Annie John: Adolescent Rebellion Against Traditions

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Annie John is a fictional novel that is inspired by true events written by Jamaica Kincaid. The novel follows the life of a girl named Annie John as she grows up in Antigua. Throughout the book, Annie struggles with conforming to the cultural standards of her community. She also struggles with her relationship with her mother, because as she grows up they become more and more distant. She forms relationships with different characters to compensate for the loss of her relationship with her mother. Throughout the book, Annie rejects almost everything that is standard in Antiguan culture and begins to form her own identity.

She begins to evolve in the world and struggles with the concept that she might not belong in Antigua. Kincaid uses Annie’s rebellion as a way to show personal growth. In Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John, Kincaid uses Annie’s rejection of her mother, her relationship with Gwen, the Antiguan culture, and heteronormative standards to illustrate that rejection can lead to learning, growth, and independence. Annie learns a sense of independence through the rejection of her mother’s relationship. Bloom’s Literature “Glossing Over Annie John’s Rebellion”, Annie, “deliberately shunning and depriving herself of a female model, fixating on her mother as treacherous, she molds herself into an exciting, desirable subject who obeys and disobeys at will” (Glossing Over Annie John’s Rebellion). Annie forms an image for her mother as an evil figure to distance herself from the relationship, so she can become her own independent woman, who creates her own rules.

Thomas Cassidy writes about Annie’s reaction to her mother’s rejection writing, “This realization leads Annie to “act up” more, and in ways that her mother frequently cannot abide. To an extent, Annie at first wants to be able to misbehave, but she also wants to receive the maternal approval that she needs. As her mother increasingly withdraws her approval, however, Annie asserts her own personality, though the lack she feels at her mother’s missing support remains painful, and she and her mother become more careful and guarded toward one another” (Cassidy). Annie’s relationship with her mother becomes more strained as the book progresses. Annie uses misbehavior as a way to push her mother away and gain her sense of identity. Verna Ena George writes, “Her propensity to behave totally counter to her mother’s expectations, her dreams of loss and revenge, of destroying or being destroyed by her mother, leads to a period of illness. In this period of hibernation, Annie reconstructs herself” (George 42).

Throughout the book, Annie does everything she can to defy her mother’s expectations of her. Because of this, she succumbs to an illness that leaves her bedridden for months. During this time, Annie realizes what she wants and realizes that a life that her mother leads is not what she wants. Bloom’s Literature writes about Kincaid’s message of familial rejection writing, “Kincaid indicates that the formation of the individual begins with a necessary severance of a child from mother, a post-birth trauma that replicates the cutting of the cord. The parting from an adoring family leaves Annie feeling ‘that someone was tearing me up into little pieces’ (Bloom’s Literature). Kincaid writing shows us that she believes that independence stems from the rejection of familial expectations to create a person’s way of thinking. This can help build a person’s identity that differs from their parents. As the novel progresses, Annie’s mother begins to push her away and transitions from a loving mother to a stern, bitter parent. Annie sees this and begins to reject her mother’s expectations of her and begins to set her own. She tries to do almost everything opposite of what her mother tells her to do.

The strain in their relationship also allows Annie to grow and create a new identity. Kincaid uses Annie’s relationship with her mother to suggest that children need to become independent of the parents to create their own identity. Annie’s rejection of her relationship with Gwen after she begins to behave in the typical Antiguan woman way, represents that she will continue to push away any sense of cultural conformity. Keith E Byerman from the John Hopkins University Press writes, “She gives up her friendship with Gwen, a girl who represents all that is acceptable to the society, to pursue a relationship with the Red Girl, who is dirty, ragged, uneducated, and tomboyish. She does this in part because she finds such a difference from her own life fascinating. She is intrigued by the smell and feel and behavior of such a rebellious child” (Byerman 97). Towards the end of the book, Annie realizes that Gwen will go along with the cultural expectations of the island. When she realizes this, she begins to distance herself from Gwen and pursue a relationship with the Red Girl, who represents deviance from expectations. Annie’s rejection of her relationship with Gwen is another example of her rejecting cultural standards. Byerman writes about Gwen’s development throughout the book writing, “Gwen has become the successfully integrated Antiguan woman, but for [Annie John] this is not a virtue” (Byerman 99).

Although Gwen and Annie had a relationship that defied the standards of the culture, in the end, Gwen decides to conform to the cultural expectations. Since Annie has refused to accept these, she begins to push Gwen away. Kincaid writes about Gwen at the end of the book writing, “She had now degenerated into complete silliness, hardly able to complete a sentence without putting in a few giggles. Along with the giggles, she had developed some other schoolgirl traits that she did not have when she was actually a schoolgirl” (Kincaid 137). Kincaid explains that Gwen had become like every other girl in the culture. Annie had gone to various measures to distance herself from the culture as much as possible, which leads to the rejection of Gwen. Kincaid writes about the beginning of the end of Annie’s relationship with Gwen writing, “Gwen and I had vowed to love each other always but the words had a hollow ring. And when we looked at each other we couldn’t sustain the gaze” (Kincaid 53). This is where Annie and Gwen knew that they were growing apart. Gwen had begun to behave the way a typical Antiguan girl behaves, which alarms Annie, and she begins to pull away.

