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Annie John



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About The Author

Jamaica KincaidJamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid's books include At the Bottom of the River, Annie John, A Small Place, Lucy, The Autobiography of My Mother, My Brother, and, most recently, Mr. Potter. She lives in Vermont.

photo: Copyright Kenneth Noland

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Questions for Discussion
 
1. The story Annie John tells is related entirely from Annie’s point of view. The narrative is obviously not objective. Do you think it is truthful? Or do you think that it distorts events? If so, what is the author’s purpose in distorting them?

2. It has been said that, as an author, Jamaica Kincaid makes no concessions to convention or sentimentality. What might be meant by that comment, and how does it apply to Annie John? Do you respond to the tone she establishes and see it as honest, or do you find her tone excessively harsh and unforgiving? Defend your answer.

3. How is the parent-child struggle—the struggle between power and lack of power—extended to other conflicts within the novel? Can you discern the theme of power and its abuses in the novel’s presentation of the colonial subjugation of the island of Antigua, of the ruling British versus the subject Antiguans? If so, provide examples.

4. Annie John, like many narratives of adolescence, is a story about a young person finding her own identity, separate from that of her parents. At what point in the story does Annie realize that she has a separate identity from that of her mother? How does she assert it? Why is this assertion so painful to her?

5. Annie lies to her parents and becomes an accomplished thief, stealing books from the library and money from her mother. What is your reaction to these acts? Do they change your feelings about Annie? Do you admire her for her honesty in telling about this, or do you find the moral climate she establishes offensive?

6. How would you describe Annie’s school and the kind of education she receives? Do you find the imposition of a British curriculum on Caribbean children absurd or in any way admirable? What kind of outlook on the world, and on their place in it, does it give these children?

7. As Kincaid tells the story, she relates it as an expulsion from Paradise. What was the original expulsion from Paradise? Who was expelled and why? What do the references to Lucifer and Paradise Lost indicate to you?

8. After school, Annie and her friends sit on the tombstones “of long-dead people who had been the masters of our ancestors” (p.50). What other references does the book give to Antigua’s history of slavery? Does the history of her people and her island explain anything about Annie’s character that might otherwise seem strange to you?

9. Annie says, “I could see how Ruth felt from looking at her face. Her ancestors had been the masters, while ours had been the slaves. She had such a lot to be ashamed of, and by being with us every day she was always being reminded. We could look everybody in the eye, for our ancestors had done nothing wrong except just sit somewhere, defenseless” (p.76). Annie reflects, “If the tables had been turned we would have acted differently.” Do you believe that Ruth should feel responsible for what her ancestors did, or that the other girls should feel virtuous? Do you think that Kincaid herself believes what she has Annie say? Consider the manner in which both slavery and colonialism are depicted in this novel.

10. Annie’s three-month illness changes her deeply; she seems a different person after her recovery. In what ways has she changed, physically and emotionally?

11. By the end of the book, Annie has rejected every aspect of her home and childhood: “As I was lying there my heart could have burst open with joy at the thought of never having to see any of it again” (p.132). Is this sort of rejection an inevitable part of the process of growing up? Or is Annie’s hostility and rejection unusually extreme? If so, why?

12. Though Annie is more or less a grown-up by the end of the book, does she ever fully accept that fact? Does she see herself as independent and adult, or does she still think of herself as a child?

13. Jamaica Kincaid has said that her leaving Antigua “was a means of personal liberation” (NOW, 10/12/89). Why do you think Kincaid was only able to find liberation by leaving home? Is Annie the same in this way? Can you think of any other literary characters who, like Annie, make this move almost from necessity?

14. To what extent are Annie’s experiences and emotions universal, and to what extent are they individual products of her own personality, family, and environment? Do you feel that you have a lot in common with her? What aspects of her life resemble your own?

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