Many details reveal the character of Annie’s mother. She names her only child “Annie,” her own name. She is beautiful and loving, vigilant and protective. Her young daughter, the narrator, idolizes her. The mother dresses herself and her daughter in matching clothes, allows her daughter to follow her around constantly...
Many details reveal the character of Annie’s mother. She names her only child “Annie,” her own name. She is beautiful and loving, vigilant and protective. Her young daughter, the narrator, idolizes her. The mother dresses herself and her daughter in matching clothes, allows her daughter to follow her around constantly at home, and makes her daughter part of her every activity. She keeps a large chest with everything her daughter ever touched or wore, as mementos. “No part of my life was so unimportant that she hadn’t made a note of it,” says the narrator, the younger Annie. The mother constantly tells Annie stories of everything that has happened to both of them. But as Annie gets older, her mother stops being so completely identified with her daughter. She dresses Annie in different fabric than she wears herself, which makes her daughter feel a temporary “bitterness and hatred.” She is sent to school instead of following her mother around all day.
As Annie becomes a young teenager, her mother distances herself a little from her daughter, who is now “a young lady.” At first, Annie forms close friendships with other girls at school, in attempts to distance herself from her mother. Some of these friendships are with girls her mother would not approve of. The narrator is extremely intelligent and made much of in school, but she is also a troublemaker, loving to make the other students laugh. She feels that unlike when she was a small child, her mother now often disapproves of her actions, which are no longer those of the idolizing young child. Annie feels she has lost something precious.
Annie does things which disappoint her mother, such as playing marbles, sneaking out to see her girlfriends, and talking with boys on the street, and a distance establishes itself between them. The teenage Annie is torn between feelings of profound abandonment by her mother and hatred of her mother, who is still too close to her. She feels betrayed when her mother serves her breadfruit, something she hates, disguised as rice, then laughs when she succeeds in tricking her daughter into eating it. Annie must separate herself from her mother, whom she has idolized and identified with completely, in order to become an adult:
We both noticed that now if she said that something I did reminded her of her own self at my age, I would try to do it a different way, or, failing that, do it in a way that she could not stomach.
Annie “had never loved anyone or hated anyone” as much as she loved and hated her mother. After her mother calls her a slut for talking to boys on the street, Annie replies, “like mother, like daughter,” breaking her mother’s heart (temporarily) and causing her to say, “Until this moment, in my whole life I knew without a doubt that, without any exception, I loved you best.” Annie is crushed. She feels forever severed from her mother’s love. Soon after this she becomes very ill with an undiagnosed malady—perhaps a deep depression caused by her mother’s rejection.
While she is ill, her parents treat her just as they had while she was a baby. Her mother dresses and undresses her, bathes her, and feeds her her favorite foods, and her father carries her on his back to the doctor’s office. They summon her grandmother from Barbados to treat her with obeah (similar to Voodoo): “I was fifteen years old, but the two of them handled me as if I were just born.”
For three and a half months Annie stays in bed, and for three and a half months it rains. Finally she feels better. The rift between her and her mother has been healed. But Annie still has to grow up. She can’t ever be a baby again. When she goes outside for the first time after her illness, she feels
how much I never wanted to see my mother bent over a pot cooking me something that she felt would do me good when I ate it, how much I never wanted to feel her long, bony fingers against my cheek again, how much I never wanted to hear her voice in my ear again.
When she is seventeen years old, she determines to leave Antigua to study nursing in London. As she walks to the jetty to take a boat to the ship that will carry her away from her parents and from the only home she has ever known, “I felt a familiar hollow space inside me,” the same feeling she felt every time she was alienated from her mother. But as she is about to step onto the boat, her mother hugs her and says, “It doesn’t matter what you do or where you go, I’ll always be your mother and this will always be your home.” Again she is enveloped in her mother’s boundless love. She must shake herself out of the stupor this feeling causes her as she steps onto the boat that will take her into her future. Her relationship with her mother has changed over time, as it had to change to allow her to grow up, but the mother-daughter bond has not been broken.