Annie John : Chapter 4
Text: Kincaid, Jamaica, Annie John, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1985.
Summary of Chapter Four: The Red Girl
Annie explains her dishonest behavior at home. She comes home secretly and hides things that are forbidden to her, usually stolen, under the house. Then she slams the gate to announce she is home. The forbidden and stolen objects are mostly books. Annie is now expert at lying and looking innocent.
One day Annie wants a guava from a tree, and a girl she calls the Red Girl climbs the tree to get it for her. She is impressed, for only the boys climb trees. The Red Girl has red braids that stand up on her head. She is dirty because she does not like to bathe or do things she is supposed to do, and her mother does not make her. She does things the boys do, like climb trees and play marbles, while Annie has to follow rules, be clean, and go to church. Annie and the Red Girl go to the old lighthouse forbidden to play in and there they meet every day. Annie plays marbles and wins, amassing large amounts of the forbidden marbles.
Afraid that her mother is suspicious, Annie stops going to the lighthouse for a few days but does not warn the Red Girl. When Annie manages to go to the lighthouse again, the Red Girl does not say anything but simply pinches Annie until she cries. Once she cries, the Red Girl kisses her. They both enjoy this and continue the behavior at every meeting. Annie begins to steal money from her mother's purse to buy presents for the Red Girl. One day her mother discovers the marbles and then presents a scathing report about the daughter to the father at dinner. Annie gives up the Red Girl and marbles but does not recant about her behavior. She has fantasies about rescuing the Red Girl and living with her.
Commentary on Chapter Four: The Red Girl
This chapter shows Annie learning who she is by doing forbidden things and not being the perfect nice girl her mother wants her to be. At the same time, she learns that if she wants to discover herself through forbidden experience, she has to betray the trust others have in her. The first betrayal is always of her mother, but now she feels she is also capable of betraying her best friend, Gwen, by taking up with the Red Girl. She keeps this friendship quiet. At this time she does the opposite of what her mother wants her to do. The Red Girl seems to symbolize rebellion. She is dirty, unkempt, and does as she likes. She does not try to control Annie as the mother does.
Her mother does not approve of marbles, so Annie becomes a champion at it. She has to hide the marbles under the house. When the mother finds the marbles, she gives an angry speech to the father at supper about all Annie's faults, speaking as if she is not there. Still Annie continues to lie and oppose her mother, even when her heart is almost melting from a desire to have the mother's love and confidence. This moment of almost yielding to her mother comes when the mother confesses a story about her own youth. Suddenly, Annie sees her as a person again, but the next moment her mother nags her and breaks the tender connection. She gives up the Red Girl, though she continues to have fantasies about her. In her fantasies, the Red Girl is in trouble, and Annie rescues her. Annie always wants to rescue the Red Girl and give her presents. Symbolically, she wants to feed the part of herself rejected by her mother and by society.
It is difficult to interpret Annie's behavior at times, for though one feels sympathy for her, she is inconsistent and amoral. For instance, in the fantasy where she rescues the Red Girl from a sinking ship, she imagines the two friends watching people in a cruise ship sinking and laughing at their cries. Annie seems to enjoy that she can be honest and outrageous with the Red Girl. They do not have to be nice.
From a psychological point of view, Annie seems to enjoy sadomasochistic behavior, as the Red Girl pinches her and then kisses her. They repeat this punishment/kissing routine. She tells of the first awareness of sexual feelings, exhibited toward the other girls as they begin to grow into adolescence. The love episodes with Gwen and the Red Girl suggest lesbian relationships but their innocence also suggests that these are experimental discoveries in early youth, not uncommon in adolescence.
Annie feels as if she is bad because her mother tells her she is, but though she lies, steals, and is discovering sexual and emotional feeling towards others, these are not necessarily predictors of adult behavior, nor are they unusual episodes for normal children growing up. Annie feels she lives in a repressive environment with constant judgment from her mother about whether or not she is conforming to some acceptable standard. She does not feel the mother is interested in her as a person. In this way, she does not mind betraying her mother, for in her mind, her mother has already betrayed their early intimacy.