Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 555
Annie John is about the complex process of maturation, a child’s transition from the world as circumscribed by parents to a larger one in which parents are no longer central. The process involves recognizing one’s mortality. Annie, intrigued by death, first watches mourners in a cemetery, then, unknown to her mother, attends funerals of acquaintances as well as of strangers. When her mother prepares a child for burial, Annie is fascinated and repelled by her mother’s hands. Even though her island world is limited, Annie’s coming-of-age experiences are universal: her hesitation and excitement at going to a new school, her boredom with the slow pace of the classes, her concern about making friends, and her devotion to a best friend.
The maturation process also involves coming to terms with the strangeness of one’s own changing body. Meeting secretively among the tombstones, Annie and her friends rub their breasts: They have heard that breasts will grow if a boy massages them and, since they have no contact with boys, they must do the task themselves. Familiar to all young women will be Annie’s surprise at the “small tufts of hair” under her arms and her confused response when she starts menstruating.
The physical changes are small, however, compared to the psychological ones. Annie must travel from a oneness with her mother to a separation from her, from an Edenic childhood to an adolescence fraught with deception, anger, and isolation. She visualizes her profound unhappiness as taking “the shape of a small black ball, all wrapped up in cobwebs” and believes that “everything . . . had turned sour,” even her friendship with the beloved Gwen with whom she could not share her sadness: “How to explain to her about the thimble that weighed worlds, and the dark cloud that was like an envelope in which my mother and I were sealed?” The emotional trauma becomes so great that Annie succumbs to a physical illness, replete with high fevers and hallucinations. Her illness mystifies the doctors but is treated with an herb-filled sachet and vials of fluids by Annie’s grandmother...
(The entire section contains 555 words.)
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