Requiem for a Dream

In the novel Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid, the title character faces the reality that she must grow up, detach from her parents, and establish an identity independent from that of her mother’s — that the beautiful childhood she once had cannot and will not last forever. Especially in the chapter “The Long Rain,” Annie’s character undergoes an epiphany that lets her take the first real step toward adulthood. Flashbacks and first-person narrative are used to create a surrealist scenario, which creates a recurring motif on Annie’s difficulty in differentiating between dreams and reality. This is one of the main things that define Annie’s character and her constant drawing away from the prospect of having to grow up. The first-person narrative storytelling also maximizes the reader’s understanding of Annie’s character and how she is evaluating her childhood with a newfound bias. This warped view of her childhood was what eventually drove Annie to have an equally warped perspective on adulthood. The use of dramatic diction, personification, and symbolism also figuratively portrays Annie’s unconscious decision in finally accepting the fact that her childhood has ended and defining her own separate identity. Kincaid uses first-person narrative to set both the readers and also Annie as an audience, thus illuminating Annie’s train of thought in evaluating her childhood and deepening the understanding of Annie’s character. The novel Annie John itself is a work of literature that is very centered around its titular character. A first-person narrative based on Annie’s point of view is crucial in letting the readers understand her character. Moreover, the simple and honest narrative gives the work a more contemplative feel. For example, in lines 3-30, Annie is lying on her bed watching the photographs loom up and down, and the first-person narrative allows the readers to be inside of her head with the character. This benefit on the side of the readers allows them to understand themes that might otherwise be lost. Annie’s calmness in the delirium repeats a motif of Annie’s difficulty in telling the difference between what is real and what is not. Also supporting this point is how Annie tried “with not much success, to straighten out the creases in Aunt Mary’s veil [and…] to remove the dirt from the front of my father’s trousers” when she was bathing the photographs. Before this, Annie often had trouble in interpreting her dreams and in deciding whether to take them seriously or not. This disability sheds light on Annie’s hesitance to grow up. She is an inexperienced child and she is clueless about what it truly means to be an adult. She finds it difficult to differentiate between the childish dreams she must leave and the mature realities she must accept. Previously in the book, it is clear that Annie has a very crude understanding of the subject matter. The driving force in Annie’s life is portrayed in power struggle after power struggle in school or with her mother. Annie defines being an adult as being the most intelligent, the most popular, living in Belgium, and looking important. Annie defines growing up on the basis of the piano lessons and manners courses when in truth, being an adult means much more than “all this young-lady business” (28). Another theme revealed by the personal level of first-person narrative is how Annie recalls and evaluates her childhood memories with a bias that she developed in the past years due to her rocky relationship with her mother. Annie says, “I have forgotten everything except that” (18-19). This shows how Annie filled the gaps in her childhood memories with her current knowledge, meaning that many of the memories Annie recalls are inaccurate. This has two implications on the storyline and the character of the novel. First, it affects Annie as a narrator and the readers’ ability to trust her. Annie’s relationship with the readers is therefore affected in multiple ways: the flaw makes Annie less credible and lets the readers see how she can be conceited and heavily biased. However, the flaw also makes Annie more vulnerable, and imperfection is quite the perfect tool that allows a reader to relate well to the characters. Second, it sheds light on the twisted and ugly conclusions Annie makes about growing up and separating from her parents. Her distorted view of her childhood and her distorted evaluation of her overall relationship with her parents led to a distorted mindset on how to handle being an adult. Again, this point sheds light on Annie’s character, and it may even, as stated above, allow the readers to sympathize with her impairment and understand the reasons for her vanity.Perhaps one of the most profound meanings delivered by this passage is accomplished by means of symbolism, which portrays Annie’s subconscious intentions and her final decision to deal with the culmination of her childhood. Most of these symbols are not defined independently in the passage; instead, they are recurring motifs that have presented themselves everywhere in the book to present a specific and constant idea:The photographs […] now began to blow themselves up until they touched the ceiling and then shrink back down. […] They did this for so long that they began to perspire quite a bit, and when they finally stopped, falling back on the table limp with exhaustion, the smell coming from them was unbearable to me. (36-40)The photographs symbolize Annie’s childhood, the memories she had, and the concepts that were taught to her by her parents. Using the diction “perspired” and “falling back […] limp with exhaustion,” Kincaid communicates how Annie has worn out her childhood and it is no longer of any use to her. The image of something dropping down and leaving a horrible smell is also descriptive of a death; thus, the whole scenario signifies Annie’s final acceptance of the death of her childhood. Before this, Annie is constantly in denial about growing up; she first blames herself for not being a good enough daughter. Later, she uses a dysfunctional coping mechanism by domineering over her peers, but in the end, Annie decides to finally end this fait accompli and admit her defeat. Kincaid states that Annie “laid [the photographs] down in a corner covered with a blanket, so that they would be warm while they slept” (48-50). The photographs are being treated like a baby, further reinforcing the symbolic meaning of Annie’s childhood. By then, the only thing she can do is take what is left of her childhood and tuck it away as happy memories.The pictures manifested in the photographs symbolize the identity Annie has chosen for herself as an adult. In the photograph, “None of the people […] except for me, had any face left” (60-61). Thus, this shows how Annie has shaped herself as a stand-alone figure no longer dependent on leeching off of her mother’s identity and intentions. Moreover, “in the picture of my mother and father, I [Annie] had erased them from the waist down” (63-65). This is another instance of imagery of Annie’s detachment from her parents. Her parents’ bodies from the waist down allude to Annie’s origins. In this way, Annie is rejecting her origins and her obligation to be her mother’s daughter. Finally, “in the picture of me [Annie] wearing the confirmation dress, I had erased all of myself except for the shoes.” After detaching from her parents and erasing “all of herself” (the combined contribution of her parents), Annie burns bridges, closes doors, and begins to build her own identity. Annie got those shoes after a fight with her mother. Thus, the shoes represent Annie’s own concepts and ideals. They also represent her transformation into a mature person who can make her own decisions — decisions that will not always coincide with those of her parents.Water and baths also have recurring meanings in the whole novel. Water symbolizes separation. In her dream on Rat Island, a body of water separated Annie from her parents. When Annie woke up, she had “spilled water all over” (57). The water she used was also the water that warped the photograph, so, and as stated above, the warped photographs symbolize her adult identity. Thus, Annie’s separation from her parents is essential for her to be able to shape her own identity and not be dependent on her parents forever. Baths are also a recurring motif. Annie bathed in the sea due to her weak liver, and she and her mother bathed in herbs to repel Obeah magic. Baths symbolize renewal and healing. When Annie bathes the photographs, she is closing the doors and starting the healing to her heartbreak. She finally accepts her fate and starts on the first step toward patching herself together again as a grown woman.Overall, the passage in the chapter “The Long Rain” serves as a turning point in the story. After denying and trying to cope with the changes going on, Annie finally accepts that her childhood has long gone and that she must carve a new identity as an adult. Kincaid uses literary elements such as first-person narrative, symbolism, and diction to deepen the dimensions of Annie’s character from a happy child to a woeful adolescent and finally to a grown young woman. Bibliography:Kincaid, Jamaica. Annie John. Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York.

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