Book Review: Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

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Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid is narrated in the first person through Annie’s eyes, who looks back on her coming of age as an adult. The spirited Annie John who is inseparable from her doting mother, has an idyllic childhood growing up on Antigua’s paradise island. At the age of 12 years old, Annie’s mother pushes her away. Annie John is sad and resentful. As Annie John gets older, she questions her identity and seeks independence from the island. Throughout the novel, two major themes are identified: coming of age and motherhood.

The central theme in Annie John is the titular character’s coming of age. Through the novel’s course, Annie John moves from a child through puberty and to womanhood as she matures emotionally and physically. At the beginning the book, Annie John believes that her life is perfect and an idyllic paradise. When she reaches the age of 10, she has a few chores. Both her parents dedicate their attention to Annie; her mother chews up food hard for Annie to manage herself, bathes, and massages her. Annie and her mother wear matching dresses to show off how adorable they are together. Living this way, Annie thinks about how a person can live without a mother; when Annie meets a girl whose mother has died, Annie considers the girl’s loss deeply shocking.

Coming of Age

When Annie turns 12, however, her mother argues they can no longer wear matching dresses because Annie “cannot go around the rest of her life looking like a little me.” This moment causes a groundbreaking shift in Annie’s relationship with her mother. Annie wants the relationship with her and her mother to stay the same, but her mother knows that Annie cannot spend the rest of her life acting like a child. She must learn to be a “young lady.”

As Annie grows from her mother, she gains a relationship closer to her friends, Gwen and then the Red Girl. While both girls stand in for the affection, Annie would have shared with her mother, these relationships also teach Annie more about her newfound identity. Gwen is a picture-perfect schoolgirl who follows all the rules and longs to become a wife and homemaker one day. Annie John wants nothing to do with boys. She wants to read books, travel, and make a difference in the world. Annie’s relationship with the Red Girl gives Annie time to widen the gap Annie feels between herself and her mother. She goes against her mother’s orders and begins to steal and lie. When Annie’s friendship goes downhill, Annie John learns that she cannot confide in her friends and family to guide her and she must shift into womanhood alone,. Annie becomes ill; the sickness itself is a sort of rebirth and Annie grows from her sickbed with the power to say, “My name is Annie John,” before boarding a steamer to England in search of her new life.

Motherhood

The main point that guides Annie John’s coming of age is the loss of her relationship with her mother. Annie John and her mother share everything, even their name, so it becomes a considerable shock to Annie when her mother insists that she should take on her own identity now that she’s a “young lady”. When Annie is a child, her mother dominates the entire world: cooks, cleans, sews Annie’s clothes, bathes her, entertains her, and teaches her life lessons. Her mother is her champion, and Annie thinks she can do no wrong in her mother’s eyes. When Annie starts puberty, the relationship changes and Annie feels completely alone. This loss leads Annie to begin to question whether the love of her mother is real or fake.

Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid is about a mother and daughter relationship. Annie John is trying to find her true self without the help of anyone. Annie John goes through trials and obstacles that will lead her to find out who is there for her. The relationship between her and her mother takes a toll on her. Annie and her mother grew apart, and she realizes that she has to become a woman. Leaving Antigua and going to England will help her do that.

Tamara Patterson is a lifestyle enthusiast, an English major at Medgar Evers College, and lives in Brooklyn.

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