frequently cannot abide. To an extent, Annie at first wants to be able to misbehave, but she also wants to receive the maternal approval that she needs. As her mother increasingly withdraws her approval, however, Annie asserts her own personality, though the lack she feels at her mother’s missing support remains painful, and she and her mother become more careful and guarded toward one another. The chapters “The Red Girl,” “Columbus in Chains,” and...
(The entire section is 496 words.)
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Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The stages of Annie’s maturation and her quest for a sense of self are rooted not only in Kincaid’s admitted autobiographical fashioning of her fiction but also in the context of Caribbean beliefs and customs. Annie’s fear of losing her mother, which in turn spurs her independent development, begins when Annie realizes that her mother’s social life and responsibilities are anchored in a community outside her own perceptions and understanding. Her mother must be available to her neighbors when sickness or death occurs, and her bathing of the dead girl’s body as a gesture of social obligation raises the fear in Annie that her mother could die, leaving her alone in the world. Her father’s handmade coffin for the girl further raises the possibility that she could be left with no parents at all, but Annie does not yet grasp the community’s compassion for all of its children.
Up to the point where Annie reaches puberty, her mother has modeled every detail in order for her daughter to become an ideal woman. When Annie becomes a sexually potent female, however, she does not think her mother has noticed. Of course she has, but she says nothing; Kincaid suggests that modeling for this Caribbean mother stops at puberty. Annie’s mother retreats into silence, paralleling her daughter’s eventual illness. This failure to confront and to address sexuality directly and openly becomes a source of further fear for Annie.
Although Annie attempts...
(The entire section is 447 words.)
Death enters the frame of Annie John at the outset and never leaves. As a distant event observed by Annie, death serves as a counter reality to Annie's position as the beloved of her mother. Consequently, Annie's obsession with this other reality keeps the possibility of separation as the end of her blissful girlhood absolutely hidden. Death also serves to exaggerate the distance of the story and, thus, hide the narrator. In the first sentence, therefore, the adult narrator transforms into a girl fascinated by the apparently abstract concept of death.
There is a literal graveyard in the distance that Annie sees figures, not people per se, enter and leave. Death comes closer when Nalda, Sonia's mother, and then Miss Charlotte die. Annie is attentive to this facet of life and watches it. She observes funerals. She notes where death is. Yet she does not grieve. Annie wants to touch death by touching the hunched back of a dead girl whose funeral she attends for the purpose of observation. Disturbing Annie's peace, however, death nears her twice through the person of her mother who was holding Nalda and talking to Miss Charlotte when they died. These two events foreshadow the discovery of imperfection in Annie's universe.
Death does not come to Annie but she dies to three things: her girlhood, her mother, and her home. The first two take place through inevitable growth events. There is much that marks Annie as becoming a...
(The entire section is 1248 words.)