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.
Sea Symbolism in ‘Annie John’
As a Caribbean author, Jamaica Kincaid submerges Annie John, the novel, in rich sea symbolism. Living on the island of Antigua, and with Dominican parentage, the novel Annie John is immersed in deep, sea imagery, in which the author connects Annie John’s insular origins with the themes of (i) birth-rebirth (ii) childhood (iii) journey and immigration (iv) history (v) mother and motherland and (vi) separation-death As a terrific mass of water, the sea evokes images of the womb, the West Indian navigation of Christopher Columbus in conquest of New World gold, the horrendous Middle Passage during the period of Chattel Slavery, consequent colonialism, and contemporary immigration. From the times of our ancestors to modernity, the seas have moulded life in diverse ways.
Jamaica Kincaid portrays the sea as the medium of birth and rebirth. The human foetus playfully swims in amniotic fluid, a natural water environment, in its mother’s uterus until delivery. This water in the womb nourishes the unborn during the 9-month incubatory period, completely surrounded by a life-giving essence. In the same way for Annie John, from birth, she is enclosed in the blue Caribbean Sea. One of her favourite pastimes as a child includes naked sea-bathing, “since this bathing in the sea was a medicine and not a picnic, we had to bathe without wearing swimming costumes” (Kincaid 42). She never dreams that she would finally be separated from her island home, but in the end, she is reborn – fully mature as a young adult and ready to experience an outside world without her mother. Further, as Annie John travels by ship to pursue her studies, she puns on the word “berth” symbolising a rebirth of sorts as she launches out on a journey to new terrain. “I … lay down on my berth … I could hear the small waves lap-lapping around the ship. They made an unexpected sound, as if a vessel filled with liquid had been placed on its side and now was slowly emptying out” (Kincaid 148). As she hears this sound, it is reminiscent of the point of delivery of a child, as labour is induced and the water breaks, signalling the end of term of a pregnancy. The amniotic fluid empties in preparation for labour and the emergence of a new life.
In her girlhood, Annie John enjoys the game of marbles likening it to the sea. Employing rich, descriptive terminology, she elucidates on her first encounter with marbles – “it was my mother who gave me my first marbles … they looked to me like miniature globes, the white representing the seas, the colours representing land masses” (Kincaid 55). In her eyes, the marbles resembled planet Earth, diagrammed with land and seas. The sea imagery here enables Annie John to see herself as one, in a sense, holding the world in her hands, toying and manipulating it to her own fancy. When scrutinising the game of marbles, the layout includes a wide circle in which are positioned several marbles, parallel to the galaxial system in which revolves several clusters of planets.
Sea imagery retains a potency in the novel as the channel of change and rediscovery, underlining the theme of personal journey. Annie John’s parents both migrate to Antigua from Dominica, fleeing family crises and economic challenges. At the book’s conclusion, Annie John too must escape her beloved island home, bound for England to improve her prospects there. In the era before air-travel became common, navigation stands as the only medium of transport (especially for the poor). These characters embark on a metamorphosis and self-discovery in which they must remove from their once familiar environment to the great unknown.
Personal, national and world histories are united by sea imagery in Annie John. In her history class, she learns from her texts about Christopher Columbus and other European explorers who sailed to the ‘New World’ on a mission to aggrandise themselves, under the famed three-fold dictum: God, gold and glory. Afterwards, British and French voyagers and buccaneers navigate to exploit the newfound islands of their wealth. She unmistakably remembers, “a picture of Columbus that took up a whole page, and it was in colour – … at the bottom of the ship” (Kincaid 77). Annie John also evokes the time of slavery, when her African ancestors would ride aboard ships, surviving the horrific Triangular Trade and treated as living cargo. In her modern world, her seafaring parents and later she herself would flee their homes that restrict their movements and possibilities for progress to venture into a new land of promise.
The sea in Annie John depicts a prevailing spiritual connection to the mother. As an unborn child relishing in its maternal connections, and encased in amniotic fluid, Annie John, in the initial stages, glories in the intimacy existing between herself and her mother. She bathes with her mother in the sea, perches herself on her mother’s back and in time of loneliness and danger, cries out for her mother. Likewise, in Antigua, her own motherland, she loves her little island home with her adoring parents. From her spirited and mischievous schooldays, the reader understands that her protective family feed her with lots of fish (one abundant food source in the Caribbean) as they instruct, strengthen and sustain her until young adulthood. Nevertheless, these times pass as her mother induces labour and causes an eternal separation. On her way to the port on her journey to England, she recalls: “I passed by sounds and smells that were so familiar that I had long ago stopped paying any attention to them … but now here they were, and the ever-present ‘I shall never see this again’ bobbed up and down inside me. (Kincaid 145).
