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Annie John | Study Guide

Jamaica Kincaid

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Annie John | Chapter 8 : A Walk to the Jetty | Summary



Now 17 years old, Annie prepares to leave Antigua for England where she will start nurse training. All Annie can think during her last morning at home is how grateful she'll be to never have to return to this place again. She looks around and lists each thing she'll never have to see again. She also considers her parents' lives versus her own impending adulthood. "I plan not only never to marry an old man but certainly never to marry at all." She recognizes that her relationship with her parents has changed primarily because she has changed—her parents have remained the same. At the breakfast table that morning Annie's proud parents talk excitedly about the wonderful life Annie will have in England, especially, her mother says, because Annie will likely find the man she will marry. Annie replies, "How absurd," which confounds her parents. After breakfast Gwen arrives to say goodbye, excitedly announcing her engagement. Again, Annie doesn't understand the preoccupation with marriage but manages to offer congratulations.

On the walk to the jetty it seems as if everyone in town waves her off. Nearly every building conjures a memory from Annie's childhood, which she tries to ignore. All the memories tie to Annie's relationship with her mother, particularly when they were close and her mother had been filled with pride. When they reach the jetty, panic washes over Annie: "I felt I was being held down against my will. I felt I was burning up from head to toe." Annie's parents don't notice and bring her bags on board. As quickly as regret arrives, Annie once again feels overwhelming relief that she will "never see this again." On the ship Annie's parents fill with emotion, tightly grip her hands, and kiss her goodbye. Annie's mother weeps and says, "It doesn't matter what you do or where you go, I'll always be your mother." Annie must drag herself away from her mother and waves a long goodbye from the deck. In her room Annie listens to the waves lapping around the ship, which sounds like a vessel filled with liquid "slowly emptying out."


As Annie sails toward her new life, her newfound confidence wavers for the first time. She pushes away feelings of nostalgia and sadness, reminding herself how happy she'll be to never see this island again. Her confidence seems forced, and when she reaches the jetty, she feels overwhelmed with regret, as if, "I was being held down against my will." Just as when Annie came home from school upset in Chapter 5, her parents don't notice her emotion and simply haul her bags onto the boat. This parallel reminds readers of the reasons Annie must leave the island: she cannot compete with the mother who shares her name. The words, "I am Annie John" open this final chapter, announcing to readers that Annie has decided to claim the name, and her future, for herself.

As Annie walks down the street, she cannot help but reminisce about happier times. The pharmacy reminds her of the first time she ordered her mother's shopping and how proud her mother had been that she returned with the correct items, and the doctor's office reminds her that when she had to drink carrot juice to strengthen her vision her mother would travel to the school every day to make sure Annie got her drink. Remembering how close she and her mother used to be fills Annie with regret, but she quickly follows up with another image: three adults side by side cannot walk together down the street, so she has no choice but to fall behind her parents: "I don't see them now the way I used to, and I don't love them now the way I used to."

Other scenes from the chapter support the idea that Annie's only path toward happiness is off the island. At breakfast her parents look at her "as if they had not seen me before," reinforcing the idea of Annie's newly claimed identity. Among many other visitors a newly engaged Gwen arrives to wish Annie well. Annie cannot comprehend why Gwen would be excited by her engagement and compares her friend to a "monkey." Annie has evolved past the expectations of the island, and knowing this allows her to easily part ways: "when I turned away I didn't look back."

By leaving the island Annie experiences another type of rebirth. Readers may recall Annie's dream from Chapter 2, in which she and her mother are separated by water, which terrified Annie. Now, the ocean will literally separate Annie and her mother. Unlike in the dream where Annie's mother dismissed her daughter's fears, Mother now coddles Annie and gives her a truly emotional, tearful goodbye. This opens a long-closed window into Annie's heart that suggests she might again be able to love her mother. The novel's final image, the description of the sound of a "vessel filled with liquid ... slowly emptying out" again conjures sensations of rebirth as Annie embarks on her new life.

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