Annie John : Metaphor
Annie's perceptions and the images she uses are strongly suggested by the emotions she is feeling in the moment. Annie's earliest memories of closeness are taking obeah herbal baths with her mother to protect them from witchcraft. Water in positive or negative images is associated with the mother. A traumatic incident when her mother swam away from her at sea and left her on the shore alone for a long time becomes a recurring nightmare. Water is a symbol of separation then. When she is ill, she washes all the family photos in a bath, washing away all the faces in her delirium.
Foods are also associated in the beginning with the mother's care for Annie and for the culture in which she grows up. Her mother is careful with her diet, explaining to her why she has to eat liver for her blood. She follows her mother while she cooks, and her mother lets her taste everything. Annie's moods are influenced by food. When her mother tricks her into eating breadfruit telling her it is rice and then admitting the truth of her lie, Annie perceives her as a crocodile with white teeth. The mother no longer feeds her treats but poison. Another time she perceives her as a snake.
The mother's clothes are important to Annie. She remembers her mother wrapping her in her long skirt on the street to protect her. The mother makes all the daughter's clothes until she goes to school when she has to wear uniforms and conform to social behavior. When the mother no longer lets the daughter wear clothes like hers, the split begins between them. The clothing signals that Annie is expected to be an adult with different feelings. Clothing now represents distance instead of closeness.
The mother's trunk that she made when she was sixteen to leave her father in Dominica for a new life in Antigua becomes an image of her life and identity that she passes on to her daughter. As the daughter grows up, the mother puts all the handmade baby clothes, the school work, and the photographs in the trunk for the daughter. It represents her unity with the mother. The mother's care is preserved in these items as she tells stories to her daughter about her first step, her first word, when she wore this dress or that. The family stories are told as well, when the mother opens the trunk from time to time to share with the daughter the family legacy. After Annie feels separated from the mother, the mother no longer takes out the trunk to tell stories. Annie hates it then and to get revenge, she abandons it when she is seventeen and leaving Antigua. She has her father make her her own trunk, representing her own identity and a life private from her mother's knowledge.
Images of the physical body are important to Annie. She describes the minutest detail of people she loves, not caring whether someone else finds the person beautiful. The girl Sonia, for instance, has black hair all over her body and is a dunce, but Annie finds her beautiful. She thinks the dirty red hair and body of the Red Girl beautiful because she loves her. In the beginning, she thinks her mother is the most beautiful person on earth and describes her nose, hair, face, tall body, her speech and gestures. Physical closeness means love. Her mother's encircling hand, her grandmother's encircling body on the bed holding her when she is sick, the memory of her father's grandmother sleeping with the little orphan boy until he was eighteen, the Red Girl's pinches and kisses—these are precious to Annie. Separation means not touching or wanting to touch.
Christopher Columbus in chains is a major metaphor for hatred of colonialism. This incident of Columbus in disfavor with the Spanish crown, chained in the bottom of a boat, is not a usual image of Columbus, but Annie likes it, instinctively seeing Columbus as a villain. She also sees the English as the enemy. Though she has nothing against the English girl, Ruth, in her class, with her blonde hair, she notes that Ruth is the dunce of the class made to wear the dunce hat, in the shape of a crown. Annie imagines Ruth's downcast looks are due to her consciousness that “Her ancestors had been the masters, while ours had been the slaves.”
All the white people look ridiculous to Annie. Miss Edward, the history teacher, has pimples and is a bellowing dragon. Miss Moore, the headmistress from England, looks like a prune and sounds like an owl screeching. Annie thinks she has a fish going up and down in her throat. She thinks of these teachers as thorns in her side. It is clear that Annie does not like how the English culture makes the native people behave against their own nature. The girl Hilarene, the sexton's daughter, is a “disgusting model of good behavior,” what Annie is expected to be by the mother. The mother's betrayal is partly that she tries to make her daughter into a respectable English girl by making her take classes in English manners and learn the piano. Annie's memories of being a Brownie, wearing the uniform with badges and saluting the British flag, are humorous, for they sound like something absurd and made up. Annie rebels by playing marbles, a game of the local children frowned on by the proper adults. Annie is only healed from her breakdown by her West Indies obeah grandmother who treats her in a more primal and physical way.
Death and Depression
Annie seems to suffer depression as she goes through adolescence. She does not want to grow up. It signals separation for her. She and her friends meet on the tombstones of the graveyard to discuss their issues of puberty. Annie is the first to menstruate but instead of being proud, she is mournful, wishing none of them had to grow up or away from their childish loves.
Images of death are constant in the narrative, surprising for a young girl coming of age. Annie does not look forward to any future. The opening image of a funeral for a child is appropriate for the tone of the book. She explains how everyone on the island is afraid of the dead, for the dead walk and seduce the living. In this way, Annie describes her depression as coming from the mother. It is not only from all that the mother does to affect her, but that possibly the mother suffers from depression as well.
Annie describes her depression as a black ball in cobwebs in the stomach or head. It is very heavy to carry. She eventually notices the same darkness in the mother coming toward her. They act cheerfully in public, but in private, she sees the darkness swallowing them both and feels they want to kill each other. She knows this is wrong, for to kill the mother is to kill herself. The recurring dream of her mother wanting to kill her makes her afraid of the mother. The mother's shadow comes between her and everything.
In this depression she describes how she grows a new skin over the old skin with different nerve endings. Nothing pleases her now. In one scene she looks into the glass of a store window, seeing the ugliness of her face among the items in the store: “I saw myself among all these things, but I didn't know that it was I, for I had got so strange” (p. 94). She no longer recognizes herself but identifies with a picture she saw of the fallen angel, Lucifer.
Finally, it is clear why she does not have Cinderella fantasies of marriage like the other girls when she meets a boy from her childhood, Mineu. Mineu made plays for them to act parts in when they were children. Mineu was always the lord, the hero, the judge, the criminal, the hanged man, all the parts in the play, while she was merely a servant or the audience. This recurring play was based on an actual murder trial in their town. It seems to have forever darkened her view of something romantic coming with adulthood. She was beloved and important to the mother when a child, but as an adolescent, even though first in her class and a sort of leader among the other girls, she feels marginalized in society, and in her own life. On the last day in Antigua, she describes her process of growth as first being put into a hole and being forced down and then up against the pressure of gravity.