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Annie John: A Novel

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The essential coming-of-age novel by Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John is a haunting and provocative story of a young girl growing up on the island of Antigua. Kincaid's novel focuses on a universal, tragic, and often comic theme: the loss of childhood. Annie's voice—urgent, demanding to be heard—is one that will not soon be forgotten by readers.

An adored only child, Annie has until recently lived an idyllic life. She is inseparable from her beautiful mother, a powerful presence, who is the very center of the little girl's existence. Loved and cherished, Annie grows and thrives within her mother's benign shadow. Looking back on her childhood, she reflects, "It was in such a paradise that I lived."

When she turns twelve, however, Annie's life changes, in ways that are often mysterious to her. She begins to question the cultural assumptions of her island world; at school she instinctively rebels against authority; and most frighteningly, her mother, seeing Annie as a "young lady," ceases to be the source of unconditional adoration and takes on the new and unfamiliar guise of adversary.

At the end of her school years, Annie decides to leave Antigua and her family, but not without a measure of sorrow, especially for the mother she once knew and never ceases to mourn. "For I could not be sure," she reflects, "whether for the rest of my life I would be able to tell when it was really my mother and when it was really her shadow standing between me and the rest of the world."

ISBN-13: 9780374525101

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Publication Date: 06-30-1997

Pages: 160

Product Dimensions: 5.45(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.45(d)

Age Range: 11 - 18 Years

Jamaica Kincaid was born in St. John's, Antigua. Her books include At the Bottom of the River, Annie John, Lucy, The Autobiography of My Mother, My Brother, and Mr. Potter, all published by FSG.

Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion

1. The story Annie John tells is related entirely from Annie's point of view. The narrative is obviously not objective. Do you think it is truthful? Or do you think that it distorts events? If so, what is the author's purpose in distorting them?

2. It has been said that, as an author, Jamaica Kincaid makes no concessions to convention or sentimentality. What might be meant by that comment, and how does it apply to Annie John? Do you respond to the tone she establishes and see it as honest, or do you find her tone excessively harsh and unforgiving? Defend your answer.

3. How is the parent-child struggle—the struggle between power and lack of power—extended to other conflicts within the novel? Can you discern the theme of power and its abuses in the novel's presentation of the colonial subjugation of the island of Antigua, of the ruling British versus the subject Antiguans? If so, provide examples.

4. Annie John, like many narratives of adolescence, is a story about a young person finding her own identity, separate from that of her parents. At what point in the story does Annie realize that she has a separate identity from that of her mother? How does she assert it? Why is this assertion so painful to her?

5. Annie lies to her parents and becomes an accomplished thief, stealing books from the library and money from her mother. What is your reaction to these acts? Do they change your feelings about Annie? Do you admire her for her honesty in telling about this, or do you find the moral climate she establishes offensive?

6. How would you describe Annie's school and the kind of education she receives? Do you find the imposition of a British curriculum on Caribbean children absurd or in any way admirable? What kind of outlook on the world, and on their place in it, does it give these children?

7. As Kincaid tells the story, she relates it as an expulsion from Paradise. What was the original expulsion from Paradise? Who was expelled and why? What do the references to Lucifer and Paradise Lost indicate to you?

8. After school, Annie and her friends sit on the tombstones "of long-dead people who had been the masters of our ancestors" (p.50). What other references does the book give to Antigua's history of slavery? Does the history of her people and her island explain anything about Annie's character that might otherwise seem strange to you?

9. Annie says, "I could see how Ruth felt from looking at her face. Her ancestors had been the masters, while ours had been the slaves. She had such a lot to be ashamed of, and by being with us every day she was always being reminded. We could look everybody in the eye, for our ancestors had done nothing wrong except just sit somewhere, defenseless" (p.76). Annie reflects, "If the tables had been turned we would have acted differently." Do you believe that Ruth should feel responsible for what her ancestors did, or that the other girls should feel virtuous? Do you think that Kincaid herself believes what she has Annie say? Consider the manner in which both slavery and colonialism are depicted in this novel.

10. Annie's three-month illness changes her deeply; she seems a different person after her recovery. In what ways has she changed, physically and emotionally?

11. By the end of the book, Annie has rejected every aspect of her home and childhood: "As I was lying there my heart could have burst open with joy at the thought of never having to see any of it again" (p.132). Is this sort of rejection an inevitable part of the process of growing up? Or is Annie's hostility and rejection unusually extreme? If so, why?

12. Though Annie is more or less a grown-up by the end of the book, does she ever fully accept that fact? Does she see herself as independent and adult, or does she still think of herself as a child?

13. Jamaica Kincaid has said that her leaving Antigua "was a means of personal liberation" (NOW, 10/12/89). Why do you think Kincaid was only able to find liberation by leaving home? Is Annie the same in this way? Can you think of any other literary characters who, like Annie, make this move almost from necessity?

14. To what extent are Annie's experiences and emotions universal, and to what extent are they individual products of her own personality, family, and environment? Do you feel that you have a lot in common with her? What aspects of her life resemble your own?