Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 549
Annie John, a slim novel—the chapters of which originally appeared as short stories in The New Yorker—is a first-person account of the childhood and adolescence of Annie John, a girl reared on the small Caribbean island of Antigua.
Annie experiences a childhood paradise. Her island home explodes with bright colors: the brilliant, flamboyant flowers, white sand, and blue sky and sea. The close community nurtures her. Mr. Earl and Mr. Nigel catch the fish that Annie and her parents eat. Mr. Kenneth, the butcher, offers Annie a piece of raw liver, one of the few foods that she enjoys, and Miss Dewberry bakes the buns that Annie’s parents serve at tea. Annie is also part of an affectionate and supportive family. Together, she and her father, a carpenter, select the lumber that he will fashion into her bedroom furniture. Most important, however, Annie loves and is loved by her mother. Her mother teaches Annie about washing (white clothes are to be bleached by the sun on a stone) and about cooking traditional dishes (such as pumpkin soup, banana fritters, and stewed salt fish)—skills that Annie will need when, it is assumed, she establishes her own household on the island. Annie enjoys the days spent with her mother, days filled with walking to the grocer’s; arranging her mother’s trunk that holds memorabilia such as Annie’s wool booties, certificates of merit, and dresses worn on special occasions; bathing together in water seasoned with bark, bay leaves, and flowers; and wearing dresses patterned after her mother’s. Yet, the closeness with her mother cannot last, since Annie will need to create her own existence separate from her mother’s, as her mother realizes. Thus, one day her mother purchases different fabrics for their dresses, shocking Annie. From then on, Annie’s world has changed.
Annie spends her adolescence in a love-hate relationship with her mother: “I missed my mother more than I had ever imagined possible and wanted only to live somewhere quiet and beautiful with her alone, but also at that moment I wanted only to see her lying dead, all withered and in a coffin at my feet.” Annie longs for the love and the closeness that once was even though she often incurs her mother’s displeasure by playing marbles or dawdling on the way home from school and then lying about her actions. Her rebelliousness leads her to steal books from the public library and to befriend the Red Girl, who climbs a tree to pick guavas like a boy, not throwing stones to dislodge the fruit as a girl should.
The conflicts of adolescence lead Annie to sail to England at the age of seventeen to study nursing, not a career that she desires but one that offers an escape from the island. As she walks between her parents to the jetty, her departure is edged with conflicting emotions. She, “on the verge of feeling that it had all been a mistake,” almost regrets her decision: “I don’t know what stopped me from falling in a heap at my parents’ feet.” On the other hand, she wants to escape the “unbearable burden” that her life has become and escape to “a place where nobody knew a thing about me.”
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2053
When her first book, At the Bottom of the River (1983), appeared, critics and fellow writers praised the originality of Jamaica Kincaid’s voice and vision. Susan Sontag hailed an “unaffectedly sumptuous, irresistible writer” of “splendid stories about personal and cosmic desire”; Derek Walcott promised that the book would “burn” on its readers’ shelves, “too choked with love to invite envy, too humble for admiration, and too startling to escape astonishment.” In her first novel, Kincaid more than justifies that early praise in a...
(The entire section contains 6751 words.)
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