Study Guide

Annie John Time

By Jamaica Kincaid

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We were sure that the much-talked-about future that everybody was preparing us for would never come, for we had such a powerful feeling against it, and why shouldn't our will prevail this time? (3.21)

As young girls, Annie and Gwen both feel disdain for the unknown "future" that awaits them. They hope that their love of the present can ward it off.

In the year I turned fifteen, I felt more unhappy than I had every imagined anyone could be. (6.1)

Annie tends to measure time in her young life around one-year periods. So, as readers, we learn what she's doing when she's ten years old or the deep unhappiness she feels when she's fifteen years old. Why use the year as a block of time in this text?

It was the trunk that my mother had bought when she was sixteen years old—a year older than I was now—and in which she had packed all her things and left not only her parents' house in Dominica but Dominica itself for Antigua. (6.27)

Annie associates her mother's life milestones and escape from her oppressive family with her own. The inherited trunk becomes a symbol of the possibility to leave home.

For I could not be sure whether for the rest of my life I would be able to tell when it was really my mother and when it was really her shadow standing between me and the rest of the world. (6.33)

This is an incredible spatial metaphor that describes Annie's feeling of being blocked by her mother. What measures does Annie take to break free from the shadow of her mother?

For over a year, no rain fell. […] No rain came right away with the black clouds, but then one day it started to drizzle, first in that annoying way of a drizzle, where it stings your face and your hands and your feet. That went on for a few days, when suddenly the rain started to come down in a heavy torrent. The rain went on in this way for over three months. (7.2)

On the island of Antigua, time is often marked by weather and drastic weather changes. In a land where the sun is always blazing, a period of three-month rains represents a major sign that something big is happening in the narrative.

I knew that in my fifteen years a lot of things had happened, but now I couldn't put my finger on a single thing. As I fell asleep, I had no feeling in any part of my body except the back of my skull, which felt as if it would split open and spew out huge red flames. (7.6)

This is a classic Kincaid move. She gives the reader a concrete time to hold on to, but then moves quickly to the dream world, leaving us feeling like there is a shaky boundary between reality and fiction.

For the first two weeks of my condition, my mother and father did not live a regular life. They were up with me at all hours of the night, and my mother was afraid to leave me alone in the day. (7.13)

Family routine is emphasized throughout Annie John. There are certain chores to be done on certain days. It is this routine that Annie begins to dread.

Lying in my bed for the last time, I thought, This is what I add up to. At that I felt as if someone had placed me in a hole and was forcing me first down and then up against the pressure of gravity. I shook myself and prepared to get up. I said to myself, "I am getting up out of this bed for the last time." (8.4)

The last chapter of the novel is full of things being done "for the last time." There is both an ominous and joyful tone every time Annie prepares for her next phase in life.

It was half an hour's walk from our house to the jetty, but I was passing through most of the years of my life. (8.10)

Annie marks these years of her life through the landmarks in her neighborhood. Choir practice, Brownie meetings, and church all represent certain times in her childhood and adolescence.

I don't know why seeing that [barge] struck me so, but suddenly a wave of strong feeling came over me, and my heart swelled with a great gladness as the words "I shall never see this again" spilled out inside me. But then, just as quickly, my heart shriveled up and the words "I shall never see this again" stabbed at me. I don't know what stopped me from falling in a heap at my parents' feet. (8.17)

Annie expresses her conflicted feelings over leaving her parents and the island of Antigua. By the end of the book, we learn that Annie often feels torn between two ideas and desires. She invites us along for rollercoaster ride of emotions when it comes time for her to board the ship and leave her family.

My mother and father—I was leaving them forever. (8.17)

Annie has a particular notion of forever. She wants to leave the world she has known forever. Before she wanted to stay and live with her mother forever… and later she wants to stay with Gwen forever. What's causes these shifts in her thinking? What does "forever" mean to Annie?

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