Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1605

Annie Drew
In this portrait of Kincaid’s mother, there’s one central and shocking truth that Kincaid revisits many times: ‘‘my mother hates her children.’’ In an interview in the Boston Globe, Kincaid said, ‘‘Mother loves us best when we are dying. We need her. It’s when we’re walking around that she’s critical of us. When we’re thriving.’’ In an interview in Salon Kincaid says that the core of her novel The Autobiography of My Mother is ‘‘drawn from an observation I’ve about my own mother: That all her children are quite happy to have been born, but all of us are quite sure she should never have been a mother.’’

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Capable of deep maternal devotion, Annie Drew cares for Devon tirelessly and with great tenderness when he is ill. Likewise, Kincaid recalls that when she was a child with a clogged nose, her mother would suck the mucus from her nostrils, and, when eating felt too tiring, her mother would chew her daughter’s food and then return it to her mouth. Drew possesses the traits of a maternal woman; she is a gardener with a knack for growing all sorts of vegetables and herbs.

Although occasionally kind, Annie Drew’s cruelty is what strikes the reader most forcefully. When Kincaid is struggling to become a writer in New York City, her mother’s words are typically harsh: ‘‘It serves you right, you are always trying to do things you know you can’t do.’’ Not only is she capable of blistering cruelty, but Annie Drew is a woman who refuses to apologize for her actions, nor will she ever subordinate herself to anyone. Kincaid’s brothers live with their mother, not vice versa, because she would never allow herself to be in the position of living with anyone. Drew has so enraged her grown children that neither Jamaica nor Dalma, who lives with his mother, will eat any food she’s prepared. Dalma and Devon until he becomes ill refuse to call Annie Drew ‘‘mother,’’ instead calling her ‘‘Mrs. Drew.’’ Dalma believes his mother is evil and will not speak to her. Once when Joseph, the oldest of the three brothers, dated a woman against his mother’s wishes, Annie Drew was so furious that she threw stones at him. When Kincaid returns to Antigua after having spent twenty years distancing herself from her family, she looks at a soursop tree that is now nothing more than a charred trunk. Kincaid’s mother says that the tree became the home of a colony of parasitic insects and to rid herself of the insects, she burned down the tree. Kincaid attributes this easy way with destruction to her mother’s powerful sense of herself. She sees her mother as a tyrant. ‘‘It’s possible that in another kind of circumstance the shape of the world might have been altered by her presence. But this woman, my mother, had only four people to make into human beings.’’

Dalma Drew
Dalma is the middle brother, and he is eleven years younger than Kincaid. In contrast to Devon, who was careless with his life and health, Dalma is industrious. At the time of Devon’s death, Dalma held down three jobs: accountant, peddler of imported foods, and bass steel-drum player in the most prominent steel band in Antigua. Yet for all his hard work, Dalma must live with his mother, a woman whom he describes as evil and to whom he no longer speaks. He refuses to eat anything his mother has cooked, and he refers to her as ‘‘Mrs. Drew,’’ not ‘‘mother.’’

Devon Drew
Born at home on May 5, 1962, Devon Drew was intelligent, well-read, athletic, and deeply troubled. Kincaid is frank about his shortcomings. At age fourteen, Devon was involved in a gas station robbery in which the attendant was murdered; Devon testified against his friends, and his mother used her political connections to reduce his sentence, but he still spent time in jail. As an adult, he lived as a Rastafarian, a religious group whose members view Africa, and especially Ethiopia, as the promised land. Devon also used marijuana and cocaine, had many sexual partners, both men and women, and stole from his mother and brother Joe.

Despite his many failings, Devon was deeply charming. Kincaid sees him as a brilliant man who would have spoken to the world in an important way. Although Devon appreciates what Kincaid says about him, he can neither act on nor even fully imagine her vision of him:

But he was not even remotely aware of such a person inside him. It is I who told him this and he agreed with me at the moment I told him this, and he said yes, and I saw that he wished what I said were really true, would just become true, wished he could, wished he knew how to make the effort and make it true. He could not. In his daydreams he became a famous singer, and women removed their clothes when they heard him sing.

