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A novel from a small place: Jamaica Kincaid's ANNIE JOHN

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Jeff Clapp

on 4 November 2015

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Transcript of A novel from a small place: Jamaica Kincaid's ANNIE JOHN

A novel from a small place: Jamaica Kincaid's
Annie John

Jamaica Kincaid
A Small Place
A type of novel: Bildungsroman
The Novel
Born 1949, so currently age 65.
Among the most famous writers
from the Caribbean Islands.
Specifically, from Antigua.
Everything I've ever read by Kincaid is terrific.
...is a memoir by Kincaid about growing up on Antigua, published in 1988.
Every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression....every native would like a tour. But some natives -- most natives in the world -- cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere [...] they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go -- so when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.
These themes of poverty, smallness, and anger play roles in
Annie John
The novel is the youngest major literary genre: only 300-400 years old.
By "novel," we mean a long, written story.
If a short story can be read at one time, a novel basically just can't.
People often say that one of these two books is the "first novel":
A useful idea about the novel
"The novel form is, like no other [literary form],
an expression of...homelessness."
-György Lukács, 1920
Novels very frequently concern a lack of connection between an individual and his or her home--and, more broadly, between the individual and society generally.
This is a German word: "Bildung" means "education." "Roman" means "novel."
A Bildungsroman depicts the education (perhaps many kinds of education) of its protagonist. Many, many novels are classified in this way.
Generally, a BR shows how, after much suffering, the protagonist ultimately finds or makes a home in society.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Bildungsroman is probably the most famous one.
Annie John
is a Bildungsroman.
Character in
Annie John
Chapter 1: Figures in the Distance
Setting in
Annie John
Chapter 2: The Circling Hand
As we expect in a Bildungsroman, in Kincaid's book Annie is very important, and everybody else is much less important.
Everybody Else
Everybody Else
The fundamental purpose of this chapter is to characterize Annie.
The fundamental purpose of this chapter is to introduce setting--and then to start showing how Annie's education--her "Bildung"-- begins and accelerates.
Don Quixote
Robinson Crusoe
Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship
Annie John
Notice any pattern in the titles of these novels?
Quick Summary.
1) "For a short while during the year I was ten, I thought only people I did not know died" (p. 3).

2) "Later, we moved back to our house in town, and I no longer had a view of the cemetery. Still no one I knew had died" (p. 5).

3) "I loved very much--and used to torment until she cried--a girl named Sonia" (p. 7).

4) "I began to go to funerals" (p. 9).
This chapter has four sections.
Kincaid has divided the sections using breaks in the text.
Here are the first sentences of those sections:

What's happening to Annie here? She's growing up.
Characterizing a Weird Girl.
Characterizing a Young Girl.
A "major" character
A "round" character
A "dynamic" character
The "protagonist" of the novel
Since Annie is our narrator, we will get both "direct" characterization (in the form of statements about herself), and "indirect" characterization (as her thoughts and actions reveal aspects of her to us, maybe more than she knows about herself).
In the first chapter, we have these characters:
Mistress Maynard
Dr. Bailey
Miss Charlotte
A girl my age with a humpback
Mr. Oatie
Mr. Earl

One Major Character:
Eight Minor Characters:
This pattern should tell you something about how the book will work, about how its major themes will develop.
1) Mother will provide the primary conflict.
2) Everybody else will be a foil.
The first chapter is called
"Figures in the Distance."

page 3: "I hated to eat any food except for the enormous duck eggs."

