Annie and her little brother Jimmie grew up in the state asylum at Tewksberry, Massachusetts, where conditions were notoriously harsh. The two children were sent there together when their mother died and their father abandoned the family. Jimmie, who suffered from a tubercular hip, was terrified of being separated from Annie, so she dressed him as a girl and kept him with her on the women's ward for a time, promising to take care of him "forever and ever" (Act I). Jimmie was finally taken away from his sister, however, and eventually died.
Even though she was only nine years old and "virtually blind" at the time, Annie blamed herself for not being able to keep her promise to take care of her brother. The memory of his death haunts her to adulthood. Even though she has been told that the "battle is dead and done with", Annie cannot "let it stay buried". She feels that "God must owe (her) a resurrection", and that she has a debt to Him as well. There is the sense at the end of the play that in reaching Helen, Annie has found the "resurrection" she seeks, and that she will be able to love and care for Helen in a way that she was not able to do for her brother.