Jamaica Kincaid’s first published novel, Annie John, tells a classic coming-of-age story portraying a young girl living in Antigua.
We get the perspective of Annie John from age ten to seventeen. The narrator, who is at times naïve, defiant, and very strong-willed, frequently gets into trouble with her mother in her early years. From not following her mother’s orders to not talk to a certain boy in their neighborhood, to hiding and playing with marbles – which was a very unladylike game for an adolescent girl to play. Throughout the book, the narrator pulls the reader in by always being real and honest.
As a reader, who is also from the Caribbean, the cultural and folkloric takes on the novel resonated with me. Like the superstition one of Annie’s father’s former girlfriends being a threat to little Annie and her mother using magic to hurt them. The superstition is so great that Annie’s mother decided to seek spiritual guidance. They took special baths with leaves from different trees, a practice that is popular all over the Caribbean and is believed to have healing and protective powers. “We took these baths after my mother had consulted with her obeah woman, and with her mother and a trusted friend, and all three of them had confirmed that from the look of things […] one of the many women my father had loved, had never married, but with whom he had had children was trying to harm my mother and me by setting bad spirits on us.” (p.14)
Later in the book, when Annie was struck by a mysterious illness which left her in bed for three and a half months, without notification from anyone, Annie’s grandmother appeared with no announcement and began to take care of Annie. Ma Chess, Annie’s maternal grandmother is an obeah, which means she is a spiritual healer.
My favorite part is the last chapter because Kincaid vividly shows the emotional and powerful walk that Annie takes from her home with her parents to the jetty in order to board a boat that would take her out of Antigua to England and away her home forever. As Annie walks through the small island –she passes by the post office, her school, her church and her childhood doctor’s office, and gives us an emotional recount of what she feels and what is going through her mind at each moment. The most colorful and emotional part of the walk is, of course, saying goodbye to her mother who was at times a strict and strong mother, but was always caring and devoted to her only child and husband.
”the road for me now went only in one direction: away from my home, away from my mother, away from my father, away from the everlasting blue sky, away from the everlasting hot sun, away from people who said to me, ‘This happened during the time your mother was carrying you,’ ” (p.134)
But Annie’s mother reminds her that she will always have a place in Antigua. “It doesn’t matter what you do or where you go, I’ll always be your mother and this will always be your home.” (p.147)
More information on Annie John:
Author: Jamaica Kinciad
Year Published: 1985
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
This article may not be reprinted without the author’s written permission