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Annie John | Study Guide

Jamaica Kincaid

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Annie John | Chapter 7 : The Long Rain | Summary



Unexpectedly, Annie falls mysteriously ill. She suffers terrible exhaustion and lack of appetite but shows no other symptoms. She lies in bed for three months, the entire rainy season, doing little more than staring at the ceiling. Annie's father carries her to the doctor because she cannot walk and then carries her back. The doctor offers little insight into Annie's condition and suggests she needs rest and nutrition. Back in her sickbed Annie dreams about her head being filled with soot and of drinking seawater until the water bursts out of her. When she wakes, her father is cradling her and her mother changes the sheets because Annie has wet the bed.

The next morning Annie's mother has prepared a large breakfast, including a cup of chocolate milk. Annie used to drink chocolate milk in Girl Scouts, where she earned many awards. Annie recalls a scout leader who claimed that she "respected and liked [all the girls] equally," which deeply frustrated Annie. The next day Ma Jolie, an obeah medicine woman, arrives and burns candles to ward off evil spirits. Soon after, Annie's grandmother, Ma Chess, arrives from Dominica to care for Annie the same way she cared for her own son, John, who died at age 23. Ma Chess dotes on Annie, snuggling in bed with her and breaking her food into bite-sized pieces, which she feeds Annie from her fingers.

For the first two weeks of Annie's illness her parents stay at her bedside tending to her every need. As time passes, however, they slowly begin returning to their normal lives. Annie lies in bed looking at framed family photographs. She remembers a fight she and her mother had about a pair of shoes Annie wanted to wear to church. Annie had told her mother, "I wish you were dead," but when her mother had come down with a terrible headache, Annie regretted her words. Suddenly, Annie feels an overwhelming urge to wash the photographs, which she rubs so hard she erases the faces, ruining them. After this, Annie's mother returns to Annie's bedside. Neighbors help out when they can, including Mr. Earl and Mr. Nigel, the two fishermen who live together and share a wife.

One day, just as suddenly as it arrived, Annie's illness leaves. Ma Chess leaves and Annie prepares to return to school, squinting in the sunlight. Annie has grown a few inches during her bed rest and needs new clothes, which her parents happily buy. As soon as she's well, Annie's disgust toward her mother returns: "I never wanted to feel her long, bony fingers against my cheek again." At school Annie becomes more defiant and mature, making all the other girls soon envy her illness.


This chapter represents Annie's rebirth. The old Annie—the one who loved her mother and hoped they would be reconciled—dies after their fight. The "black ball" in her chest explodes and metaphorically covers everything around her in soot. Annie reverts to infancy during her illness: she must be carried because she's too weak to walk, her mother must spoon-feed her, she can barely speak or understand what's being said around her. The rain, which falls like a flood around them, conjures images of water, which symbolically relates to the amniotic fluid in a womb. The sick Annie becomes like a new fetus, waiting to be reborn into a new life. Indeed, when Annie emerges from her illness, she has grown physically and emotionally. After her illness Annie no longer needs or desires her mother's affection. She finds her schoolmates boring and annoying. She has grown a few inches, which symbolizes the fact that Annie has outgrown her hometown.

The treatments offered to Annie provide interesting insight into Annie's psychology. Annie's parents seek treatments from a Western doctor and a traditional obeah, but neither remedy helps. It isn't until Ma Chess arrives from Dominica and cares for Annie that she starts to improve. Ma Chess treats Annie the same way Mother treated Annie as a child: she nurtures and babies her; she even sleeps spooned up next to her at night. Whatever affection Annie missed during her changed relationship with her mother, Ma Chess provides. This nurturing heals Annie in ways traditional and Western medicine could not, supporting the argument that Annie's illness was actually a breakdown—both physical and mental—after her fight with Mother. The psychological nature of Annie's illness can also be found in her strange act of washing the photographs. Annie scrubs a family photograph until "none of the people ... except for me, had any face left." This image further underscores Annie's newfound identity away from her parents and the island.

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