The three most striking features about Annie John are its poetic language, its exploration of the sensory and the magical, and its use of dreams. To read Kincaid’s prose is to experience the work of a writer who enjoys a love affair with and a manipulative power over language. The fluidity of words and images in her hands transforms even the simple and ordinary into the magical. For example, the description of Annie’s surreptitious relationship with an unkempt, red-haired girl takes on the mysterious; the details of laundry day at the John household translate into theatrical movements on a garden stage; and the graveyard scenes during recess and after school with innocent girl talk about biological endowments (or lack of) could fill a motion-picture screen. Her fond use of litanies juxtaposed with paradoxical images creates a hypnotic, incantatory effect reminiscent of the biblical Old Testament, thus engaging the reader at a sensory level. The childlike simplicity of the narration betrays an intricate and unique style replete with repetition, echoes, and parallelism, as well as a keen eye for detail described in simple images.
Even in the silence of the fabled trunk that holds the very symbols of Annie’s life lies a vibrant language which Annie’s mother transforms each time she engages the ritual retelling of Annie’s own “before you were born” story to her early kicking in the womb, to the childhood of undifferentiated unity of mother and daughter. Kincaid’s linguistic trademark, her lyrical and incantatory phrasing, is illustrated in an almost two-page inventory of Annie’s trunk: diapers, booties, blanket, christening outfit, baby bottles, first and second birthday dresses, first pair of shoes, first straw hat, first straw basket, report cards, certificates, and so on. The skillful weaving of the many stories contained in this childhood trunk will empower Annie for her rebellion and her initiation into adolescence. This tradition of ritually retelling “being” stories best explains Kincaid’s unabashed reference to her own mother’s significant role. She calls her mother not only “the writer” of her life but also “the teller” of the story of that life. This act of retelling transformed Kincaid into a writer and initiated her into a tradition of writing to which she is at once heir and stylistic pioneer.
Because of Kincaid’s preoccupation with the theme of separation, the language of the prose is necessarily allegorical. Each of the eight traditional narratives of Annie John is framed by images of separation, the logical movement from the innocence of childhood into the experience of adolescence. In narrative after narrative, Annie recalls and processes separations—from the more abstract separation by death she experiences afar by seeing figures in the cemetery and watching funerals, to the personal and traumatic separation from her own mother, to the gradual but natural “falling-in-and-out-of-love” separation from adolescent friends and schoolmates, and eventually to her separation from her geographic locus of Antigua.
This pervading theme of separation, which begins with a simple but significant argument about dresses and ends with walking to the jetty en route to England, is embodied in...
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