Analysis of the Coming of Age Novel by Jamaica Kincaid: Annie John

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

In the first chapter of the book, Kincaid completely portrays the closeness between Annie and her mother while describing their activities: when they would go shopping for dresses or the market, bathing together… ‘How important I felt to be with my mother.’ (Page 15) In this scene, Annie is shopping with her mother who knows the market well in terms of nutritional products. Here, her mother is playing her role as a domestic educator: in other words, she’s teaching her how to shop, get the best food, how to be a good wife and mother. The tone Annie uses during this moment is very likely to be admiration. Her mother, here, is pushing her down to a different path which is to become a good wife and mother. When Annie later becomes educated she realizes that she could go above than ending up like her mother, uneducated and a housewife. ‘My mother and I often took a bath together” (page 14) Annie here is illustrating the fact that she shares a strong physical bond with her mother. Generally speaking, water plays an important role: it symbolizes cleansing, a sense of purification and especially life in a way that we are born in water; we need water in order for our body to not be dehydrated but also to help us physically evolve. It also unites but divides at the same time. We are extremely dependent on water as our body itself is consisted with huge amount of water. Water also relates to the fact that it surrounds Antigua, almost as if it protects the island from the “exterior” part of the world which would then bring us to the theme of travel, future and ambition since, at the end of the novel, Annie leaves the island in order to study abroad in England.

The closeness with her mother is strongly emphasized as she shows to be extremely affectionate, almost to the point where she can’t resist giving her this affection: for example, when Annie was supposed to be punished she threatened her that she would not get a “goodnight kiss” before writing “(…) she came and kissed me anyway’ (page 12).

This shows an example of great tenderness and physical affection; some parents have trouble expressing their parental affection especially physically either because the parent is imposing a kind of distance between him and the child, or simply because he is not comfortable being involved in this type of contact. From this part, love and affection are explicitly expressed in this: Annie’s mother is very lovable and tactile with her daughter. During the early stages of childhood, children are very dependent of affection and a mother’s love is also a first step to love since, at this time it is the only love they are introduced to.

What we can also observe is that her mother is very protective of Annie'(…) she would suddenly grab me”, especially when they both face the numerous women with whom her father has a certain amount of children with, making Annie an illegitimate child. These women are angry at the fact that her father chose her mother and not any of them so they attack them in a form at getting back at Annie’s mother.

At the beginning of the novel, Annie and her mother live in perfect harmony which is such that she considers it as “paradise”. ‘It was such a paradise I lived in’, paradise symbolizes simplicity and a sense of eternal peace and when speaking of it, we obviously think of the religious connotation concerning the Garden of Eden. In the Garden, Adam and Eve lived in harmony until they met the snake that tempted them with the Forbidden Fruit. Once they’ve eaten the Fruit, God is furious and chases them away from the Garden. They then realize that they are naked and are ashamed about this nudity. This religious story completely relates to the novel because as Annie’s relationship with her mother deteriorates, she becomes much more concerned about her body up to the point where she feels ashamed and hates it.

This image of paradise she has in mind is completely shattered from the moment her mother informs her that once she becomes an adult she will live in her own home, get married and basically become a housewife. In other words, she’s going to have to live her own life without her mother. This information breaks Annie’s heart ‘That the day might actually come when we would live apart I had never believed. My throat hurt from the tears I held bottled up tight inside”. The idea of her being separated from her mother didn’t even occur to her mind as she is used to always being with her. However, right after this “revelation”, she feels neutral and claims that it “didn’t last very long”.

When she first began to be insolent with her mother, it is the stepping stone of a rocky relationship with her; the adoration and admiration she used to feel towards her has brutally decreased; now she cannot look at her “without feeling bitterness and hatred”. This detachment is caused by her mother deciding that it was time for Annie to act more like a lady than a girl. However, in chapter 1, she was already showing a feeling of disgust when her mother’s hands “had stroked the dead girl’s forehead”. Before this, Annie was talking about death and how it scared but fascinated her at the same time. When she was talking about this, it doesn’t mean that she felt concerned about encountering it one day especially not when her mother actually had physical contact with death. It is this disgust that triggers this “hatred” which brutally evolves later in the book.

We can easily assume that the motif used here would be touch which is the factor that Annie dislikes the most from one extreme (death) to another (sexuality). Sexuality counts in this motif because, later on, when Annie catches her parents making love, she is completely disgusted by the sight of her mother’s hand on her father’s back, touching him. This disgust is such that it seems like she’s almost jealous of this closeness she is witnessing: when we were children, some of us would innocently say that “when I grow up I want to marry mom/dad” since, as I have said before, the love we have known at this early stage of childhood is parental and maternal love.


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