Study Guide

Annie John Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

While she made our lunch, she would also keep an eye on her washing. If it was Tuesday and the colored clothes had been starched, as she placed them on the line I would follow, carrying a basket of clothespins for her. (2.6)

Annie's mother works non-stop and it is this overburdened vision of womanhood and femininity that marks most of the book.

Once, when showing me a way to store linen, she patted the folded sheets in place and said, "Of course, in your own house you might choose another way." That the day might actually come when we would live apart I had never believed. My throat hurt from the tears I held bottled up tight inside. Sometimes we would both forget the new order of things and would slip into our old ways. But that didn't last very long. (2.16)

It goes without saying that Annie will be the woman in charge of her own household one day. But this idea freaks young Annie out.

I liked a girl named Albertine, and I liked a girl named Gweneth. At the end of the day, Gwen and I were in love, and so we walked home arm in arm together. (2.25)

Annie makes friendships quickly and loves her friends hard—her friendship with other girls is as intense as her relationship with her mother. And, just as Annie later becomes disgusted with her mother, Annie also becomes disgusted with Gwen.

I looked at these girls surrounding me, my heart filled with just-sprung-up love, and I wished then and there to spend the rest of my life only with them. (3.15)

Again, Annie's feelings are overpowering. Just as passionately as she loves her friends, she also falls out of love with them. Is Annie fickle or is this natural?

Now she told me that her name was Gweneth Joseph, and reaching into the pocket of her tunic, she brought out a small rock and presented it to me. […] It smelled of lavender, because Gweneth Joseph had kept it wrapped in a handkerchief doused in that scent. It may have been in that moment that we fell in love. (3.16)

The repetition of the word "love" to describe her relationship with Gwen has interested many scholars. What do you make of it—is this friendship or something more?

Gwen and I were soon inseparable. If you saw one, you saw the other. For me, each day began as I waited for Gwen to come by and fetch me for school. My heart beat fast as I stood in the front yard of our house waiting to see Gwen as she rounded the bend in our street. The sun, already way up in the sky so early in the morning, shone on her, and the whole street became suddenly empty so that Gwen and everything about her were perfect, as if she were in a picture. (3.17)

Again, are Annie's feelings for Gwen romantic, or do they merely reflect her first experience of friendship?

As we walked together, we told each other things we had judged most private and secret: things we had overheard our parents say, dreams we had had the night before, the things we were really afraid of; but especially we told of our love for each other. (3.18)

Gwen becomes Annie's most trusted confidante and the closest person she has to a sister. It is interesting how many times Annie notes that she and Gwen repeat what their parents say or do. This is part of the process of finding her own identity.

One day, I was throwing stones at a guava tree, trying to knock down a ripe guava, when the Red Girl came along and said, "Which one do you want?" After I pointed it out, she climbed up the tree, picked the one I wanted off its branch, climbed down, and presented it to me. How my eyes did widen and my mouth form an "o" at this. I had never seen a girl do this before. All the boys climbed trees for the fruit they wanted, and all the girls threw stones to knock the fruit off the trees. But look at the way she climbed that tree: better than any boy. (4.4)

The Red Girl represents Annie's next great "love" after Gwen. As with Gwen, this love is pretty overwhelming. Does it reflect romantic love, or just friendship?

Just before we parted, she gave me three marbles; they were an ordinary kind, the kind you could buy three for a penny—glass orbs with a tear shaped drop suspended in the center. Another secret to keep from my mother! (4.9)

Even though Annie is trying to separate herself from her mother, everything she does always relates back to her mother in one way or another... even within her friendships.

Or so I was told by Gwen, formerly the love of my life, now reduced to an annoying acquaintance. (7.27)

This shocking description of Gwen later in the book gives the reader an example of the easy way friends can fall out of favor with Annie.

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