page 4: "After I found out about the cemetery, I would stand in the yard and wait for a funeral to come. "

page 7: I would then stare and stare at here, narrowing and opening wide my eyes until she began to fidget...Then I would pull the hair on her arms and legs..."
Kincaid indirectly reveals that Annie is an obsessive, strange, and somewhat cruel child.
Annie tells us many, many things that she does not know or does not understand. Her youth and innocence become very clear.
page 4: I did not know it was the cemetery
page 4: I had not known that children died
page 5: I would ask my mother
page 8: I tried to imagine her. I couldn't.
page 9: I didn't know any of the people
page 9: I didn't know what to think
page 9-10: I did not know her name
page 11: I wondered if one day
Think of the setting of this novel as SMALL, in two different ways.
Annie's Small World
Antigua as Small Place
The specific settings of this novel's beginning are the carefully delimited worlds of a child.
page 3: far out on Fort Road..only two neighbors
page 4: I would stand in my yard
page 5: our way into town...our house in town
page 5-6: at school; at recess

Then, however, she goes by herself to a funeral and comes home late. This adventure out alone ends the first chapter, and foreshadows future developments:
As punishment I ate my supper outside, alone, under the breadfruit tree, and my mother said that she would not be kissing me goodnight later, but when I climbed into bed she came and kissed me anyway. (p 12)
Antigua is a tiny island, a (former) British colony, a tourist destination--not a source of tourists.
page 3: How did "Fort Road" probably get its name?
The first sentences of the second chapter pose an important question: How will Annie fit into this history?
During my holidays from school, I was allowed to stay in bed until long after my father had gone to work. He left our house every weekday at the stroke of seven by the Anglican church bell. (p. 13)
Quick Summary.
Again, we can get a surprisingly clear picture of the chapter's five parts by looking at each part's first sentence:
1) "During my holidays from school, I was allowed to stay in bed..." (p. 13)

2) "When my mother, at sixteen...left his house on Dominica and came to Antigua..." (p. 19)

3) "The summer of the year I turned twelve, I could see that I had grown taller" (p. 25)

4) "In the middle of all these new things, I had forgotten that I was to enter a new school" (p. 29)

5) "That Monday, I went to my new school." (p. 32)
Parts 1 and 2
The whole first half of the chapter shows us Annie's apprenticeship to her mother:
page 15: I spent the day following my mother around and observing how she did everything.

page 17: ...she had told me many times that my tastebuds were not developed yet.

page 25: Sometimes she might call out to me to go and get some time or basil or some other herbs for her....when I gave her the herbs, she might stoop down and kiss me....It was in such a paradise that I lived.
The choice of the word "paradise" is highly significant here.
It refers both to Annie's childhood, and to Antigua as a whole.
The latter use is quite ironic.
Parts 3, 4, and 5
The whole second half of the chapter shows us how Annie's apprenticeship ends and her "homelessness" begins:
page 26: "'You cannot just go around the rest of your life looking like a little me'....To say that the earth swept away from under me would not be going too far."

page 29: "Of course, in your own house you might choose a different way."

page 33: "When I got home, my mother greeted me with the customary kiss and inquiries. I told her about my day, going out of my way to provide pleasing details, leaving out, of course, any mention of at all of Gwen and my overpowering feelings for her."
Some Things to Think About
As you read, consider how Kincaid is
developing the following aspects of her book:
1) Annie's attraction to girls

2) Annie's life in an almost entirely female world

3) The beliefs and rituals of the Antiguans

4) Annie's world as a "small" one, in various senses
An Antibildungsroman?
Even as Kincaid emphasizes Annie's growth and education, she foreshadows that Annie will not become a happy part of the "small place" where she was born.
Kincaid's book obviously evokes the conventions of the Bildungsroman--but, as you should begin to anticipate, it will end quite differently.
You can think of this as a
"failed Bildungsroman"
or an
An Antihero in an AntiBildungsroman
An "antihero" is a protagonist who not only lacks heroic characteristics, but who is obviously unattractive in some way.
We often sympathize with the antihero because we can see that the antihero's unheroic characteristics are rational responses to an unjust, impossible, or tragic situation.
Annie's sympathy for the devil
on pages 94-95
indicates her anti-heroism.
First-Person Narration in
Annie John
In a Bildungsroman we expect the narrator --whether third or first person--to be happy at the end of the story, when the protagonist assimilates to society. The narrator accepts society's "point of view."
Because we are tightly bound within Annie's
first-person point of view, we see events through her perspective, and therefore we are given many reasons to think like her.

