Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)
Because Annie John was published shortly after Jamaica Kincaid’s well-received first book, and because there are clear echoes of themes and events between the two books, Annie John has frequently been read as a complementary text to the earlier volume. Like At the Bottom of the River, Annie John is clearly a “womanist” text, in that it focuses on the lives and concerns of two women of color, Annie and her mother. Although men enter the world of this mother and daughter, they are secondary characters, and the world that this novel is most interested in exploring is the world of the emotional life of women, a world to which the men in the novel seem almost oblivious.
Because it is a story about the development of a young person’s sensibility, Annie John can be loosely categorized as a bildungsroman. Because the novel charts the growth of Annie’s ability to make herself known through words, however, and because of the hints that the sensibility being developed in this young girl is the sensibility of both a conjure woman and a writer, the novel might most specifically be described as a Künstlerroman, a story about the development of an artist.
Like At the Bottom of the River, Annie John has been enthusiastically read by critics who have praised its finely detailed capturing of delicate emotions. One such critic has made a telling comparison between Kincaid’s writing and the paintings of the turn-of-the-century French artist Henri Rousseau, noting that the work of both is “seemingly natural, but in reality sophisticated and precise.”