Narrated exclusively by the fifteen-year-old, first-person protagonist, Annie John explores the inseparable bond between mother and daughter as it provides both the illusion of security and the movement toward psychological separation. Influenced greatly by autobiographical elements, the novel traces Annie’s coming of age, from her innocent adoration of her mother, who has the same name, through her rejection of her mother in the effort to establish her own individual identity, to her departure from home, the island of Antigua in the West Indies. Annie’s quest is not only to emerge in adolescence with her own self-identity but also to integrate the complexity of her Caribbean heritage with its legacies of colonization, cultural differences, and pluralist ideologies. She seeks an individuality based on her separateness from all those around her.
In the opening chapters, the book’s languid rhythms, sensuous imagery, and sharply honed sentences revolve around the dominant image of Annie’s mother’s hand. At ten, Annie learns of the death of a girl younger than herself who has died in her mother’s arms. She spends her childhood completely within her mother’s world. She studies her shopping in the market, talking to her friends, eating her meals, and laughing with her father. She bathes in her mother’s intimacy, reveling in the scents of oils and flowers in their common bath. When Annie learns that her mother has helped to prepare a dead girl’s body for burial, she recoils in horror. Her innocence broken by the reality of death foreshadows the end of her childhood and initiates the inevitable separation from her mother as Annie moves toward adulthood.
Arriving home early one day, Annie finds her mother and father in bed together, and she sees her mother’s hand circling on her father’s back. Having established her innocence in a world of female activities, she recognizes intuitively that her father is her chief rival for her mother’s attention; she feels in danger of being shut out of her mother’s world. Her ambivalence toward her mother...
(The entire section is 855 words.)