At the same time, many of her perspectives and opinions are challenging and strange.

we feel
is one of Kincaid's key techniques
in this book.
Plot in
Annie John
"Plot," as you recall, describes the way that an author selects and arranges the events in a story.
Annie John
is an extremely carefully plotted novel. Each of the chapters has a clear, straightforward topic or concept, as follows:
Chapter 1: Figures in the Distance
-topic: Death

Chapter 2: The Circling Hand
-topic: Mom

Chapter 3: Gwen
-topic: Gwen; or, not-Mom
Chapter 4: The Red Girl
-topic: boys, part 1

Chapter 5: Columbus in Chains
-topic: colonialism

Chapter 6: Somewhere, Belgium
-topic: boys, part 2

"The Circling Hand"
In the back of your copy of
Annie John
, you should be making notes about ideas or images that occur more than once. "Hands" recur many times in this novel.
Here are four crucial contexts in which "hands" appear:
SECOND: When she witnesses her parents having sex:
"my mother's hand was on the small of my father's back, and it was making a circular motion" (30)

Kincaid strongly emphasizes how important this image is to Annie: "If I were to forget everything else in the world, I could not forget her hand as it looked then" (31).
FOURTH: When she stops holding her parents' hands (32) and when she holds them again (146).
How Kincaid Plots
But plotting is not only about making a story fit Freytag's pyramid.
From Gwen to the Red Girl
We saw Annie fall in love once before, and thereby commit to somebody other than her mother.
Why does it have to happen again?
Why is the "Red Girl" chapter so concerned with marbles?
Because Gwen is a happy member of her world, and the Red Girl is a renegade.
Gwen is "perfect"
The whole street became suddenly empty so that Gwen and everything about her were perfect, as if she were in a picture....The pleats in the tunic of her uniform were in place, as was to be expected. Her cotton socks fit neatly around her ankles, and her shoes shone from being polished. (46-7)
The Red Girl is "beautiful"
What a beautiful thing I saw standing there before me....She had big, broad, flat feet, and they were naked to the bare ground; her dress was dirty...the red hair that I had first seen standing up on her head was matted and tangled...and on top of that, she had such an unbelievable, wonderful smell, as if she had never taken a bath in her whole life. (57)
Because both the Red Girl and the marbles are associated with males. The chapter shows Annie becoming more "masculine" and rejecting her mother's desire that she become "ladylike."
Becoming Boyish
The Red Girl
All the boys climbed trees for the fruit they wanted, and all the girls threw stones to knock the fruit off the tree. But look at the way she climbed the tree: better than any boy. (56)
Marbles, Boys, Roles
I had to make sure that my shoes were clean and polished to a nice shine. I went to Sunday school every Sunday unless I was sick. I was not allowed to play marbles, and as for [playing with] boys, that was hardly mentionable. (58)
Annie, Mineu, Mother, Father
Chapter 6 uses an extended flashback to continue developing Annie's understanding of gender.
First, the chapter parallels Mineu's treatment of Annie with Annie's father's dominant role in the family.
In all the games we played I was always given the lesser part. If we played knight and dragon, I was the dragon; if we played discovering Africa, he discovered Africa; he was also the leader of the savage tribes who tried to get the way of his discovery, and I played his servant, and not a very bright servant at that...(96-7)
Playing in Mineu's World
Living in Father's House