The sea incidence of little Annie John augurs the gradual estrangement from her mother and her development into adulthood. Propped on her mother’s back “arms clasped tightly around her neck” (Kincaid 42), Annie John and her mother delight themselves bathing in the sea, building sand castles and enjoying one another’s company. Strangely, they drift apart and in terrified panic, Annie screams for her mother as she could no longer see her (Kincaid 42, 43). This traumatic event recurs as a cryptic dream, reminiscent of her alienation and imminent separation from her mother. In her girlhood, Annie John takes pleasure in the warmth, sweetness and closeness of the mother-daughter relationship: visiting the town together, listening to stories and relishing mouth-watering dishes. However, as she enters adolescence, her mother becomes colder and more distant. Annie laments much later as she marches to the boat bound for England (from an estranged mother to the motherland): “Why, I wonder, didn’t I see the hypocrite in my mother when over the years she said that she loved me and could hardly live without me, while at the same time proposing and arranging separation after separation, including this one, which unbeknownst to her, I have arranged to be permanent?” (Kincaid 133). As Annie John and her mother finally part ways, the large distance renders her (mother) “just a dot … swallowed up in the big, blue sea” (Kincaid 148)
As the book concludes, Annie John returns not to Africa, her ancestral motherland, but England, the colonial motherland to further her education. She ironically explains her departure from Antigua in sea imagery, closely resembling that of a sea buoy defying gravity: “I passed by sounds and smells that were so familiar that I had long ago stopped paying any attention to them … but now here they were, and the ever-present ‘I shall never see this again’ bobbed up and down inside me” (Kincaid 145). Even as she navigates her way through life, she realises her life will not only be always surrounded by the sights and sounds of the sea, but also inside of her.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Annie John, Vintage Publishers, 1997.
Colonialism and Neocolonialism in Annie John
Colonialism pervades Annie John (1985) by Jamaica Kincaid as a theme underlying the action in the eventful life of a little girl and her coming of age into adolescence. Colonialism is defined as that “governing system by which an imperial nation dominates or exerts sovereign control and influence over administrative dependencies, territories or people” (New World Encyclopaedia). Moreover, it is considered the “practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another” (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy). In the discourse of colonialism, three phasal points are projected in the life cycle of both the colonial country and the protagonist herself: (a) dependence or dependency, (b) development and (c) independence or autonomy. Living in the small island of Antigua, rediscovered by Columbus (1493), conquered by the British (1632) but then awarded independence (1981), Annie John experiences these stages of life as she matures, faces challenges and finally breaks free as a emancipated, young adult.
In the narrative, the vestiges of colonialism in the area of education survive as young Antiguans must study Colonial History and British Literature as part of the core curriculum. Annie John mentions that she has to study Thomas Coke’s “A History of the West Indies” (1808) – a British historian and Methodist bishop; John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (1667), a British poet and her favourite novel, Jane Eyre (1847), composed by British novelist Charlotte Brönte. She also avidly reads “The Schoolgirl’s Own Annual” a British weekly journal featuring articles on the lives and adventures of aristocratic, boarding schoolgirls. The headmistress or principal of Annie John’s school, named Miss Moore, hails straight from England and so is her doctor, Dr. Stephens. In contrast, had colonialism weakened, an Afrocentric or Caribbean-centered approach in education would have been implemented. Slave history and African culture would have figured more prominently both in theory, and in practice in celebration of a unique identity. However, Antiguans as well as most Caribbean inhabitants cherish and imbibe classic British scholarship, considering it as most prestige and elite. As a matter of fact, the only channel of freedom for Annie John transplants her to the UK, where she undergoes training as a nurse.
