Annie John : Chapter 8
Text: Kincaid, Jamaica, Annie John, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1985.
Summary of Chapter Eight: A Walk to the Jetty
On the last day she is to spend in Antigua, the narrator constantly thinks the sentence, “My name is Annie John.” She is going to Barbados, and from there by ship to England to study nursing. Her name is written all over her trunk. She does not want to go to England or to be a nurse, but she is seventeen and needs a change. She is no longer a child.
She looks at all the items in her room representing her life and rejoices she will never have to see her room or the objects again. In her head she narrates her life so far as if to an audience. She is Annie John, born September 15, with the moon and sun both in the sky. Her father is thirty-five years older than her mother and now declining so she has to wait on him. It is a lesson for her that she never wants to marry. The furniture was made by her father; all the linen was handmade by her mother. The three of them used to always be together, but now she is taller than they are, and they continue to walk together, while she walks apart. They have not changed, she sees, but her perspective on them has changed. She used to believe her mother's words of love, and now she knows her to be a hypocrite. Her mother arranged this departure, and she has vowed it will be permanent.
Her mother has had obeah women do things to her jewelry and underclothes to protect her against spirits. In her mind Annie has a long list of things she will never do again, including obeah women. Her parents give her a holiday meal and festive send-off. She tries to be agreeable except when her mother mentions that one day she will write to them that she wants to marry. She remarks, “How absurd,” creating embarrassment for them. When she says goodbye to Gwen, she thinks her former love was a joke, for Gwen seems foolish, jabbering on about her impending marriage.
As Annie walks to the jetty with her parents, she walks through her former life, seeing all the people she knew. Her memories center on how her mother exactly prescribed each step for her, and how pleased she was when her daughter conformed to her wishes. Her mother was over-protective and controlling, and this helps explain her constant and small rebellions to be someone different than her mother expects. Annie objects because her parents rarely talk about anything personal or real to them. She is bored by their conventional lives. At the jetty she feels she is being torn to pieces, because her old life is gone forever. For one moment she grips her parents' hands in the launch, but then she boards the ship, where she feels her old life emptying out of her.
Commentary on Chapter Eight: A Walk to the Jetty
This is a brilliant scene depicting a moment of maturation in which Annie is leaving her childhood forever, to embrace a future she is unsure of but longs for because it is better than the stifling past in Antigua. She describes her love-hate for her parents, clutching their hands and crying, at the same time, full of criticism of them and their ways. Her most important revelation is that they have never changed toward her. It is she who has steadily changed her viewpoint on them and her youth in Antigua.
Details that could be interpreted in a positive way, such as that her father handmade the furniture and her mother handmade the linen, are seen as disgusting to her. She does not explain why she finds this disgusting. Perhaps it is because she has read books about other places, and this place and her parents seem dull to her. She does not say this specifically, and in this way she describes the irrational but universal feelings of growing up. The growing child or young adult naturally finds whatever went before as too small, or not befitting who they are becoming. One's parents do not easily adjust to the maturation of a child, or see that child as an individual person. All the household routines seem to be like a prison, even if they are evidence of a caring mother and father. They never see her as a person, but only as a child, or a member of their group as they have set it up. She even outgrows her old friends who once made her feel freedom.
Annie feels different from her parents, from her teachers, from her friends, from Antigua. She tries not to betray her disapproval of Gwen's desire to marry. She says good luck, but means it, she says, as if her friend were going to jump off a cliff. She does not romanticize England, though she does identify with Charlotte Bronte, an English author. She likes the idea of going to Belgium, where no one from Antigua would find her.
This complete disgust at one's background on coming of age is a recurrent theme in literature. The protagonist is trying to discover a unique identity, as all young adults do, and feels the need to reject what does not seem to fit. Annie's maturation, however, is also set in Antigua, in which racial, sexual orientation, and postcolonial concerns are added threads of significance. Annie may find Antigua backward, but she does not embrace England, the dominating colonial culture, as her defining value system. She leaves with a list of all she wants to abandon, but she has not yet discovered the positive track of who she is now.