As I sat, I looked at the things surrounding me. There was my washstand, made by my father from pitch pine...there was my bureau, made for me by my father from pitch pine; there was a little desk and chair to match at which I sat and read or did my homework, both made for me by my father from pitch pine. (104-5)
Second, the chapter shows how Annie's mother used to be her protector in this world of men, but has now become her rival.
Mother's Changing Role
From protection:
[Mineu's mother] refused to admit that he had done something wrong, and my mother never spoke to her again. (100)
To containment:
Out of the corner of one eye, I could see my mother. Out of the corner of the other eye, I could see her shadow on the wall, cast there by the lamplight. It was a big and solid shadow....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. (106-107)
In the first example, Kincaid selects and juxtaposes events to create meaning; in the second she uses a flashback.
The Plot's Shape
Conflict or Tension
The Words of the Novel in Order (Plot Time)
Chapters 1-6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
The general shape is quite straightforward. Tension builds until the seventh chapter, which is the novel's climax; throughout chapter eight, we know that Annie will leave; all decisions have been made and the book will clearly end.
However, the climax in chapter seven is rather unusual.
Symbol and Climax in Chapter Seven
Chapter Seven resolves the plot of the novel,
but Kincaid refuses to explain how that resolution came about.
A thought experiment: two hypothetical Chapter Sevens
Hypothetical Chapter Seven #1
Annie gets sick. Outside, the weather is beautiful and everything is going well, but she is stuck inside. Dr. Stephens comes to try to help her, but cannot find a cure. Then, Ma Chess comes, performs a ritual, and heals Annie. In awe of Ma Chess' power, Annie resolves to become an "obeah woman." So she moves to Dominica to train with her.
Hypothetical Chapter Seven #2
Annie gets sick. Outside, the weather is terrible, in keeping with Annie's illness. Annie's mother calls Ma Chess to come help, but nothing she does has any effect. Annie's father finally insists that they call Dr. Stephens, who comes, gives Annie an antibiotic, and she immediately gets better. Deciding to become a doctor, Annie goes to study at Oxford University.
Instead of either of these scenarios, however, we get the following:
"For one day, just as mysteriously as my sickness came, so it left." (126)
And then:
"I longed to be in a place where nobody knew a thing about me..." (127-8)
Symbol and Climax in Chapter Seven
By "symbol" we mean an object, image, or idea
which has both a literal role in a story world,
and a secondary, direct significance for the meaning of the work as a whole.
In chapter 7, we do not have any clear explanations of Annie's experience. Instead, Kincaid has developed the chapter by creating four distinct symbols: Annie's sickness, the rain, Dr. Stephens and his medicine, and Ma(s) Chess and Jolie and their medicine.
Dr. Stephens
In a fairly straightforward way, Annie's sickness represents
a crisis in her life. Her conflict with her mother,
and her other conflicts, have reached a final stage.
Take a second and think about this new novel.
How would the meanings of the book change?
Take a second and think about this new novel.
How would the meanings of the book change?
Note how the lack of specificity about the sickness allows it to symbolize a general problem.

Clearly, for example, the theory that Annie is exhausted from school (a theory both her parents seem to believe) is not correct.
The rain falls just as long as Annie is sick.
It falls everywhere on Antigua
and it changes the whole island forever.

This symbol ties Annie's problems
directly to Antigua's problems.

