This chapter begins with Annie now aged fifteen years old and feeling "more unhappy than I had ever imaged anyone could be" (6.1). She uses the image of a "small black ball, all wrapped up in cobwebs" inside her, about the size of a thimble, to represent her unhappiness. For analysis on the image of the thimble, see "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory".
The situation with her mother has reached a boiling point. Annie tries to escape through literature and imagining she is the protagonist of a novel, but the "thimble" of sadness inside her always remains in place. "My mother and I each grew two faces: one for my father and the rest of the world, and one for us when we found ourselves alone with each other" (6.3).
In the presence of others, Annie and her mother would slip back into their loving, affectionate ways of the old days, but when they were alone, "everything darkened… [s]omething I could not name just came over us, and suddenly I had never loved anyone so or hated anyone so" (6.5). Annie actually dreams that her mother would kill her if she had the "chance" and she would kill her mother if she had the "courage" (6.6).
Annie's feelings toward her dearest friend, Gwen, have changed too. Annie is promoted to a higher class with girls two and three years older, so she is no longer in the same class with Gwen. This drives a wedge in their relationship as Annie now finds Gwen's subject of conversation boring and juvenile. Annie often daydreams when Gwen talks to her now about future plans like marrying her brother, Rowan.
Fun chapter title connection. One day Annie daydreams while Gwen is talking. She imagines that she moves to Belgium to get away from her current miserable situation and setting. She chose this place because she read that "Charlotte Brontë, author of her favorite novel, Jane Eyre, had spent a year or so there" (6.10). She is excited by the prospect that her mother would have to write her letters addressed: To: Miss Annie Victoria John, Somewhere, Belgium (6.10).
Annie is disillusioned with all the things that used to bring her joy. She begins avoiding Gwen and their daily walk home. Guess the thrill is gone.
While walking home alone one day after avoiding Gwen, Annie catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and felt that she "had got so strange" (6.11). She didn't even recognize herself in the mirror and felt "old and miserable" (6.11). She then recalls a painting of The Young Lucifer and feels quite sorry for herself. Feeling down, she notices four boys teasing her from across the street.
Story-within-a-story alert! Annie thinks back to when she had seen one of the four boys before and remembers that his name is Mineu and they used to play together as children. Since he was three years older, he would never let her play a major character in their games. One time they were acting out the story of a local man from a prominent family who, upon finding his wife drinking with another man at a bar, killed them both. Then he was sentenced to be hanged. When Mineu pretended to hang himself, the rope tightened around his neck and he couldn't get loose. Annie just stood there motionless. His mother heard the commotion of his legs hitting the gate, ran out and saved his life. People in town wondered why Annie did not scream for help.
Another story-within-a-story alert! When Mineu snickers at his friends when Annie talks, she realizes that he's making fun of her. Then, she remembers another story from their childhood, the very last time they placed together. They made up a game where she had to strip down naked and sit on a particular spot. The spot was actually a red ants nest: "Soon the angry ants were all over me, stinging me in my private parts, and as I cried and scratched, trying to get the ants off me, he fell down on the ground laughing, his feet kicking the air with happiness. His mother refused to admit that he had done something wrong, and my mother never spoke to her again" (6.17).
Her mother witnessed her on the street talking to the four boys and said she acted like "a slut (only she used the French-patois word for it) in the street… and [it] had caused her to feel shame" (6.23).
Annie describes the feeling of a gulf opening up between her and her mother: "On one side of this split stood my mother, bent over my dinner cooking in a pot; one the other side stood I, in my arm carrying my schoolbooks and inside carrying the thimble that weighed worlds" (6.25).
After this confrontation, Annie returns to her room and examines her furniture, all made by her father and wonders "what would become of me now" (6.26). Her survey of the furniture in the room is another delightful list with a mini-story-within-a-story about how Annie and her father bond after he makes her furniture.
As Annie sits on the bed in her room, she realizes that she is taller than her father and now the same height as her mother. They look at each other eye-to-eye. We also learn her mother's name is Annie and that our Annie is named after her. As she swings her legs on the bed, she kicks her trunk that contains the possessions and story of her life and begins to cry.
The conflicting feelings towards her mother are so intense that she simultaneously wants "only to live somewhere quiet and beautiful with her alone" but also wants "only to see her lying dead, all withered and in a coffin at [her] feet" (6.27). Have you even heard the phrase, "it's a thin line between love and hate"? This is a classic example if ever there was one.
Sensing the tension in the room, the father promises to build the mother a new furniture set. When he asks Annie what she wants him to make, she replies that she wants her own trunk. Then she notices her mother's shadow on the wall and the chapter ends with this thought: "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).