Study Guide

Annie John Death

By Jamaica Kincaid

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I was afraid of the dead, as was everyone I knew. (1.2)

This is true for most people, right? But the reason for Annie's fear of death is the belief that the dead could come back to haunt you. Check out the theme of "The Supernatural" for more on this.

One day, a girl smaller than I, a girl whose mother was a friend of my mother's, died in my mother's arms. (1.4)

The death of this girl, Nalda, is a major trauma in Annie's life. It introduces the fear that a child could be separated from her mother through death.

But then I began to go in and take a look. The first time I actually saw a dead person, I didn't know what to think. Since it wasn't someone I knew, I couldn't make a comparison. (1.10)

Annie seems to be able to view a dead body more like a scientist than a child. What gives her this ability to distance herself to the death? What else is Annie able to distance herself from?

One morning, though, he overslept, because his grandmother didn't wake him up. When he awoke, she was still lying next to him. When he tried to wake her, he couldn't. She had died lying next to him sometime during the night. Even though he was overcome with grief, he built her coffin and made sure she had a nice funeral. (2.11)

This story of her father's grandmother's death touches Annie to the core. She feels pity for her father and can't imagine the experience of losing her own mother-figure.

I told her that when I was younger I had been afraid of my mother's dying, but that since I had met Gwen this didn't matter so much. (3.22)

When Gwen enters the picture, Annie replaces her love for her mother with her love for Gwen. Gwen can fill the void left in Annie when her mother distanced herself from her.

We walked back to class slowly, as if going to a funeral. (3.27)

After Annie gets her period, she doesn't feel like her usual self. Gwen, her best friend, sympathizes with her and they both walk as if they are "going to a funeral" back to their classroom. Menstruation for Annie only represents a death of her childhood. Later, she'll learn to view it as the birth of her transition into adulthood.

Instead, my friends and I would go to our usual place near the back of the churchyard and sit on the tombstones of people who had been buried there way before slavery was abolished, in 1833. (5.7)

The tombstones are an important location for Annie and her friends. This is a place of secrecy for the girls who are experimenting with their sexuality and their developing bodies. Also, this is a historically significant location because Annie and her friends are aware that this is a cemetery from the days of slavery, the place where their ancestors' "masters" were buried.

Then, hearing the gate continue to slam, she came out to us in a fury, because we were not obeying her, and she was just about to shout at us when she saw her child swinging from the gate by his neck. She screamed and rushed over to him, calling out to a neighbor, who came immediately with a cutlass and cut the rope from around Mineu's neck. […] Much was said about my not calling for help, and everybody wondered what would have happened if his mother hadn't been nearby. (6.13)

This is another story-within-a-story moment in which Annie recalls a time when "something bad almost happened" while playing with Mineu as children (6.13)—Mineu almost hanged himself. It's suggested that, at least subconsciously, Annie wished to see something bad happen to Mineu. After all, her had been pretty dang cruel to her.

As my heels bumped up against the trunk, my heart just broke, and I cried and cried. At that moment, I missed my mother more than I had ever imagined possible and wanted only to live somewhere quiet and beautiful with her alone, but also at that moment I wanted only to see her lying dead, all withered and in a coffin at my feet. (6.27)

Notice Annie's ambiguous feelings towards her mother here. She wants to be live in seclusion with her mother and also wants to see her dead. People are complicated, and Annie is no exception.

When I had bought those shoes and showed them to my mother, she said that they were not fit for a young lady and not fit for wearing on being received into church. We had an enormous fight over the shoes, and I may have said unspeakable things to her, though I have forgotten everything except that at the end I turned and said, "I wish you were dead." As I said it, I felt hollow inside. My mother then got such a bad headache that the turtleberry leaves she placed on her temples to draw out the pain had to be changed every two hours, so quickly did the heat of the pain scorch them. (7.14)

This argument between Annie and her mother over shoes is one of the many story-within-a-story moments in the text. Here, Annie tells her mother that she hates her after being scolded over the shoes she bought for her first Communion. This moment shows the John family's belief in the power of words. "I wish you were dead," makes Annie feel hollow inside and makes her mother physically ill.

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