But it doesn't give us any explanation of those problems--at all.
These two symbols tie
Annie and Antigua together:
These two symbols illustrate
the problems that Annie and Antigua share:
The doctor is specifically described as a "man from England," and his medical knowledge is that of modern Western medicine: "germs, parasites, and disease in general."
Note that though Annie states that her mother follows Dr. Stephens' orders, her mother clearly thinks that some kinds of illness cannot be cured with Stephens' knowledge.
Stephens represents the continuing presence of colonial history and outside authority on the island of Antigua, in Annie's home, and in Annie's life.
These two "obeah women" use a secret knowledge of charms, magic, and natural medicines. Obeah still exists in the Carribean.
Note that Annie's father, although he is willing to allow these two to help Annie, refuses to be in the house when Jolie comes.
These women represent a tradition of local knowledge and indigenous resistance to the Western, colonial, and masculine worlds.
Sorting out Chapter Seven's Symbolism
Kincaid uses the rain, and Annie's sickness,
to symbolize how the conflict between two ways of life
is playing out in Annie's own experience.
We can begin to summarize the conflict in this way:
Complicating Chapter Seven's Symbolism
Ultimately the conflict arising within Annie exists in both her parents as well. Neither of them can prevent her from growing up into a divided world.
Before she left...[the obeah woman] gave my mother some little vials filled with fluids to rub on me at different times of the day. My mother placed them on my shelf, right alongside the bottles...that Dr. Stephens had prescribed. When my father came in to see me, he looked at all my medicines...lined up side by side and screwed up his face....He must have said something to my mother, for she arranged the shelf in a new way, with Dr. Stephens's prescriptions in the front and Ma Jolie's prescriptions in the back. (117-8)
Bodily and Spatial Disorientation in ANNIE JOHN
We begin to understand, then, that this novel is about losing one's place in the world, rather than finding it.

This theme is emphasized through the book by a persistent use of bodily and spatial disorientation. This imagery expresses Annie's difficulty "fitting in" to a world which is constantly changing shape.
Annie says that the world is "a strange place to be caught living in" (90).
I thought that I had better get home quickly, for I began to feel alternately too big and too small. First I grew so big that I took up the whole street; then I grew so small that nobody could see me... (101)
After having been mocked by the boys:
The photographs, as they stood on the table, now began to blow themselves up and then shrink back down, but to a size that I could not easily see. They did this with a special regularity, keeping beat to a music I was not privy to. (119)
While she is sick:
...my heart
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. (145)
On the jetty, about to leave Antigua:
Kincaid repeatedly uses the same imagery to express that strangeness.
When Annie recovers from her sickness, she will no longer endure the world of her home in Antigua.
In Chapter Eight, Annie has not found a hopeful future, but only the choice between one form of homelessness and another:
At noon on that day, a shop on which I was to be a passenger would sail to Barbados, and there I would board another ship, which would sail to England, where I would study to become a nurse....I did not want to go to England, I did not want to be a nurse...(130)
Unmarriage as Anticonclusion
In Chapter Eight, Annie suggests that she will never make a typical home for herself.
Looking [at my father] I plan not only never to marry an old man, but certainly never to marry at all. (132)
Her parents:
It was then that she told me that she was more or less engaged to a boy she had known while growing up....it was as if she had shown me a high point from which she was going to jump and hoped to land in one piece on her feet. (137)
Rejecting Marriage
Marriage is a key event in the Bildungsroman genre. Marriage secures the individual a clear and orderly place in heteronormative and reproductive society.
By her parents' shocked silence when Annie says that she won't get married, we can infer that they see her rejection of marriage as a kind of "coming out."
A long silence
I was looking at them with a smile on my face but disgust in my heart when my mother said, "Of course, you are a young lady now, and we won't be surprised if in due time you write to say that one day soon you are to be married."

Without thinking, I said..."How absurd!"

My parents immediately stopped eating and looked at me as if they had not seen me before. My father was the first to go back to his food. My mother continued to look.
A Final Image
I went back to my cabin and lay down on my berth. Everything trembled as if it had a spring at its very center. I could hear the small waves lap-lapping around the ship. They made an unexpected sound, as if a vessel filled with liquid had been placed on its side and now was slowly emptying out. (148)
The last paragraph gathers the work's themes together one last time.
Chapter 7 occupies the space where the climax should occur, without actually building to a peak of tension, or resolving conflict in any way.
We can call this an
Prepare yourself to enjoy Annie's anger.
Annie John
is exactly that way.
The Novel as Plural
Novels are not simply longer than the other works
we've read in this class.

