Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

As was the case with At the Bottom of the River, Kincaid’s first book, Annie John is a novel about the pain and necessity of adolescent rebellion for a young girl growing up in the Caribbean. Annie is presented as a strong-willed, independent child who charts a course for growing up that is largely of her own making. A point that the author seems to want to make, however, is that this individuality comes at the cost of considerable emotional distress.

Annie’s independence of spirit is exhibited early in the novel. Annie’s attraction to funerals as a young girl, besides marking her as a young girl possessed of a fiercely unique spirit, is already a movement away from her parents, in that it denotes a nascent awareness of her own mortality and the need to be, ultimately, separate.

Annie is distressed when she realizes that her mother means for her to begin to assert her own identity. This realization leads Annie to “act up” more, and in ways that her mother frequently cannot abide. To an extent, Annie at first wants to be able to misbehave, but she also wants to receive the maternal approval that she needs. As her mother increasingly withdraws her approval, however, Annie asserts her own personality, though the lack she feels at her mother’s missing support remains painful, and she and her mother become more careful and guarded toward one another. The chapters “The Red Girl,” “Columbus in Chains,” and...

(The entire section is 496 words.)

Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The stages of Annie’s maturation and her quest for a sense of self are rooted not only in Kincaid’s admitted autobiographical fashioning of her fiction but also in the context of Caribbean beliefs and customs. Annie’s fear of losing her mother, which in turn spurs her independent development, begins when Annie realizes that her mother’s social life and responsibilities are anchored in a community outside her own perceptions and understanding. Her mother must be available to her neighbors when sickness or death occurs, and her bathing of the dead girl’s body as a gesture of social obligation raises the fear in Annie that her mother could die, leaving her alone in the world. Her father’s handmade coffin for the girl further raises the possibility that she could be left with no parents at all, but Annie does not yet grasp the community’s compassion for all of its children.

Up to the point where Annie reaches puberty, her mother has modeled every detail in order for her daughter to become an ideal woman. When Annie becomes a sexually potent female, however, she does not think her mother has noticed. Of course she has, but she says nothing; Kincaid suggests that modeling for this Caribbean mother stops at puberty. Annie’s mother retreats into silence, paralleling her daughter’s eventual illness. This failure to confront and to address sexuality directly and openly becomes a source of further fear for Annie.

Although Annie attempts...

(The entire section is 447 words.)