Study Guide

Annie John Family

By Jamaica Kincaid

Family

[…] my mother had to prepare the little girl to be buried. I then began to look at my mother's hands differently […] For a while, though not for very long, I could not bear to have my mother caress me or touch my food or help me with my bath. I especially couldn't bear the sight of her hand lying still in her lap. (1.4)

This quotation links Annie's feelings toward her mother and obeah. Her mother's hands are symbolic of her nurturing care. After she prepares the body of the dead girl, her hands become tainted. Trace how many scenes mention Annie's mother's hand. There's even a chapter title about them.

I would lie in bed awake, and I could hear all the sounds my parents made as they prepared for the day ahead. (2.1)

When do you really know a person? When you recognize the sounds they make. That's how tight of a bond Annie and her parents (especially her mother) have.

My mother and I often took a bath together. Sometimes it was just a plain bath, which didn't take very long. Other times, it was a special bath in which the barks and flowers of many different trees, together with all sorts of oils, were boiled in the same large caldron. We would then sit in this bath in a darkened room with a strange-smelling candle burning away. (2.2)

These baths are for cleansing and family bonding time. They're also warding off bad spirits according to obeah practice. See also the section on "The Supernatural."

I spent the day following my mother around and observing the way she did everything. When we went to the grocer's, she would point out to me the reason she bought each thing. (2.3)

Annie is her mother's little helper and shadow in the beginning of the book. Before school friends and homework, Annie's whole world is wrapped up around her mother.

How important I felt to be with my mother. (2.4)

Super, duper important quotation. How do Annie's feelings about her mother change over the course of the novel? Who makes her feel important later?

As my mother went about my pot to pot, stirring one, adding something to the other, I was ever in her wake. As she dipped into a pot of boiling something or other to taste for correct seasoning, she would give me a taste of it also, asking me what I thought. Not that she really wanted to know what I thought […] but it was just to include me in everything. (2.6)

The intensity of the relationship between Annie and her mother is important. We, as readers, wouldn't understand the heartache Annie experiences as she mother begins to distance herself if we didn't first understand how very close they were.

When my eyes rested on my father, I didn't think very much of the way he looked. But when my eyes rested on my mother, I found her beautiful. Her head looked as if it should be on a sixpence. What a beautiful long neck, and long plaited hair, which she pinned up around the crown of her head because when her hair hung down it made her too hot. Her mouth, moving up and down as she ate and talked at the same time, was such a beautiful mouth I could have looked at it forever if I had to and not mind. (2.8)

Here, we see again Annie's infatuation with her mother. In Annie's eyes, everything her mother touches turns to gold. She's got the Midas touch. Oh, and she's strikingly beautiful too. What a mom!

From time to time, my mother would fix on a certain place in our house and give it a good cleaning. If I was home when she happened to do this, I was at her side, as usual. When she did this with the trunk, […] as she held each thing in her hand she would tell me a story about myself […] On and on my mother would go. No small part of my life was so unimportant that she hadn't made a note of it, and now she would tell it to me over and over again. (2.10)

This passage is crucial because it introduces the theme of storytelling. Both of Annie's parents are great storytellers and she becomes one too. The trunk is the catalyst for stories about Annie's life.

As she told me the stories, I sometimes sat at her side, leaning against her, or I would crouch on my knees behind her back and lean over her shoulder. As I did this, I would occasionally sniff at her neck, or behind her ears, or at her hair. […] How terrible it must be for all the people who had no one to love them so and no one whom they loved so, I thought. (2.11)

Annie feels pity for anyone without a mother. It wouldn't be too strong to say that Annie worships her mother like a divine being.

What a new thing this was for me: my mother's back turned on me in disgust. (2.16)

Annie expresses her first reaction to her mother's telling her that she had to basically be a big girl now. This new thing turns her whole world upside down.

"The summer just past, I kept having a dream about my mother sitting on the rock. Over and over I would have the dream—only in it my mother never came back, and sometimes my father would join her. When he joined her, they would both sit tracing patterns on the rock, and it must have been amusing, for they would always make each other laugh." (3.13)

This is an example of Annie's storytelling abilities. In her autobiographical essay that she writes for her class, she expresses a fear of separation from mother via water.

When I got home, my mother came toward me arms outstretched, concern written on her face. My whole mouth filled up with a bitter taste, for I could not understand how she could be so beautiful even though I no longer loved her. (3.28)

This is the way Annie's mother greets her after Annie starts her period and faints in class. Annie is incapable of seeing her mother in the same light ever since she felt pushed away by her mom. Talk about growing pains.

My mother finished making my bed, and she bent over and picked me up out of my father's lap. I was fifteen years old, but the two of them handled me as if I were just born. In bed, I looked at them standing over me. I couldn't hear the rain, but it was still falling. My parents said things to each other, but I couldn't make out what they said, either. (7.8)

This is a touching scene in which Annie's parents care for her during her illness as if she is still a baby. After all the quarreling, when it really comes down to what matters in life, Annie realizes that her parents truly love and care for her.

Why, I wonder, didn't I see the hypocrite in my mother when, over the years, she said that she loved me and could hardly live without me, while at the same time proposing and arranging separation after separation, including this one, which unbeknownst to her, I have arranged to be permanent? (8.3)

Although she is now seventeen-years-old, the sting of what she thought was rejection from her mother is still there, right beneath the surface. Annie's choice to leave Antigua for good almost seems like an attempt to punish her mother.

"It doesn't matter what you do or where you go, I'll always be your mother and this will always be your home" (8.19).

This is a beautiful final scene in the book and one of the few places with actual dialogue. Even after everything that Annie and her mother have endured in their relationship, her mother remains a (sort of stifling) constant.

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