Study Guide

Ma Chess in Annie John

By Jamaica Kincaid

Ma Chess

We'll just go ahead and say it: we wish Ma Chess were our grandma.

She's not the weird-hard-candy-in-a-dusty-glass-bowl kind of grandma. She's a magical appear-and-disappear-in-the-night grandma. She has mad obeah skillz and heals her granddaughter with a competence that makes the cast of Call The Midwife look like chumps.

Ma Chess, who is Annie's mother's mother, mysteriously appears in Chapter 7, "The Long Rain," when Annie is on her sick bed. Ma Chess is an obeah practitioner and is friends with Ma Jolie. Annie notes "[w]hatever Ma Jolie knew, my grandmother knew at least ten times more" (7.22).

Ma Chess keeps a large trunk in her room of all of her deceased son's belongings inside it. Pa Chess insisted on their son being seen by a doctor and Ma Chess disagreed. John appeared to be improving for two years, and then he died. Ma Chess never spoke to Pa Chess again after that day and dressed only in black for mourning.

And certainly she tends to her granddaughter with the fervor of someone trying to make history right. She doesn't leave Annie's side for a moment, and seems to anticipate her every need:

Sometimes at night, when I would feel that I was all locked up in the warm falling soot and could not find my way out, Ma Chess would come into my bed with me and stay until I was myself—whatever that had come to be by then—again. I would lie on my side, curled up like a little comma, and Ma Chess would lie next to me, curled up like a bigger comma, into which I fit. (7.24)

What an awesome nurse. There are a few takeaways from this passage. The first is that we should start calling "spooning" "comma-ing." The second is that Ma Chess is, well, awesome (forgive us if we repeat ourselves, but it is so true). The third is that Ma Chess clearly serves as an inspiration for Annie: once Annie is on the mend she decides to leave Antigua and become a nurse. She's following in her grandmother's footsteps, although because she's training in England we can only imagine that she's studying Western medicine instead of Dominican obeah.

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