Chapter Seven: The Long Rain
Annie John becomes ill being weak, falling asleep constantly, and being scarcely able to walk to school. Her mother decides that she must stay home in bed. The island has been suffering from a drought for over a year, but just as Annie's illness begins it begins to rain. The rain will continue heavily for over three months and will cover all the dry land. After the rains ends, the islanders will feel that the sea has never gone back to the way that it had once been.
From her sickbed, Annie listens to the rain on the metal roof. She feels weak and delusional. She can only hear the sound of the rain and not what her parents say. Eventually, they take her to the doctor. The doctor finds nothing wrong with her, but recommends increased protein. Her mother feeds her broth and egg cordial with rum in it. Her mother also plans to have a Dominican obeah woman who lives in Antigua, Ma Jolie, treat Annie, although her father does not like the idea. Annie continues to listen to the sound of the rain. She falls asleep and dreams that she walks to the ocean and drinks the sea, but that it starts leaking out of her every cell. When she wakes up, she finds herself in her father's lap by the fire because she has wet the bed. Her mother is changing the sheets.
The next morning, Annie's mother feeds and bathes her. Her mother gives Annie some chocolate milk, which makes Annie remember how she was in the Brownies as a girl. Annie won many award in the Brownies and they held their meetings in the churchyard where they said to the pledge of allegiance to the English flag. After remembering the Brownies, Annie pictures herself as a small doll size Brownie who walks around the streets of Antigua. Sometime later, Ma Jolie, the obeah woman, treats Annie. She ties some strange smelling sachets on her and gives her lots of different medicine. The doctor visits Annie again, but gets upset to find that Ma Jolie has been treating her. For the first two weeks of her illness, Annie's mother and father never leave her alone, but finally one day her mother goes to the fish market. After she leaves, Annie, in her delirium, believes that the photographs on the table across from her are growing larger. The photographs start gyrating in a sexual manner and Annie feels overcome by their smell. She decides to clean them. She dumps them in a bath and scrubs each one clean before dusting them with talcum powder. After this bath, many significant portions of the photographs have disappeared such as the faces in a family wedding photo, the lower halves of her parents' bodies, and everything but Annie's confirmation shoes.
Eventually, Annie's grandmother, Ma Chess, appears mysteriously from Dominica on a day when the ferry was not even running. She knows more about obeah than even Ma Jolie. She suffered a great loss when her own son and Annie's uncle, Johnny, died from an obeah curse years ago. Ma Chess stays in Annie's room everyday. She does not use medicine on her, but crawls into bed with her and holds her in a spoon position. Ma Chess sleeps at the foot of Annie's bed and never leaves her alone. It is from Ma Chess's attentions that Annie is healed.
The rain continues for three and a half months. As it stops, Annie is healed. Ma Chess goes home just as mysteriously as she had come, also on a day when the ferry does not run. Annie's mother fixes the garden that had been damaged by the rain. Finally, Annie's mother takes her outside and they realize that Annie has grown several inches during her illness. Annie now is taller than both parents. They have to buy her new uniforms and shoes for school. As she heals, Annie no longer feels angry at her mother's separateness, but actually comes to embrace it. She decides that she will soon go far away from Antigua to a place where no one will know her. Back at school, Annie acts different as well. She becomes aloof and uninterested in girlish gossip. Her speech becomes forceful and people listen to her words. She never answers questions about her illness, but occasionally refers to it in such as way that the other girls all wish that they had been sick too.
This chapter details Annie's emotional and physical breakdown that follows the fight with her mother in the last chapter. Annie's breakdown is also a necessary consequence to her inability to accept her need to grow into an independent and separate being. Because she cannot do so, she retreats into a world of sickness where her behaviors will imitate those of an infant. Annie, in her sickness, acts just like a baby who cannot eat alone or bathe herself, and she even wets her bed. Annie's mother finds cures from both the Western doctor and the local obeah woman, but neither of them work. Annie's grandmother, Ma Chess, knows how to cure Annie. Although Ma Chess apparently knows more obeah that the obeah woman, she uses a more simple technique to cure her grandchild. Ma Chess gives Annie all the attention that Annie feels her mother has denied her lately. Ma Chess lies constantly in bed with Annie and holds her as if she were an infant. Ma Chess's cure relies upon her knowledge of what Annie's psychology desires and ultimately it works.
Water continues its symbolic role in this chapter. Kincaid mirrors Annie's breakdown with the onset of a three-month deluge of rain. Although the island has suffered from a drought for over a year, this rain will be so forceful that after it ends, the islanders will think that the sea has permanently shifted. In the same way, Annie will be completely different after the disease, after the rain, than she was before. Physically, she will have grown larger. Emotionally, she will be more secure and now prepared to accept her separation and independence from her parents, especially from her mother. The water thus continues to serve a purifying and transforming role, as it has previously done such as with the baths that Annie and her mother used to take. Initially, the sound of the rain adds to her sense of disconnectedness. Yet, by the end the sound of falling rain will have helped to purify and change, and when it stops she will be transformed.
Annie's destruction of her family photographs carries symbolic meaning as well, in which Annie takes revenge against their images for faults owed to her. In her parents' snapshot, for example, the lower half of their bodies disappear which metaphorically indicates that they are no longer able to perform the sexual act that excludes her. In a family wedding photo, only Annie's face remains suggesting the quality of her reality and life as compared to the others. Finally, in her confirmation photo, only the shoes that she forced her mother to buy her remain, which again serve as an act of defiance toward her mother who tried to limit Annie's means of self-expression. Annie's parents see the destruction of the photographs as an indication of her illness, but her destruction of the images serve as a powerful expression of Annie's subconscious angers and desires.
By the end of the chapter, Annie's sense of self has emerged. Annie is healed and changed after her illness, after the storm. She has grown several inches and now towers over everyone. Her attitude has also changed. She begins to think of leaving her island and her family for her own space. She finds the other girls in school inane and uninteresting in their childish gossip. The pain that has subjugated Annie throughout the book has mostly disappeared as the chapter closes. Annie became ill, but by mothering her, Ma Chess made her well again, and now Annie is ready to go on her way.
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