Annie John

by: Jamaica Kincaid

Chapter Three: Gwen

Summary Chapter Three: Gwen

Annie's essay for school articulates her fear of separation from her mother, which surfaced in the previous chapter. The general admiration of Annie's theme indicates that the other girls of her age group share her emotion. In Annie's story, water again plays an important symbolic role, as both a transformer and purifier. First, Annie and her mother swim at the beach in order to strength Annie's internal organs. Initially, they swim together with Annie's mother holding her. This joint movement through recalls the tendency for Annie to bathe with her mother. More importantly, the salty water of the ocean recalls the amniotic fluid of the womb and Annie's bobbing up and down in the water while clinging to her mother suggests a pre-birth state. After Annie's mother separates onto a rock, a stream of this same salty water will now divide them, just as the passing of the amniotic fluid that brought Annie to life rendered them asunder. In this way, Annie's story carries metaphoric undertones about Annie's pain at being separated from her mother with the act of birth. At the same time, the imagery also foreshadows Annie's future life movement. As a young girl, Annie feels pained when she sees water dividing her from her mother. As she grows however, Annie will purposely separate herself from her mother with similar water, by moving to England and placing the Atlantic Ocean between them. Annie will later come to embrace and even desire this separation that she now so bitterly fears. Thus her essay serves as both a commentary upon the inherent separation between mother and daughter, while simultaneously foreshadowing the future.

The title of this chapter, "Gwen," comes from Annie's new friendship with Gwen. But like the chapter before "the Circling Hand," the name does not so much invoke the importance of the object mentioned but rather what that object represents. Annie does profess to love Gwen, but there is little doubt that Annie uses her friendship with Gwen primarily to compensate for the neglect that she feels from her mother. Since it is becoming clear to Annie that she and her mother may not spend the rest of their lives together, Annie uses Gwen as a substitute. The two share their stories and secrets and plan a life together, but to a large extent the depth of their relationship comes from their psychological need to replace a distancing maternal relationship. Nor are Gwen and Annie the only ones to create such mollifying bonds. Kincaid points out that most of the other girls find a similar mate to cling to and in doing so, she suggests that Annie's troubles with her mother are not necessarily individual, but rather a natural development of a growing adolescent psyche. Annie's desire to be popular at school also helps her to satisfy the lack of love that she feels from her mother.

Annie's final dismay over her menstruation again highlights her desire not to separate from her mother. With menstruation, Annie has undeniably become a separate self. Her body has now reached female maturity and she is no longer a child. Annie feels almost morose at the development. Normally, the chance to show other girls something that they have not yet experienced would make her exuberant, but, although she does show them due to decorum, she wishes that she could be a spectator rather than being center stage. Annie is dragging her heels in every way possible as to not be pushed into adulthood, but, as her menstruation indicates, it is a process that she cannot stop. Perhaps in reaction to her internal stress about the unpreventable arrival of womanhood, she faints in her class. This faint manages to send her back to the comfort of her mother, but although her mother greets her with concern, Annie feels only bitterness. Annie longs for unification with her mother but seems to realize that it is now impossible, so she continues to view her only with anger.