Annie John

The protagonist of the novel. Annie is bright, spunky, and witty. She tells her own story in tones that vary from serious to comic. Her struggle throughout the novel is to become a separate self. For most of the book, she wants to remain united with her mother and therefore fights the separation in every way possible. She finds substitutes with her friends and becomes disobedient. In her disobedience, she comes to define herself in a unique way that stands in contrast to the complacently demanded of other young girls in the Antiguan social order.

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Annie's mother

Annie's mother is a strong, capable, beautiful woman whom Annie admires and deeply loves. We are generally only able to see the mother as Annie sees her, which may place her in a negative light. When Annie is young, her mother takes complete and loving care of her. Annie's hatred of her mother grows as a result of her mother saying that she is a separate being. Annie's mother is marked by power in the realms of obeah, the powerful spiritual beliefs native to the Caribbean. She is brave enough to prepare a dead girl for her final rest in a coffin, but also caring enough to carefully bathe her daughter. Annie's mother's sexuality appears to have been the cause for her departure from her home island of Dominica and also is one of the reasons that Annie grows to hate her.

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Annie's father

Annie's father is a kindly, quiet man who is always pleasant to Annie and in the household sphere. While he is kind, the household runs according to his presence. His wife wakes up early to prepare food for him and she cooks for him throughout the day. Before marrying Annie's mother, her father slept with other women and even fathered their children. These women occasionally harass Annie's mother on the street. This legacy of philandering suggests his previous sexual freedom. He is approximately thirty years older than Annie's mother and now has conveniently retired to a life of quiet domesticity. Although he appears to be a kind man, his presence carries subtle undertones of the unequal power relations between genders in the Antigua of Annie's childhood.


Annie's best friend in school. Annie uses her relationship with Gwen to fill the void she feels after her mother appears to betray her. Gwen and Annie become inseparable and share their secrets and stories with one another. At the same time, Annie senses that their friendship lacks something since the two girls cling to each other primary because of separation anxiety. After Annie's illness, when she craves rather than fears separation, Annie realizes that her connection with Gwen is not very meaningful. Gwen's docility and willingness to conform to the social order handed down by the colonial power makes her dull in Annie's eyes.

The Red Girl

A local lower class girl whom Annie befriends. The Red Girl's life is as unstructured as Annie's is structured and Annie wants to be like her. The Red Girl only has to wash and comb her hair once a week and is allowed to run wild without parental control. Annie becomes a bit of a hooligan herself after befriending the Red Girl. They are frequently playing marbles, lying constantly, and being a petty thief. The Red Girl stands as a fully defiant character who refuses to live according to the norms that the colonial society imposes on her. She has not been indoctrinated by the English social order because she does not seem to attend school. She refuses to wear the clothes established as proper by the English system and she even seems to lack a proper English name, being only referred to as the "Red Girl." Annie's willingness to interact with the Red Girl demonstrates her own desire for defiance against the dominant social order.

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Ma Chess

Annie's grandmother. Ma Chess lives on Dominica but comes to Antigua to heal Annie. Ma Chess is a powerful female figure who is deeply connected with the local healing religion of the island, obeah. She appears to have powers outside of her self that she uses to maintain her own health and to bring Annie's back to her. Ma Chess is a deeply intuitive, strong woman who represents the strength of the local Antiguan culture and who stands apart from a Caribbean world organized according to the British social order.

Pa Chess

Annie's mother's father. Annie's mother and he quarreled when she was young, which led Annie's mother to leave home at the age of sixteen. Later in life, he becomes decrepit and unable to walk around freely. He represents oppressive male control over a family. When his son became sick, he refused to let an obeah woman treat him and after he died Ma Chess, his wife, never spoke to him again.


The girl who dies after having a disease where she eats mud. Annie's mother prepares Nalda's dead body for the funeral.


The slowwitted girl whom Annie adores and pesters at school, until she discovers that Sonia's mother died. Annie no longer talks to her after that because she finds Sonia too shameful without a mother.


The boy that Annie played with when she was a young girl. He tricked her into sitting naked on a red anthill, so that she was stung all over. When she meets him later in life, she remembers this incident as a time when her mother stood up for her.


The girl who is second in class behind Annie. Annie finds Hilarene boring and dull because Hilarene has no spunk and is very well behaved. Annie's disobedience relates to her desire to defy the dominant social order, the colonial ideal handed down by the school. Because Hilarene lacks a similar desire, Annie finds her uninteresting.

Miss Nelson

Annie's original homeroom teacher at school who praised Annie's essay about her mother. Her surname is the same as one of the British Admirals who conquered the Caribbean, thus suggesting her place as an instructor in the colonial social order.

Miss Edward

Annie's history teacher at school who grows extremely upset with Annie's defacing of the history book. Her name is the same as several of the British kings suggesting her place in maintaining the British social order.

Miss Charlotte

Annie's neighbor who falls down dead on the street.

Ma Jolie

The obeah woman who moved to Antigua from Dominica and who comes to treat Annie during her illness.