Chapter Eight: A Walk to the Jetty
Annie John is now seventeen and is going to head to England to study nursing. She wakes on the morning that she will leave knowing that later in the day she shall take a boat to Barbados and then to England. Annie looks over everything in her house thinking about her life and about how either her mother or father made everything that is in it. In one way this familiarity makes Annie feel nostalgic, but in another way it makes her realize that she has to go elsewhere to develop her own self.
Annie hears the local church bell ring, which means that it is seven in the morning, when her father usually rises and goes to work. Annie rises and dresses in clothes and jewelry specifically touched by the obeah woman. She then eats a larger Sunday style breakfast with her parents. They act both cheery and sad and Annie acts the same way, even though she feels relief that she is going. Her mother suggests that Annie might get married after leaving and Annie bluntly dismisses the idea. After breakfast, Annie decides that she should say good-bye to Gwen, even though she no longer deeply cares for her. Gwen tells Annie that she is going to marry a local boy, Nevis, in the fall. Annie wishes her luck, but thinks in her head that Gwen has become absorbed by utter silliness.
Annie later walks through town with her parents as they make their way to the ship that will take her away. Her mind swirls with memories as she passes the institutions of her youth: her school, her church, and the seamstress where she apprenticed. Annie remembers the first time her mother sent her on an errand, to get dried herbs from the store, and how her mother wept with pleasure when Annie returned successfully. Annie's mind contains a slideshow of memories from her island, but still she is planning to leave it behind.
Finally, Annie and her parents reach the jetty that she will depart from. Annie remembers how she and her father used to walk there for exercise, and her father would chat with one of the watchmen. As Annie stares down, she suddenly feels worried about slipping through the jetty into the blue green water. A moment of panic hits her when she considers leaving her parents and her life behind. She wonders why she does not fall into a heap on the jetty right then and there. But she does not. She and her parents board the launch that will take them out to their boat. Once they get out to the boat, her mother introduces Annie to the captain and explains that Annie has never traveled alone. Annie will be sharing a cabin with another young woman. Annie's parents embrace her and her mother starts to cry, which makes Annie start to cry. Her mother tells her that it does not matter what Annie goes off and does because her mother will always be her mother and Antigua will always be her home. Annie smiles and looks loving, but feels in her heart how good it is that she is going. Her mother turns and walks out of the cabin. Soon after, Annie gets a large red cotton handkerchief out of her bag to wave good-bye to her family, as is the custom. When Annie's mother sees her waving, she waves furiously back until they can no longer see one another. Annie then goes back into the cabin and listens to the waves lapping the ship as they begin to leave.
In the final chapter, Annie's attitude toward her self and her parents differ from her feelings throughout much of the book. Annie has accepted the idea that she is a separate person. In fact, her separateness now seems profoundly important and she looks forward to being far from her parents and her history so that she can develop it. When she wakes on the final morning, she sees that her house leaves no space for her identity because it is full with her parents' identities. Everything in the house defines them and not her. Annie needs to find a new place of her own in order to be free to articulate her self. For this reason, she feels nostalgic in her house, but also matter-of-fact about her need to leave it.
Annie's desire for separateness combined with her nostalgia lends her a dual consciousness throughout this chapter. At the breakfast table, her parents laugh with sadness at Annie's departure, while neighbors stop by to wish her luck on her adventure. Annie sees her parents' festive mood as evidence that they too believe that it is time for her to move on. Annie acts friendly on the surface, but feels a sense of disgust in her heart. When saying good-bye to Gwen, Annie thinks that Gwen has devolved into totally silliness, like a monkey. The fact that Gwen will soon be getting married while Annie fully shuns the notion of marriage, as she said to her parents, further underscores the difference between the two girls.
Annie walk through town with her parents again reinforces her ambiguous feelings about her departure. In every sight, she sees her past. But Annie wants to be free from a place where everyone assumes that they know her history. In leaving her familial ground, she will be able to carve out new possibilities. Annie's desire to redefine her history according to her own terms is an emotion shared by many colonial people whose history and identities were frequently defined by those who colonized them. Annie has been trained with a sound colonial education, but she leaves the island with clothing and jewelry blessed by a local obeah woman. Upon reaching England, she will be able to redefine herself as she sees fit without the dictates of others around her.
The sea again takes on a symbolic role in this chapter. When Annie first reaches the jetty, she fears falling through it into the blue-green water where the blue-green eels dwell. After a near panic at the concept of separation, she stills herself as she heads out to the boat and sees the clear crystalline ocean around her. With this view, the water appears to once again be a purifying liquid that will transform Annie as it carries her on her way to England. The final phrases of the novel use imagery that suggest the boat as another means of childbirth. Just as she left the salty amniotic fluid of her mother's womb, so too will the salt water of the ocean take her in a symbolic second birth to a new life separate from her mother's body. Annie's final moments with her mother are genuinely poignant, but as Annie departs it seems entirely correct that she should be going. She is a separate person and has finally accepted it. Through her symbolic voyage across the ocean, she will be born again and will come to begin anew in the new country of England.
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