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Annie John | Chapter 6 : Somewhere, Belgium | Summary

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Summary

When Annie turns 15, her unhappiness with life turns into depression that manifests itself in "the shape of a small black ball, all wrapped up in cobwebs." To cope she imagines herself to be an abused Cinderella, or some other fictional character from a book she's reading. One of her favorite places to pretend to be is Belgium, the mysterious country where Jane Eyre author Charlotte Brontë spent a year in her adolescence. Annie imagines living alone with her books in this country; her mother would struggle to visit and therefore have to send Annie letters addressed to "Somewhere, Belgium." She says she and her mother develop "two faces": one for when they are alone, and one for when they are around other people. Annie both loves and despises her mother, claiming, "My mother would kill me if she got the chance," and that, "I would kill my mother if I had the courage."

Meanwhile, things change for Annie at school. She and Gwen no longer share a classroom, and Annie finds it difficult to fit in with her new classmates, particularly because she easily outperforms them. Annie continues to walk home with Gwen and spend time with her, although she knows they are growing apart. One afternoon Gwen gleefully suggests how pleased she would be if Annie married her brother, Rowan. Horrified, Annie begins avoiding Gwen after school. Another day, when Annie walks home alone, she bumps into four boys outside a shop. The boys tease Annie about her appearance, and she recognizes one of them from her childhood. She recalls a time they had been playing as children and he almost hung himself. After the encounter Annie feels ashamed because she knows the boys were making fun of her. When she gets home, her mother, who saw the kids talking outside the shop, berates Annie for her behavior and calls her a "slut." That night Annie weeps because "I missed my mother more than I had ever imagined possible."

Analysis

The division between Annie and her mother continues to grow, and with the altercation about the boys, it's clear the relationship will not be mended. When she sees Annie talking to the boys on the street, Mother calls her a "slut." Annie quips back, "like mother, like daughter." In this moment Annie and her mother criticize not what the other has said or done but their personal value. It's clear the quip hurts Mother as deeply as it hurts Annie because she responds to her daughter by saying, "Until this moment ... I loved you best," and turns back to the table where she prepares "green figs for cooking." This detail is important because the green figs remind readers of the story of the black snake in the basket from Chapter 4. The "black ball" Annie had been carrying inside her—depression over her changed relationship with her mother—is revealed through this venomous exchange, and the reality of their relationship is as monstrous as a snake coiled in the figs.

The interaction itself gives the reader insight into Annie's character. Before the boys come along, Annie inspects her reflection in the window, noting her acne and ashy skin. She compares herself to a painting called Young Lucifer, which recalls Paradise Lost from the previous chapter, reminding readers of Annie's isolation from her personal paradise. When the boys arrive, they belittle and tease Annie. She remembers that when playing with Mineu as a child, he completely dominated her. Given that this is the only male-female relationship Annie describes in the novel, it's no wonder she rejects the idea of marriage. The fact that Mother uses a term like "slut" to berate her strong, smart, and ambitious daughter underscores Annie's realization that she will never achieve her dreams or create a paradise like she imagines Belgium to be while she remains in Antigua.

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