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Annie John

Jamaica Kincaid

Chapter Six: Somewhere, Belgium

Chapter Five: Columbus in Chains

Chapter Seven: The Long Rain

Summary

Annie is now fifteen and she imagines that she is unhappier than anyone else could possible be. Her unhappiness cannot be traced to a simple factor, but thrives inside like a heavy black ball that is covered with cobwebs. Annie believes that this blackness inside makes everything that she once enjoyed appear sour. She and her mother now go through the world with two faces. To her father and to their friends, they act pleasant and friendly. Toward each other, though, the truth is apparent. Annie acts hidden and secretive toward her mother. Her mother pays her back by constantly complementing Annie in a way that annoys her. Annie is completely obsessed by her love and revulsion for her mother. She both wishes her dead and doubts that she will be able to survive without her. Annie starts to have a recurring dream in which she is walking down a road and with each footstep hears her voice saying, "I would kill my mother if I got the chance. My mother would kill me if she got the chance." This dream makes Annie feel afraid of her mother, but at the same time makes her feel empowered.

In school, Annie has been raised out of her grade because of her abilities. She is now in a class with girls two or three years older than her and she feels out of place. These girls have fully mature bodies and appear very vain. Annie devotes her time to her studies and once again emerges as either the top or second to the top student. Gwen and Annie still walk home together, but Annie knows that something has changed between them. One day, Gwen suggests that Annie marry Gwen's brother, so that Gwen and Annie will always be together. This idea startles Annie and Gwen's suggestion of it reminds her of how far apart the two girls are. As Gwen keeps talking, Annie starts to daydream. She decides that she wants to move to Belgium, where Jane Eyre, her favorite character, once traveled. In Belgium, Annie's mother could address letters to her as "Annie John, Somewhere Belgium," because Annie would not say in what city she was. Gwen assumes that Annie's silence means that she agrees with the marriage idea.

Annie stops spending so much time with Gwen after the marriage discussion, and even lies about having extra work in order to avoid her. One day, evading Gwen, Annie walks into town after school. She finds herself in front of a clothing store and sees her reflection in the window. Annie sadly observes that she looks awkward and ugly, and she compares herself to a picture of young Lucifer. Some boys standing nearby start teasing her gently. Annie knows one of them, Mineu, because they used to play as children. One day when they were children, they acted out the hanging of a legendary murderer and Mineu got stuck in the noose and almost choked. His mother's arrival saved him, but everyone wondered why Annie had not run for help. Another time, Mineu tricked her by getting her to sit naked on a red anthill, where she promptly was stung all over. Annie's mother stood up for Annie then and she and Mineu stopped being friends when Mineu's mother refused to accept Mineu's fault. As the boys keep laughing at her on the street, Annie walks away.

When Annie gets home, her mother appears angry that Annie is late from school. Her mother explains that she was in the clothing store and saw Annie looking in. She also saw Annie flirting and conducting herself improperly with those boys. After Annie's mother uses the slang word for "slut" numerous times, Annie says "like mother like daughter." Silence grows between the two and the mother tells Annie that she always loved her best until that moment, and then walks away. As Annie watches her mother walk away, Annie feels that her mother is young and vigorous, while Annie is old and broken. Annie returns to her room depressed and contemplates her mother's old trunk sits under her bed. Later at dinner, Annie's father asks her what type of furniture he should make her next and Annie asks him to make her a trunk of her own. He agrees to do so.

Analysis

Annie's relationship with her mother has completely disintegrated and Annie starts to feel the effects physically. Annie envisions a heavy black ball inside of her body that lends a sour edge to the world around. The ball comes everywhere with Annie and makes her miserable. Her relationship with her mother has disintegrated such that the two now stand completely opposed to one another. The world may think that everything is normal between them, but they know better. At the same time, Annie's relationships at school have also diminished. Due to her abilities, Annie is played in a class where she is no longer fits in socially with the other students. Even Annie's relationship with Gwen seems outdated and uninteresting. Annie's relationship with her mother stands as poorly as ever, while at the same time those things that previously supported her in her time of woe have disappeared.

Annie's misery sends her into the world of fiction. Annie's favorite book is Jane Eyre and she, as did Jane, wants to go to Belgium. Although Annie once wanted to never be separate from her mother, her anger and dismay at their differences now makes Annie want to hide completely in some unknown Belgian town. It is worth noting that the character of Jane Eyre, herself, is an orphan who always felt cast out and separated from the world. Annie's tendency to identify with Jane, despite the fact that she has a family, demonstrates how alienated and isolated she feels from her mother.

Annie's visit to town and her musing upon her reflection shows the extent to which she is falling apart. When Annie sees her face, she thinks that she is ugly and ragged. Annie compares herself to a painting of Young Lucifer. The comparison to Lucifer is consistent with the last chapter's reference to Paradise Lost in that it again marks her as a person, like Lucifer, who has been kicked out of paradise by a dominant figure and who is now bound to eternal loneliness and isolation. Annie's feeling of dismay at her physical body and appearance prefigures her physical illness that follows in the next chapter. Already by obsessing over the black ball of sadness in her and by seeing her face with distortion, Annie appears to be on the cusp of a mental breakdown.

The interaction between Annie and the boys of the street provides a further hostile world in which even young boys, including one who was her friend, torment her. Annie remembers a time when her mother staunchly defended her against this boy, but such a defense is no longer to be. The attack of Annie's mother calling her a "slut" injures Annie to the core. Of course, her mother has misunderstood, but Annie recoils to the defensive says simply "like mother, like daughter." The effectiveness of Annie's response suggests that it carries some truth, and that her mother was involved in early sexual experimentation and perhaps this accounts for why she fled from her family in Dominica. Annie feels sick after the confrontation, but sees her mother as looking stronger and more vigorous than ever.

Annie's final consideration of the trunk suggests her full rejection of her mother. Annie's desire to have a trunk of her own heralds her desire to willfully separate from her mother. The trunk, whose stories once defined her, now seems to oppress with its presence. Annie thinks she is ready to have her own trunk to put her own objects and stories into. Annie's desire for a trunk of her own foreshadows her eventual desire to emerge as a separate person.

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