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Plot summary and Analysis of the Heroine in 'Annie John' by Jamaica Kinkaid
‘Annie John’ is a novel written by Jamaica Kinkaid in 1985. The book has eight chapters which were published separately in The New Yorker. Later they were collected and published in book form. Jamaica Kincaid was born on May 25, 1949 in Antigua. She was christened Elaine Potter Richardson, but fled the island at the age of seventeen to America and has not looked back after that.
Her novel ‘Annie John’ covers diverse issues like mother-daughter relationships, lesbianism, racism, depression, education and native superstitious knowledge in the field of medicine. Though the chapters were published separately the book does not lack in cohesion.
The book is the story of a girl named Annie John from the age of 10 to 17 when she escapes to England to become a nurse. The story delineates the love of the girl for her mother. Earlier at the age of 10 she sees death in all its morbidity when a hunchback girl dies. She rushes to attend the girl’s funeral and forgets to bring the fish home for dinner. She is punished by being forced to eat her meal outside under the breadfruit tree.
Annie and her Mother
Annie spends a lot of time with her mother. They even bathe together with herbs recommended by the Obeah woman thrown in the water. Annie is close to her mother who she thinks is a very beautiful woman. One day she returns early and sees her mother and father making love. Annie feels rejected as she is not part of the union. In particular she starts feeling that her mother is a very selfish woman.
Annie in School
Annie starts attending school. She becomes friends with a girl named Gwen and eventually starts loving her. The two spend a lot of time together and walk home every day. The relationship with Gwen does not last as Annie befriends another girl from a lower class called Red Girl. She moves away from Gwen and finds solace in the company of Red Girl.
Annie and the Red Girl
To Annie this girl is the epitome of freedom and she adores her. She starts petty thievery to buy presents for Red Girl and lies to her mother so she can meet up with Red Girl every day. Annie starts menstruating and that has a profound effect on her life.
Annie achieves good grades in school and as a reward for her intelligence she is moved to a higher class. She moves away from both the Red Girl and Gwen. In class she feels bored and goes ahead to read the history book. She learns that Christopher Columbus was chained by the Queen. She sees a picture of Columbus in chains and writes below the picture ’The Great Man Can No Longer Move’. Annie is sent to the Principal of the school, who punishes her by removing her from prefect, as well making her write Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’. This punishment she has to accept.
Annie and her Mother: Second Phase
Annie returns home expecting to be comforted by her mother, but this does not happen and she starts hating her mother. It becomes clear that Annie is suffering from some kind of mental depression. This leads to her estrangement from friends and family. She suffers a mental breakdown and is confined to bed for 3 months. She is treated by both the doctor and the obeah woman, but eventually her grandmother comes and cures her with her knowledge of obeah remedies.
Annie recovers, but she is alienated from everything around her. She realizes she has to move on and leaves home to attend a nursing school in England. Her parents escort her to the boat. She remembers her past life and feels there was warmth there, but the time has come for her to move on. The novel thus ends on a positive note
The novel is beautifully written and explores the inner feelings of a girl’s heart. In a way it resembles the life of Kinkaid herself. The character of the heroine could be a carbon copy of Kinkaid herself.The author presently lives in Bennington Vermont in the USA with her husband and children