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The fact that Gwen behaves this way causes Annie to begin to resent her. Gwen’s development throughout the book represents the typical developmental journey of an Antiguan girl. At the beginning of the relationship, Annie believes that Gwen will defy standards like Annie, but as the book progresses, she learns that this is false. When Annie sees that Gwen is conforming to cultural standards, she begins to push her away. Even though she was still technically in a relationship with Gwen, she begins one with the Red Girl who symbolizes rebellion. Kincaid wrote this to symbolize that Annie will always try to pull away from cultural norms. Annie’s rejection of the Antiguan culture represents that she refuses to blindly accept any cultural standards, and begins to grow and create her own. Keith E Byerman writes about the Antiguan standards for a girl saying, “This is the model of the true Antiguan girl: obedient, self-effacing, hardworking, and loyal, the very opposite of Annie John, the marble playing liar” (Byerman 98).

Byerman is saying that Annie John is the exact opposite of the typical Antiguan girl, which shows her rejection of Antiguan culture. Brook Bouson explains how Annie’s behavior relates to the Antiguan culture writing, “Annie’s misbehavior and inattention is also a form of rebellion against coercion and enforced colonial mind control” (Bouson). Bouson suggests that Annie’s rejects the culture of a colonial land by misbehaving. Annie uses this misbehavior to form her standards of herself. Jan Hall explains how Annie’s parents represent the culture and a colonized society writing, “In a larger context, Annie rebels against her parents, and especially her mother because they represent the status quo of a stable, colonized society.

Annie resists her mother’s training and preparation for marriage and adulthood, for continuing the same, predictable life under British domination in Antigua” (Hall). The author is suggesting that Kincaid uses Annie’s resistance to the “status quo”, especially with her parents, to pave her way to adulthood. Annie’s rejection of the culture allows her to branch out and form her own identity. The entire book’s plot is wrapped around the idea that Annie rejects almost all Antiguan standards. She does this to form her own identity because she desires to be different from everyone else. As she rejects the culture, she learns how to create her standards for herself. As she grows, she realizes that Antigua is not where she feels that she belongs, which causes her to leave by the end of the book. Through this point, Kincaid suggests to truly find oneself, one must reject the status-quo and set their expectations and standards.

The rejection of heteronormative standards by Annie John suggests that to gain a sense of identity, one must look past the “status quo”. Bloom’s Literature “Glossing Over Annie John’s Rebellion”, explains how Annie rejects the social norms of a woman’s role in the household writing, “Declining to be a gracious object a lady for the community to admire, or even mother’s helped around the house, she constructs herself against the cultural gain through subterfuge. She will not and cannot renounce desire and self-determination” (Glossing Over Annie John’s Rebellion). Since Annie is a woman, she is expected to take care of the household, and be the typical Antiguan woman for the island to admire. Annie sees that this is not the way that she wants to live the rest of her life, so she rejects this, forming a new way of thinking that is opposite of the typical standards. Bloom’s Literature writes about how Annie continues to reject heteronormative standards through the end of the book writing, “Upon parting, Annie’s mother proudly tells her, 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 (136). Annie curtly responds, “How absurd! (136)” (Bloom’s Literature).

Through the end of the book, Annie continues to reject the standard that she is to be married. She learns that she likes to be independent and still refuses to conform to the heteronormative standards that she has been taught throughout her life. “Glossing Over Annie John’s Rebellion” also writes about how Annie rejects the expectations of her as a woman saying, “she buttons up her developing person to hide the mismatch of her physical, cultural, and psychic subject-positions. With this self-imposed outsider status, Annie John rejects maternal definition or rather refashions a sense of pride in her own terms” (Glossing Over Annie John’s Rebellion). Annie tries to hide her rebellion when she can. She still rejects most standards of women during that time and creates her standards which she can take pride in. Annie’s failure to conform to the heteronormative standards set by her parents and culture forms her sense of independence from everything that people deem ordinary. This rejection caused her to create her standards when referring to her relationships and lifestyle as a woman. Annie continues to reject these standards until the very last page of the book. Through Annie’s defiance, Kincaid is suggesting that to fully know one’s full identity, one must reject heteronormative standards if they believe that that does not fit their identity.

Annie John’s rebellion against people’s expectations caused her to form her own identity, counter to the cultural norm. Kincaid uses Annie to symbolize that the rejection of the status quo can lead to the growth of one’s identity. Kincaid writes about Annie’s rejection of her relationship with her mother to suggests that adolescents can form a sense of independence if they do not conform to the expectations of their parents. She also suggests through Annie’s rejection of her relationship with Gwen, that one must not conform to societal standards just because everyone else is. Kincaid also writes that Annie rejects Antiguan culture to fully form her identity and learn that she does not belong in Antigua. Kincaid also uses Annie rejection of heteronormative standards to symbolize that one must sometimes defy what others think is normal to grow their identity. Jamaica Kincaid uses the rebellion as a way to symbolize learning, growth, and independence.

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