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Annie John | Study Guide

Jamaica Kincaid

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Annie John | Chapter 4 : The Red Girl | Summary



Annie has become an "expert in stealing" and hiding stolen or forbidden objects under the porch. She mostly steals books from the library and marbles she won in tournaments. Although Annie's mother gave Annie her first marbles, she forbids Annie to play the game at school. Annie's desire to play the game increases when an interesting girl with bright red hair, whom Annie calls "the Red Girl," helps her knock a guava down from the tree. Annie's mother forbids her from socializing with the Red Girl because the girl is from a lower social rung and rarely washes. Annie, however, thinks the girl has "an unbelievable, wonderful smell, as if she had never taken a bath." Without Mother's consent Annie begins meeting the Red Girl daily at the lighthouse to play marbles. The more time Annie spends with the Red Girl, the more she wants to impress her: "I now worshipped the ground her unwashed feet walked on." Annie begins spending less time with her school friends, like Gwen, and more time with the Red Girl, who becomes the object of Annie's affection. They often explore their sensuality by pinching and then kissing each other.

As their relationship deepens, Annie begins stealing money from her parents to buy gifts for the Red Girl. She continues to lie to her mother about her whereabouts, claiming to be doing research work for school. One day, after Annie played marbles for three days straight trying to win a prize marble for the Red Girl, Annie's mom catches her sneaking out of the hiding place beneath the porch. Annie lies that this prized marble is the only one she has, but her mother doesn't believe her. She searches under the porch for days, unable to find them. She tells Annie a story about carrying a basket of figs home with her father. The basket felt very heavy on top of her head, and when she got home, she realized a black snake had coiled inside the basket. The story breaks Annie's heart, and she almost tells her mother where the marbles are hidden until she realizes her mother has tried to trick her. In the end Annie gets her period, the Red Girl moves away, and the marbles are forgotten.


The Red Girl provides the perfect foil to Annie John's character. The Red Girl runs wild, climbing guava trees, skipping school, wearing dirty clothes, refusing to bathe. Her mother doesn't force her to follow social expectations, to bathe, or to don the traditionally British school uniforms. The girl simply does as she pleases, which seems foreign and appealing to Annie, who lives under her traditional mother's watchful gaze. Annie feels devastated when her mother insists she form her own identity, so befriending the Red Girl accomplishes two things: it allows Annie to, indeed, explore new facets of her identity (her sensuality, for example); it also enables Annie to rebel against her mother's ambivalence by exploring her identity with a person whose company her mother forbids. The friendship also allows Annie to rebel by playing marbles, lying, and stealing—all behaviors her mother forbids. On a deeper level Annie's friendship with the Red Girl gives insight into Annie's relationship with colonization. Annie's formal education and upbringing reflect the British culture forced upon native Antiguans through colonization. The Red Girl, however, partakes in few, if any, aspects of British culture. She doesn't attend formal school, wear a uniform, or even bathe regularly. She runs the island in bare feet and climbs guava trees when she wants fruit. Annie feels drawn to these behaviors not only because they are a rebellion against attempts to control them, but also because they tap into Annie's connection to her native culture—a connection that becomes clearer in Chapter 5.

Mother's story about the black snake also conjures a connection to native culture. On the surface the story provides a moral lesson about deception—danger can conceal itself as something innocent, and the weight of deception will grow heavier and heavier the longer one carries it—it also serves to once again endear Annie to her mother. When she thinks about her beautiful mother carrying the terrible black snake, she nearly tells her the location of the hidden marble: "What I wouldn't have done for her. Nothing would ever be too much." Just before Annie speaks, however, her mother's tone grows "soft and treacherous." Realizing her mother has used the story to trick her, she denies ever having played marbles in her life. Mother tries to use the story to connect Annie to their shared past, but Annie pushes it away. Shortly after, Annie gets her first period, which signals a full break from her mother. Annie is now, at least physically, a woman, completely separate from her mother.

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