First of all, the conquerors employ religion as a colonizing tool to dominate and manipulate subjects in the New World, including Antigua. The deployment of Christopher Columbus by the Catholic kings and the christianization of Antigua with both Catholicism and Methodism as the religions of the majority, attest to the hierarchy of Christianity and its exercise of governance over the collective psychology. Through the efforts of zealous missionary efforts of priests and preachers, large masses convert to the new ‘Christian’ faith. Like most Antiguans, Annie John is Anglican which church originated in England. In all of these examples, one realizes that colonial supremacy reigns ascendant over a major pillar of society – religion. The only strategy for resistance to universal colonialism lies in a syncretic version, as with the African slaves of old, in which both Christianity and pagan tradition are fused to form a new identity. Antiguans meld both Christianity and Obeah or Voodoo as in the case of Annie John’s family who contract the services of Ma Jolie. Ma Jolie and other herbal doctors serve as both spiritual guide and health practitioner for several poor citizens in Dominica and Antigua. For them, they do not have to surrender either identity as they embrace both the universal religion and their native beliefs.
As she matures, Annie John grows to despise colonialism and its overbearing impact on her culture, life and people. At school, she plainly voices her scorn for Christopher Columbus. “King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had sent him back to Spain fettered in chains attached to the bottom of a ship. What just deserts, I thought, for I did not like Columbus. How I loved this picture – to see the usually triumphant Columbus brought so low” (Kincaid 78). She understands that Columbus, the revered historical icon, actually plundered and violated the indigenous peoples, snatched their lands and introduced an oppressive and galling slavery. Annie John’s consequent action entails the defacement of the image of Columbus on her school textbook which instigated trouble for her. Here, one perceives bitterness, resentment and even vitriol towards the colonial conquerors of Spain. In her eyes, the subjugation of one country or one people to another could never be justified – not even for imperial or economic objectives. One notices Annie’s despising colonialism in her reflections on slavery. In her assessment of a British classmate, Ruth, Annie John observes that “Perhaps she wanted to be in England, where no one would remind her constantly of the terrible things her ancestors had done … her ancestors had been the masters, while ours had been the slaves. She had such a lot to be ashamed of … ” (Kincaid 76). In her eyes, slavery had wreaked such havoc on humanity and the Caribbean cultural identity that the reproachful burden of guilt could never be atoned. She shows her struggle in reconciling past wrongs with harsh modern realities of an unequal society.
On the contrary, there also subsists the sentiments of sycophant reverence for all things British. Many indications harken back to the Golden Age Victorian England. Antiguans still celebrated Queen Victoria’s birthday or the Queen’s Jubilee. Attempting to sound sophisticated, some schoolboys “were looking at (Annie John) and bowing as they said in an exaggerated tone of voice, pretending to be grownup gentlemen living in Victorian times, “Hallo Madame…” (Kincaid 99). At the end of the book, Annie John does what most colonial citizens do to better themselves, return to the imperial motherland in search for opportunity. She ventures on a boat to England in the hopes of becoming a certified and respected nurse. Although not naturally inclined to go to England, her parents are convinced that this migratory step would serve best for her.
Noteworthy is the instance when assigned as prefect in her class, a position of authority, Annie John is gifted with the book entitled, Roman Britain possibly authored by R. G. Collingwood (1900) Roger R. Sellman (1966) or J.S. Wacher (1976). This book refers to imperial Rome’s invasion and conquest of Britain under Julius Caesar, the rout of the Anglo-Saxons and Britain’s subsequent tributary role. Here designates the sovereignty of Rome, at her pinnacle ironically establishing another empire to rule the world. Her receipt of the book marks the period when she too acquires a measure of control in the classroom and over her classmates. However, corresponding to other tyrannical empires, she ends up abusing her power and never becomes a model exemplar.
At Annie John’s Brownie meetings, she reports that it started “with the whole troop standing in the yard of the Methodist church forming a circle around the flagpole, our eyes following the Union Jack as it was raised up; then we swore allegiance to our country, by which was meant England” (Kincaid 115). Her many allusions to colonialism or the pre-Independence era of Antigua, serves to compare her own desire for independence as a young lady. Her constant resistance to authority in her rebellious adolescence demonstrates this fact.
In sum, the British colonial system curtailed man’s free-will; however, in Annie John, one discerns in a young girl the signs of active resistance and rebellion which ironically terminate in a return to the imperial motherland – England. As colonialism encroaches on the rights of colonial subjects, Annie John feels that her mother invades her individual rights to autonomy. Strangely, Annie John also yearns for her mother and clings to her, until her mother literally must detach from her and force her into adulthood. In the realm of culture and politics, this transition (indicating rupture from the mother to maturity) can also signify the passage of a nation into independence and yet, blind adherence to a past identity that is obsolete and incongruous.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Annie John. Vintage Publishing Company, 1985.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Colonialism https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/colonialism/
New World Encyclopedia – Colonialism http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Colonialism