Instead, think of the novel as "plural" in two ways:
2. Novels have multiple, interrelated themes.
1. Novels have multiple, interrelated plots.
The major themes of Annie John involve gender and colonialism. A major element of the novel's meaning is Kincaid's intricate combination of these two themes.
Remember funerals? Remember the Red Girl? This property clearly distinguishes
from "Old Man," for example.
Trapped with Annie!
THIRD: When Annie is drawn to a picture of Christopher Columbus' bound hands and feet (77).
A good word for this literary technique is "leitmotif."
Scenes like this one, in which a child witnesses the sexuality of the parents, are extremely important in Freudian psychoanalysis.
They are usually interpreted as moments when the child realizes that the parents' world does not revolve around them. This painful discovery is a traumatic, but crucial, stage in maturation.

It is time to begin reviewing for the exam, which is

December 9
(C.H.Y. Sports Hall)

Thanks for complying with the
New Rule...

Rules & Stuff
FIRST: When Annie's mother prepares a body for burial: "I then began to look at my mothers' hands differently....For awhile, though not for very long, I could not bear to have my mother caress me...I especially couldn't bear the sight of her hands lying still in her lap" (6).
Which is where
Annie John
is set.
She writes:
Anglican: relating to the Church of England
In chapter 3, she goes back to school.
In chapters 1 and 2,
Annie is always on holiday.
Why Not?
In the Bildungsroman, the society to which the protagonist returns is just, happy, and safe.
Annie's world is not like this.
Instead, as we've already begun to see, her world is characterized by conflict, paradox, and trauma.
Annie is beginning to live through Antigua's tragic history, and is becoming more and more aware of the gender disparities that structure every part of her life.
Annie is not like this.

Her first-person narration portrays the experience of growing up into a world filled with pain.
One of my tutorial students noticed that there is a lot of water and bathing in this book.

It is true.
This is another element you should start tracking in the back of your copy of
Annie John
Given this remark about the Red Girl and baths, perhaps you can begin developing a hypothesis about what baths and bathing might signify in the book.
Conflict or Tension
The Words of the Novel in Order (Plot Time)
The first six chapters of
Annie John
comprise exposition, and then, following a series of "inciting incidents," rising action.
"primal scene"
calls her mother a "slut"
Using Plot to Create Meaning
Kincaid's combination of the "marbles" and "Red Girl" aspects of Chapter 4 is an excellent example of how fiction creates meaning using plot.
One basic technique is
: associating ideas by placing them close to one another.
Understanding Annie
This novel pushes against the boundaries
of its own genre.
Annie pushes against the boundaries
of her world.
These kinds of high-level connection between
that are one reason that this book is worth analyzing in depth.
Here are two more complex examples of Kincaid's plotting.
It was in such a paradise that I lived
Oh, what an angel she was, and what a heaven she lived in!
Not a promising development
Ask yourself why
the book asks you
to feel this way.
Note also that this is a symbol that
Annie John
in common with "The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."
Note how this "minor character" is used as a "symbol. "
I've located similar or related imagery on pages 45, 101, 103, 105, 111, 112, 114, 116, 118, 127, 128, 133, 143, 144, & 148.
The intensification of this imagery later in the book suggests that Annie's difficulties intensify as she ages.
But note that this is not something Annie "decides."

That would suggest a much more typical climax and resolution.

It would be much more like a standard Bildungsroman.
There is definitely something going on with water and bathing in this book.
During the exam you may not use the texts of any dramas, stories, or novels.

There is no poetry on the exam.

You may bring one sheet of A4-size paper. Write whatever you want on the paper. You might include terms, quotations, or diagrams.
Annie John
and Literary Analysis
Literary works are machines that produce meaning.
When you do literary analysis, you explain how the machine works.
In this class we spent a lot of time learning names for parts of literary machines.
But not all the part have names.
In fact, most of the parts don't have names.
But this does not mean that the machine cannot be explained.
Annie John has thousands of little parts, and we are all still figuring out how they work together.
As you prepare for the exam, remember that we are looking forward to interesting, detailed explanations of how
Annie John
, and the other machines, work.
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