Jamaica Kincaid

Annie John

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Annie John Summary

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Annie John is a 1985 novel by Jamaica Kincaid about a girl growing up on the island of Antigua. The novel is semi-autobiographical, containing a number of the same themes and events that appear in Kincaid’s non-fiction story My Brother. The story of Annie John is continued with another main character in Kincaid’s later novel Lucy.

The story begins when Annie John is ten years old and temporarily living with her mother outside of town. The house is near a cemetery, and as Annie watches funeral processions come and go, she becomes obsessed with death. She often sneaks into the funerals and memorial services to watch the mourners, occasionally staring at the bodies in their coffins for a long time. Annie tells the other children at school about what she has seen, and gradually, they all become interested in the topic. They share stories about family members they have lost and speculate about what happens after death. One day, Annie is late coming home because she was watching a funeral. Her mother punishes her, but still kisses her goodnight before putting her to bed.

When she is still young, Annie is close to her parents. Though they are not married, her mother and father are committed to each other and affectionate. As Annie grows older, her mother suggests that she will one day have to move out and start her own life. This makes Annie feel resentful and she begins to misbehave. She is kicked out of an etiquette class her mother sends her to and then lies about it. When her mother finds out, she treats Annie coldly. One day, Annie catches her mother and father making love, which disturbs her because she feels that her relationship with them has changed beyond repair.

Annie begins attending a new school where she is the brightest girl in the class. One day, she shares a personal essay about her mother that almost brings the other students to tears. After the lesson, a girl named Gwen approaches her and strikes up a conversation. Gwen and Annie soon become best friends and are inseparable. However, their friendship becomes strained when Annie meets the Red Girl.

The Red Girl is from a poor family in Annie’s neighborhood. Her mother allows her a large amount of freedom, and the Red Girl is tough and self-sufficient. After they start playing together, Anne finds Gwen somewhat boring. The Red Girl teaches Annie to play marbles, and Annie soon finds that she is an excellent player. She wins so many marbles from other children that she has to hide them from her mother. When the Red Girl moves away, Annie imagines saving her from a shipwreck so that the two of them can live together on a deserted island.

In school, Annie continues to do well academically, though she often misbehaves. Learning about the history of the West Indies gives her many conflicting feelings about colonial history. She is caught defacing a picture of Christopher Columbus in her history book and sent to the principal. The principal removes Annie’s position as prefect of the class. When she gets home, Annie expects sympathy but is largely ignored by her mother and made to eat breadfruit, her least favorite food, for dinner.

Annie is moved up a grade in school and has a difficult time finding her place with the older girls. She also no longer gets along with her former friends as easily. One day, Gwen suggests that Annie marry her brother so they can be sisters. The idea annoys and disgusts Annie, and after that, she goes out of her way to avoid Gwen. One day, while taking a different route home to avoid her, Annie runs into some boys. Her mother sees her talking with them and accuses Annie of flirting and behaving improperly. Annie fights with her mother but later reflects on the fun they used to have looking at her mother’s chest of keepsakes. She asks her father to make her a chest of her own.

Shortly afterward, Annie becomes very sick with a mysterious fever. Conventional doctors cannot cure her, so her mother sends for an obeah healer. Annie’s grandmother, who is also versed in obeah, arrives. Between the two women, Annie is cured of her sickness. When she is strong enough to get out of bed, she is much changed both physically and mentally. She no longer regrets growing distant from her mother but is, instead, glad for it because she plans to travel far away from Antigua.

When she is seventeen, Annie is accepted to a nursing school in England. On the day that she is scheduled to leave, she stops to say goodbye to Gwen and finds her former friend silly and immature. Her parents walk her to the ship, and Annie’s mother cries when she says goodbye. Annie cries too, but as the ship leaves port, she is happy to be getting away from her home.