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Annie John

Jamaica Kincaid

Chapter Four: The Red Girl

Chapter Three: Gwen

Chapter Five: Columbus in Chains

Summary

Annie always leaves her house and returns to it by slamming the gate so that her mother can hear when she has come and gone. Before or after she slams the gate, however, she secretly sneaks under the house where she hides stolen and precious objects. Primarily, these objects are books because Annie cannot bear to part with books she has read, so she steals them and stows them under the house.

One day, Annie is throwing a stone at the guava tree trying to knock a fruit down, when the Red Girl comes along. The Red Girl promptly climbs up the tree, something that only boys do, and collects the guava for Annie. Annie is stunned. Annie has known the Red Girl for many years because Annie's mother long has criticized the way that the Red Girl's mother cares for her. The Red Girl only has to take a bath and comb her hair once a week and she always wears ripped and stained clothing. Annie, who has to take a bath everyday, with her hair combed, shoes shined, and uniform clean, feels somewhat envious of the Red Girl's freedom. The two girls go to a nearby lighthouse where they are strictly not allowed to play. From the top, they watch the sea and Annie feels ecstatic. Before leaving, the Red Girl gives Annie three marbles, which Annie decides to hide from her mother.

After meeting up with the Red Girl, Annie sees Gwen after school but finds Gwen dull. Annie does not tell her about the Red Girl. Annie then starts playing marbles and finds out that she is good at it. She starts winning other girls' marbles and acquires so many that she hides them under the house. Soon, Annie maintains a deceptive secret life. After getting home to school, she lies to her mother about having to do some schoolwork outside so that she can play with the Red Girl. Annie even starts stealing small objects from her parents so that she can give the Red Girl presents. Annie hides all of her marbles and other stolen goods under the house. One day, she spends hours winning a beautiful marble to give it to the Red Girl. As she is climbing out from under the house with it, however, her mother sees her. The mother seizes the marble and demands to know where the others are. She searches furiously under and around the house. She cannot find the marbles, a fact that Annie finds wryly ironic. The mother's quest continues for days. Finally, her mother tells a story about how when she was a girl she once carried a bunch of green figs home on her head for her father. Annie's mother felt that the figs were very heavy and upon reaching her house, she put them down and a large black snake crawled out of them and into the woods. Annie feels overcome by love and emotion at the end of the story as she pictures her beautiful mother with a black snake on her head. She decides to tell her mother about the marbles, but when her mother asks in a deceptive tone, Annie immediately denies ever having them.

Soon after her mother's quest, Annie stops playing marbles because she starts to menstruate and the Red Girl moved away to Anguilla. When Annie hears of the Red Girl's departure, she dreams that the Red Girl's ship capsizes, Annie saves her, and together they live on a small island eating wild boars and grapes. When ships pass, the two girls send confusing signals so that the ships crash into the rocks and all the people in them are lost.

Analysis

This chapter represents the pinnacle of Annie's rebellion against her mother. Annie meets the Red Girl and adores her because the Red Girl seems to be everything that Annie is not. The Red Girl's mother lets her run around filthy and ragged, while doing whatever she likes. As Annie spends more time with the Red Girl, she increasingly throws off the rules that she is supposed to follow. She becomes a petty thief. She lies consistently to her mother. She masters marbles, a game her mother deplores. These acts of disobedience are an extension of Annie's anger at her mother. By acting up against her, Annie is taking her revenge upon a mother who insists that they are separate people. Through her disobedience Annie also draws attention to herself, which might be a further attempt to reclaim a connection with her mother that cannot be captured.

Annie's behavior with the Red Girl also is a commentary upon the dominant British colonial structure at the time. The Red Girl effectively stands outside that structure. She does not partake in the colonial education system, therefore does not follow its social order as does Annie. The Red Girl does not wear clean European style clothing, as Annie does. She lets her hair grow wild and she climbs up trees. She does not behave in the civilized way that Antiguans come to learn from their British masters. Even the fact that she lacks a proper name and is simply called "Red Girl," a description that could indicate the color of her skin, shows that she stands apart from the governmental system that imposes names and laws upon its subjects. Annie's attempts to be like the Red Girl demonstrates her own desire to throw off the dominant social order imposed by the colonial class and their expectations. Annie's mother, with her propriety and sense of order, appears as this representative of the dominant order, even though she is Antiguan. The relationship between controlling mother and disobedient daughter parallels the relationship between controlling colonizer and disobedient subjects. In this way, Annie's personal growth and disobedience touch on larger themes of the Antiguan desire for personal articulation within a dominant colonial culture. The final image of the chapter shows Annie and the Red Girl as powerful figures who destroy colonial ships through their manipulation of navigational symbols. With such a dream, Annie demonstrates her desire to stand firmly beside the Red Girl as a figure who has the ability to subvert the dominant colonial order.

While Annie's mother represents the dominant social order, her story of the fig and the snake evokes the magical realm of Antiguan folklore. The story almost gets Annie to confess, because Annie feels overcome with emotion when she envisions a black snake on her mother's head. The story reminds Annie of her Antiguan connection to her mother and of their need for joint unity to ward off such powerful figures as threatening black snakes. Furthermore, the story also contains a slight warning by Annie's mother, a woman who is more able to manipulate obeah, the local witchcraft, than her daughter. When Annie hears the treachery in her mother's tone, however, she refuses to tell her anything. Annie remembers that she and her mother are fighting a battle between the dominant and the rebellious class and she refuses to yield.

The form of this chapter continues in the episodic style that characterizes the others. The close of the chapter however, suggests that the sequences in it take place before many of the events in the previous chapter. At the very end, Annie mentions that she stops playing marbles because the Red Girl moved away and because she started to menstruate. Since the act of menstruation was already fully described in Chapter Three, it seems that the events of Chapter Four must have taken place before some of the events of Chapter Three. This lack of continuity in time highlights the fact that the novel has been constructed as a series of connected episodes that link together with Annie's powerful voice, but not necessarily as a tightly constructed novel would. As this discrepancy with times suggests, the sequences does not necessarily proceed in chronological time.

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