Critical Evaluation

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Annie John is the story of a girl who grows up in a small village in Antigua, with a focus on Annie’s relationship with her mother. The plot of the novel is based on author Jamaica Kincaid’s own childhood in Antigua, although Annie John is not an autobiography. The protagonist, Annie John, appears to readers slowly, as if Kincaid is hiding something. Annie’s last name is revealed even later in the novel. This method of revealing names slowly reflects the way children learn important details, over time.

Annie describes each distinct age in her life—organized by Kincaid as one year per chapter—as she advances in the school system, notices changes in her body as she grows, and learns about family, humanity, and life in general. Her learning leads to a loss of innocence, the end of a friendship, a strained relationship with her mother, and other experiences. Annie develops a pattern of meanness toward others, including playmate Sonia, a friend whose mother suddenly dies. Instead of displaying sympathy, Annie reacts to her friend’s mother’s death by refusing to speak with Sonia. This negative, obstinate pattern of behavior continues through the story.

The entire novel takes place in the past, as though Annie is looking back on her youth and remembering short bursts from the time. Because the novel includes no years, months, or dates, the story has a sense of timelessness; the ebb and flow of time runs forward and backward like the tides of the nearby sea. Annie’s age and level of schooling, even the aging of her mother’s hands, are benchmarks of time passing. Those benchmarks are in chronological order.

The novel is interspersed with smaller stories about Annie and her relationships with others, who return to the novel’s “present” and then fade back into the general remembered story. The brief stories within stories, which jump back and forth in time, include actual accounts from Annie’s past. One such account is the story of cousin John, whose death led his mother to wear black for the rest of her life. Some stories are only imagined or are clearly indicated as dreams. Some stories are surreal, such as when Annie is delusional from a high fever.

Despite Annie’s attempts to distance herself from her mother, certain themes, such as love between mother and daughter, are revealed through parallelisms: mother and daughter have the same appearance, speak similarly, and react to things in similar ways. Annie also follows a life path similar to that of her mother, having left home after quarreling with her parents. Repeatedly, Annie describes herself as a shadow, holding close to her mother’s skirts when she was younger, and having the same hair or eyes. When the two say good-bye before Annie leaves Antigua for Barbados, each says the same, last word at the same second. They are so close emotionally, they appear to be one person.

Other symbols of parallelism recur in the novel. For example, the trunk that Annie’s mother brought from Dominica stores items from Annie’s infancy—even embroidered diapers—handmade by her mother. Annie declares that as a reward for completing school and coming of age, she wants a new trunk. She gets her mother’s trunk, leaves home, and never returns, in the same way her own mother left her home island when she was young with the same trunk.

In a larger context, Annie rebels against her parents, and especially her mother, because they represent the status quo of a stable, colonized society. Annie resists her mother’s training and preparation for marriage and adulthood, for continuing the same, predictable life under British domination...

(This entire section contains 730 words.)

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in Antigua. Annie’s misbehavior and inattention at school also is a form of rebellion against coercion and enforced colonial mind control. Furthermore, obeah medicine, and not Western medicine, cures her horrible fever.

Annie John traces the entire growth of a girl’s awareness of her own power to take control of her life and to begin to find her place in the world as an independent woman. Although the reader leaves Annie on board a ship that has yet to sail, the instructional discipline, support, and love Annie has had from her family and village point in the direction of a future where she will thrive on her own terms.

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Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)

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Critical Overview