Analysis of Major Characters
Annie John is the narrator and central character in the novel, who therefore dominates the text. Because she is the narrator, everything that the reader hears and sees is filtered through her voice. Likewise, the depiction of her self and of all the other characters comes as she wills it. As it most evident through her depiction of her mother, her description of what actually happens often takes place with a highly subjective perspective. Although just a growing girl, Annie is a complex figure. In her early youth, she struggles fiercely against the idea of separation from her mother. Her fears about being left alone in the world dominate her early days and when they are not entirely resolved transform into bitterness and hatred. At the same time, as she grows into her adolescence, she learns to harden herself against efforts to restrict her personal freedom and articulation. Both Annie's mother and her teachers have a firm idea of who Annie should become. Annie manages to evade these definitions and develop a uniquely dual consciousness by both her abilities and her insolence. On the one hand, her ability to adhere to the colonial order allows her to become the best student in the class who is made the class prefect and later promoted several grades above her level. On the other hand, she keeps up her feisty spirit by being rambunctious outside the classroom. She entertains the other girls with dirty songs, becomes a thief and a liar, and even an expert in marbles. While some of these activities carry a dishonest taint, they all prove crucial to Annie's personal development in a colonial atmosphere that tries to define who it thinks that she is. Annie's attitude often carries a certain arrogance, especially toward the end of the book where she believes many of the other characters to lack the necessary spirit, like Gwen, however even her defiance and arrogance seem understandable, since they are the tools that allowed her to thrive in a colonial environment that sought to define who she is.
Annie's mother (Mrs. John)
The characterization of Mrs. John only comes from Annie because Annie is the sole narrator of the novel. Because Annie hates her mother for much of the book, Mrs. John's character often comes across negatively. Given Annie's strong emotions toward her mother, however, these impressions are not generally credible. Initially, Mrs. John appears to be a wonderful mother. She is strong, capable, and beautiful. When she walks through the markets in town, the sellers all run to greet her. She contains powerful knowledge about nature, the rituals of obeah, and even about death. It is she who first teaches Annie about death and she who later has the strength to prepare a dead child for the grave. Her ability to not be cowed by the ugly natural elements of the world show her to be a courageous woman, especially in Annie's eyes. The kindness of Annie's mother can initially be seen from the lengthy baths that she gives her, the fact that she kisses her before sleep even though Annie is supposed to lose the kiss as punishment, and the time that she takes to retell Annie the family history as seen in her trunk. When Annie starts to dislike her mother, the mother still appears to be reasonable. Annie's initial anger at her mother starts because her mother insists that they are separate people, which Annie cannot accept. Because Annie's anger at her mother appears to be an outgrowth of Annie's immaturity, it does not appear initially that Annie's mother has done anything wrong in suggesting the true fact that she and her daughter are separate people.
Annie's mother is also a sexual creature, which is one of the reasons that Annie hates her. Mrs. John manages to captivate her husband's attentions as they eat lunch together and later they are actually shown having sex. The legacy of sexual promiscuity seems to hang over Annie's mother early life. Her flight from Dominica at age sixteen took place after a fight with her father that appears most likely linked with her being engaged in some early sexual activity. Still, although Annie envies her parents' sexual union, Mrs. John does not seem to neglect her daughter by having sexual relationships with her husband. Because Annie's description of her mother is not believable, there is no way to determine if Mrs. John actually neglected her daughter in her attentions to her husband or not.
The Red Girl
The Red Girl is a character that is about Annie's age who represents the defiant person that Annie wishes to become. The Red Girl exists in a world that is very different from Annie's structured one. The Red Girl does not need to bathe, dress, and attend school everyday. Whereas Annie's life is defined by her attention to expected social behavior, the Red Girl's life lies outside of those expectations. The Red Girl represents the world outside of the British colonial order. The Red Girl does not adhere to the British form of dress or schooling. Without a name, she even seems to exist outside of the British language and code of legal documents. The Red Girl offers Annie a sense of self and of Antigua that Annie is not able to learn about in school. By spending time with her, Annie learns the possibilities that lie apart from her mother's dominion. When the Red Girl leaves Antigua, Annie dreams that the Red Girl's boat will capsize and Annie will save her. The two girls will then live together on an isolated island. Each time colonial ships pass, Annie and the Red Girl will send them confusing symbols so that the ships crash upon the shore. In this dream, Annie demonstrates her desire to become a person who will subvert the colonial system as she imagines that the Red Girl does. The ships that they will destroy represent the British Empire and by sending them to their destruction, Annie will defy the colonial system. The presence of the Red Girl plays a crucial role in Annie's development to become an independent person in a colonial country.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!