Above all, Kincaid sees her brother Devon as a dreamer, an observer, and a man who never fully knew himself. For the reader, Devon is a disturbing figure.When his AIDS virus goes into remission, Devon becomes convinced he’s been cured, and he resumes sexual relations without using adequate protection. After Devon dies, Kincaid learns that her brother was probably a homosexual, a man who couldn’t admit his own sexual inclinations to his family and friends in Antigua.

Joseph Drew
The oldest of the three brothers, Joe, is an electrician. Devon nicknamed him ‘‘Styles’’ because he is meticulous about how he dresses. Once, after his mother became irrationally angry at him and began to stone him, he threw her to the ground and broke her neck.

Jamaica Kincaid
Jamaica Kincaid, the narrator of My Brother, is an Antiguan who left home as a teenager and is compelled to return only when she learns her much younger brother is dying of AIDS. Because of her geographical distance, Kincaid can understand and comment upon the Antiguans and the family members she left behind. She is now a successful writer in the United States, happily married with a husband, two children, and a garden, and she’s put so much distance between herself and her past that she can barely understand the Antiguan patois that her family speaks. Equally, they find her diction either funny or incomprehensible.

Because Kincaid is the narrator of this story, her character traits tend to emerge by inference. Readers know that she has an exceptional memory, a faculty that she feels her family, especially her mother, resents. ‘‘This is what my family, the people I grew up with, hate about me. I always say, Do you remember? ’’As a child, Kincaid’s memory was a source of pride to her mother, but as she grew up, it became an irritant. Kincaid speculates that her mother hates her daughter’s ability to remember because Kincaid recalls unpleasant things that her mother wants forgotten.

Kincaid is an enormously honest narrator, one who doesn’t shy away from confronting contradictions and even perversities in her own personality. For instance, she both enjoys her role as healer, the successful family member who can now afford the AIDS drug, AZT, while feeling weighed down by the responsibilities she’s assumed. Nor is Kincaid afraid to articulate the negative feelings she harbors. Kincaid tells us that she wishes her brother would die and be done with it. When she returns to the United States, she feels relief, but she also admits, ‘‘I missed him. I missed seeing him suffer.’’ One way that Kincaid and Devon are alike is that both are dreamers; she describes Devon as an observer, a man who likes events best when they ask nothing of him, and this description fits Kincaid as well. That the illness of her brother forces her to become an active participant in her brother’s tragedy is apparently the source of some of her anger.

Finally, Kincaid is deeply curious about people and their motives, eagerly delving into her brother’s life and death, so that she can better understand herself. Kincaid wonders what her own life would have been like, ‘‘if I had not been so cold and ruthless in regard to my own family, acting only in favor of myself when I was a young woman.’’ In that way, there’s yet another source of kinship with Devon, who acts on his own sexual urges despite his highly contagious disease.

Dr. Prince Ramsey
Dr. Ramsey is a figure of Antiguan possibility, and his goodness stands in contrast to most of the other islanders. He is, for instance, punctual, something Kincaid says that most Antiguans are not. ‘‘He was something I had long ago thought impossible to find in an Antiguan with authority: he was kind, he was loving toward people who needed him, people who were less powerful than he; he was respectful.’’

Allen Shawn
Kincaid tells us that she loves her husband deeply and that he’s a man who ‘‘takes suffering too seriously, too hard.’’

Mr. William Shawn
The fabled editor of the New Yorker was Kincaid’s mentor. She says she was driven to write because she loved his praise. Knowing Mr. Shawn would read her work made writing worthwhile. Kincaid describes Mr. Shawn, as she calls him, as having been curious about things that he would not have wanted to know about. She envisions him as

the person she writes for: the perfect reader.

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