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Annie John

Jamaica Kincaid

Chapter Two: The Circling Hand

Chapter One: Figures in the Distance

Chapter Two: The Circling Hand, page 2

page 1 of 2
Summary

When Annie is on holiday from school, she is allowed to sleep in until long after her father goes to work. Her father always wakes at seven with the church bell, eats the breakfast, jumps in a cold bath, and shaves. Because Annie John is a girl, her mother adds hot water to the bath when it is Annie's turn. Sometimes Annie and her mother take a bath together. Mrs. John often puts special herbs and flowers in the bath for healing purposes, and fully washes Annie. After their baths, Annie and her mother eat and then head to town. Annie feels proud and important to go shopping with her mother. Mrs. John uses good shopping sense and always instructs Annie on how to buy the best products and clothes. On their way home from town, an angry woman occasionally approaches them and curses. Annie's mother always hides her in her skirt at these moments, but despite her efforts, Annie knows that this woman is one of several who hate her mother because they had children with her father but are not married to him.

Mrs. John usually cooks a sumptuous lunch after they get home and Annie's father returns to eat. As they eat, Annie admires her mother's beauty and notices that her father finds her mother's commentary incredibly funny and always laughs when she talks. Annie loves her mother very much and believes their life together to be a virtual paradise.

Mrs. John grew up on the island of Dominica but fled home at the age of sixteen for Antigua. She came to Antigua with only a trunk painted yellow and green. Sometimes Annie and her mother look through this trunk and her mother tells stories of the objects within it. Annie knows all these stories, but finds no greater joy than to sit on her mother's lap hearing them all again. Sometimes Annie starts to worry about people who have no one to love them. Her father, for example, lost both of his parents at a young age because they simply moved away to South America. After they left, he lived with his grandmother until one morning he woke up and found her dead. Upon her death, he left home. When Annie's father tells her this story, they both cry. Annie feels bad that her father was left all alone and she fears that her own parents will go away like her father's did. She is afraid to be left alone because she loves everything as it is.

When she gets to be around twelve, Annie's body starts to mature physically and her mother starts suggesting that Annie might not always live with them. One day, her mother shows her how to fold sheets, but mentions that Annie may want to fold them in a different way when she gets her own home. Another time while shopping, Annie wants to get fabric with men playing pianos on it, but her mother tells Annie that she is too old to go around looking a younger version of her. Eventually Annie gets the fabric, but whenever she wears the dress she feels resentful. Her mother also starts stressing that Annie needs to grow into a lady. She sends Annie to a woman who will teach her manners and to a piano teacher, but Annie gets kicked out of both classes for misbehaving. Annie lies about getting kicked out of the manners class, but her mother hears about Annie eating a plum from the piano and turns her back angrily on her daughter. Annie feels distressed at her mother's anger, but even more at their growing separation.

Despite her growing distress at her mother's behavior, Annie remembers that she soon will be attending a new school. She spends considerable time in town getting her books and new uniforms. One day she returns from Sunday school to find her parents making love in bed, with her mother's hand circling on her father's back She feels angry that her parents are not paying attention to her. When she sees her mother at dinner, she sees her in a totally new way. They have changed. Annie John feels disgusted when she looks at her mother's hands. She makes a cruel insolent remark to her mother because she is angry. Her mother looks sad and turns away. Annie decides that her relationship with her mother has totally changed, but consoles herself with the knowledge that she will attend school the following Monday and meet Gwen, so all shall be fine.

Analysis

This chapter cuts to the heart of the relationship between Annie and her mother. In its opening segments, Annie's depicts her early life as a small paradise in which she and her mother share most moments of her summer vacation. As they bathe together, Annie's body almost becomes that of her mother. The water plays an important symbolic role of purification and revitalization that will continue throughout the novel. They eat breakfast together and shop together in town. Annie believes that her mother is the smartest and best mother, who also is extraordinarily beautiful. Annie's mother always knows where to buy the best bread, crabs, and fish. She knows how to wash the laundry and dry it on the large rocks in the yard. She cooks delicious meals at lunch for all three of them. Annie finds her mother to be without fault and assumes that they will always live in total peace with one another.

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