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Annie John

Jamaica Kincaid

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

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Quiz

Study Questions

What issue is crucial in the breakdown of the relationship between Annie and her mother? What steps take place as it deteriorates?

Annie's troubles with her mother originate with unwillingness to find her own identity that is separate from that of her parents. Annie's relationship with her mother begins to fall apart when Annie realizes that her mother and she are separate people who will not always be completely united. The awareness of separateness begins early, such as when Mrs. John suggests that Annie may one day have her own home, or when she wants Annie to stop looking like a "little her." When Annie discovers that her parents are a sexual unit, she feels particularly exiled and angered. Annie sees her mother's sexuality with her father as an act of betrayal against her. Annie rebels by forming a fierce friendship with Gwen, and later by being disobedient and dishonest. Despite her constant assertion that she no longer loves her mother, Annie still craves for her mother's attention and ultimately wants her life to return to how it was when she was a child. As Annie ages, physical changes in her body, such as menstruation, make it clear that no matter what she does, she will become a separate person. Annie's emotional breakdown comes when she is overcome by the demands that self and society place upon her. She recovers from her three-month illness by being coddled, as if she still were an infant, by her grandmother. After receiving the proper attention, Annie wakes up and now feels prepared to be her own self in the future. To some extent, she still feels bitterness toward her mother at the end of the novel, but since she has stopped fighting her inexorable development into a separate self, their relationship has less stress and tension.

Discuss Annie's relationship with Gwen. How does it begin and why does it change?

Annie becomes close friends with Gwen when she is around ten. The girls have met on their first day at their new school and have become fast friends. They walk to and from school everyday and share all of their secrets and stories. Annie uses Gwen's friendship initially to cope with the sadness that she feels about losing her mother's full attention. In Gwen, Annie looks for a substitute to replace her mother. Annie initially assumes that she can stay with Gwen forever, just as she once assumed that she could stay with her mother forever. Annie's relationship with Gwen changes because as they age the two girls become different people. In Annie's rebellion against her mother, she starts to explore the area outside of the normal social order. Annie befriends the Red Girl, plays marbles, and climbs the forbidden lighthouse. Gwen, on the other hand, remains firmly fixed to the identity provided her by the colonial culture. Late in the book when Gwen suggests that Annie marry her brother, Annie clearly sees that Gwen not only adheres to the general social order, but she also assumes that Annie does as well. Annie does not and finds the concept of her marrying Gwen's brother ridiculous. Because she is completely uninterested in another person who just complacently follows the social order, Annie seeks to avoid her in the future. By the end of the book, Annie views Gwen contemptuously, as a silly "monkey," because Gwen has not developed her own ways and spirit.

Describe Annie's school and the kind of education that she receives? What type of outlook on the world does her education provide her?

Annie's school provides a rigorous education, but one that reinforces the correctness of the British culture and history. Although they live in Antigua, the school is run like a British institution and the students wear uniforms and clothing as English students would. Local customs and practices are looked down upon, such as the ritual that the girls have of dancing calypso in the schoolyard. Likewise, the view of history that the school teaches fails to focus upon the failings of the British Empire, particularly in Antigua. The students are not taught about slavery or other colonial abuses. Historical characters like Christopher Columbus are viewed with the utmost reverence. Although the majority of the teachers at the school are Antiguan, they have so internalized the philosophies of the British order that they can only teach from within its framework. The education helps to instruct the students on how to become content under the government of a colonial state. Because it does not teach the students to question, it suggests that they be complacent and happy under colonial rule, while simultaneously embracing the British colonial culture.

Suggested Essay Topics

Why is Annie so eager to leave Antigua at the end of the novel?

Detail Mrs. John's hopes and fears for Annie's future? Do they conflict with Annie's? Do you think that Mrs. John is a sympathetic character?

Annie's father is present throughout the novel, but plays a secondary role to Annie's mother. Discuss his importance.

Why does Annie become so attracted to the Red Girl? What is it in the Red Girl's life that Annie longs for and lacks?

Annie suffers a breakdown in Chapter Seven so that she is bed ridden for close to three months. Why does this happen? Discuss the events leading up to her breakdown and the way that she is changed after it.

Annie's mother fled Dominica at the age of sixteen to arrive in Antigua. Why did she do this? What the significance of her flight to a new island and of her family?

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