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Annie John | Study Guide

Jamaica Kincaid

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Annie John | Chapter 2 : The Circling Hand | Summary



Annie describes the typical daily goings-on of her family life. Each morning her mother draws a cold bath for Annie's father, to which she adds a variety of bark and herbs. Annie and her mother typically bathe together, with Mother carefully washing Annie's body and checking for signs that someone had sent "bad spirits" to harm her. After the bath Mother makes Annie breakfast and they set out for the day, running errands in town. Mother teaches Annie how to select each item from the grocery store, hang laundry, and how to add the perfect blend of spices to an afternoon meal. Annie feels proud of her mother and relishes in the special attention.

Annie's mother left the island of Dominica when she was 16 after a fight with her father. She packed all her belongings in a trunk and boarded the first ship to Antigua. Now, she uses the trunk to store sentimental items from Annie's childhood, like her baby blanket, first pair of shoes, and school report cards. Annie loves when her mother cleans out the trunk and tells her, one by one, the story of each item. When this happens, Annie thinks to herself, "How terrible it must be for all the people who had no one to love them so." Her father, for example, had been raised by his grandparents. His parents sent money for clothes and school, but after they sailed to South America when he was a little boy, he never saw them again.

When Annie turns 12, she and her mother go shopping to buy new fabric for dresses. Annie loves that she and her mother have always matched, but this time, her mother comments that she needs to start choosing her own fabrics: "You just cannot go around the rest of your life looking like a little me." Shocked, Annie feels as if "the earth swept away from under me." As time passes, the gulf Annie feels between herself and her mother grows. One Sunday Annie rushes home from Sunday school and accidentally sees her parents having sex. She watches, transfixed, as her mother's hand, "white and bony, as if it had long been dead" makes circles on her father's back. After, in the kitchen, Annie's mother makes a cutting remark and Annie snaps back. Rather than chastise her for disrespect, her mother simply walks away. Annie recognizes in this moment that their relationship has forever changed.


The idyllic childhood Annie described in Chapter 1 begins to break down as Mother first pushes Annie toward independence. Annie views herself and her mother as one entity—they even share the same name. Yet when she turns 12, Mother recognizes Annie as a "young lady," no longer a child. As Annie matures, society will have more expectations for her behavior, meaning there are certain things children can get away with that "young ladies" cannot. Mother's role changes as Annie matures. No longer can she coddle Annie with affection and forgiveness, and she must prepare her for adulthood and the real world. The reality that Annie must create her own identity, apart from her mother, shocks her. Until then Annie and her mother had been inseparable, even bathing together. While running errands, Mother taught Annie exactly how to choose produce or buy a loaf of bread. To Mother these errands teach Annie how to be independent, yet to Annie they teach her how to be a miniature version of her mother. Now that she is becoming a "young lady," however, Annie must forget the childhood she knew because "there were quite a few things [she] would have to do differently."

Annie doesn't understand the change in relationship any more than she understands the sudden change in her body. When she starts her new school, she must buy all new clothes and shoes because her old, childish ones no longer fit. For a long time Annie simply feels hurt by her mother's changed attitude toward her: "Now, I often saw her with the corners of her mouth turned down in disapproval of me." Even their most treasured activity, looking through the trunk of Annie's keepsakes, elicits the unexpected response from her mother that, "You and I don't have time for that anymore!" Annie's heartbreak over the change fades when she accidentally sees her parents having sex. For the first time Annie no longer wants to be just like her mother. Her mother's hand looks "white and bony, as if it had long been dead," symbolizing the "death" of Annie's idolization. Their exchange in the kitchen afterward, which elicits no response from Annie's mother, signals the final shift in their relationship. No longer are Annie and her mother friends—with Annie maturing into adulthood, they are rivals. Such a change foreshadows the ultimate goal of people from Antigua: full independence from Great Britain. Although the reader doesn't witness Antigua's struggle for independence in the novel, Annie's character symbolizes the country's struggle. Just as Annie must extricate herself from her mother's oppressive expectations, so too must Antigua work to free itself, at least in some measure, from colonial rule, or risk losing their native culture altogether.

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