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Annie John

Jamaica Kincaid

Chapter Three: Gwen

Chapter Two: The Circling Hand

Chapter Three: Gwen, page 2

page 1 of 2
Summary

Annie is on her way to attend a new school and feels both excited and nervous at the transition. She visited the school the week before, so she knows her way around when she gets there. Once in homeroom, one of the other girls asks if she is Annie John and comments that they heard she is very smart, which Annie agrees with. The teacher, Miss Nelson, enters and takes the roll. She tells the girls that they will all be writing an original autobiographical essay that morning that they will read to each other in the afternoon. Annie works all morning until lunch and, in her excitement, dashes back to school right after eating with her parents.

The class sits outside under a tree while everyone reads their essays. Many of the essays deal with dreams of emigration, family members living abroad, or times when friends met members of the British aristocracy. Annie's story describes when she and her mother uses to swim at Rat Island when Annie was young to strengthen Annie's kidneys. Because Annie could not swim, her mother held her as they moved through the water. One day, Annie started watching some ships passing in the distance and when she turned back around she could not find her mother. Finally, Annie saw that her mother was lying on a rock not too far away. Annie started jumping and waving, but her mother did not see her and Annie could not swim to reach her. Her mother's separation made Annie weep because she feared that they might never be reunited. When Annie's mother finally reached the shore, she felt surprised at Annie's tears. When Annie explained her fear, her mother said that she would never leave Annie. After the episode, Annie occasionally dreamt of it and sometimes visualized the ocean separating both her mother and father from her. One morning after the dream, Annie told her mother of it and her mother explained again that she would never leave Annie.

Upon finishing the essay, Annie thinks that her classmates were almost touched to tears and that they loved it. Miss Nelson compliments Annie and asks her for a copy of the paper so it can be posted where everyone can read it. Annie reflects that part of the essay contained a slight lie, because when she told her mother about the dream her mother had simply told her not to eat fruit before bed because it was giving her bad dreams. As they walked back to the classroom, Annie feels proud. A girl named Gwen pinches her arm and gives Annie a black rock that came from the base of a volcano. This moment starts their deep friendship to come. Later the two girls walk home together.

Gwen and Annie soon become fully in love with one another and are inseparable. They share all their stories and secrets together. They walk to and from school together everyday. They become a tight pair, just as some of the other girls have become in their school.

Because Annie is the brightest student in the class, the teacher often leaves her in charge if she has to leave the room. Annie always stands up for everyone, though, and this tendency makes her popular. She also is gifted at sports and is slightly mischievous. The girls frequently sit behind the school in a cluster of tombstones during recess. They sing dirty songs and discuss their soon-to-be growing breasts. One day, Annie starts to menstruate, and is the first girl to do so. Her mother teaches her how to wrap cloth between her legs. As Annie walks to school, she thinks that everyone who looks at her knows that she is bleeding. During recess, she feels bound by decorum to show off to the other girls as they sit in the tombstone area, but Annie wishes that she were not the first girl to have started. Later in class, Annie starts visualizing her own blood and faints. The nurse lets Annie rest, but then decides to send her home to her mother. When Annie reaches home, her mother comes forward with concern, but Annie feels only bitterness and anger.

Analysis

Annie's struggles with her self and her mother continue in this chapter, although another important factor appears: Annie's attendance in school. School represents the social order that has been constructed by the British colonial power that still governs Antigua. The teachers in Annie's school are named after English kings (Miss Edward and Miss George) an English fleet Admiral (Miss Nelson) and the famous London Prison (Miss Newgate). Annie subtly criticizes the English order by commenting on the personal body issues of British people. First she observes that that the headmistress of the school, Miss Moore, who moved to Antigua from England always looks like a dried prune who had been left out in the sun. Second, she notes that English people often smell like fish because they do not wash enough. Annie will excel in adhering to the standards required by her teachers, the representatives of the British educational order, but her rebelliousness, which is just barely visible in this chapter but will grow, shows the feisty Antiguan spirit that remains underneath.

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