Annie john

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FA R R A R , S T R AU S A N D G I RO U X
T E A C H E R ’ S G U I D E

Annie John
by Jamaica Kincaid
“So touching and familiar it could be happening to any of us . . . and that’s exactly the book’s strength, its wisdom, its truth.” —The New York Times Book Review
160 pages


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TO THE TEACHER

Annie John is a haunting and provocative story of a young girl growingup on the island of Antigua. A classic coming-of-age story in the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Jamaica Kincaid’s novel focuses on a universal, tragic, and often comic theme: the loss of childhood. Annie’s voice— urgent, demanding to be heard—is one that will not soon be forgotten by young readers. An adored only child, Annie has until recentlylived an idyllic life. She is inseparable from her beautiful mother, a powerful presence, who is the very center of the little girl’s existence. Loved and cherished, Annie grows and thrives within her mother’s benign shadow. Looking back on her childhood, she reflects, “It was in such a paradise that I lived” (p.25). When she turns twelve, however, Annie’s life changes, in ways that are oftenmysterious to her. She begins to question the cultural assumptions of her island world; at school she instinctively rebels against authority; and most frighteningly, her mother, seeing Annie as a “young lady,” ceases to be the source of unconditional adoration and takes on the new and unfamiliar guise of adversary. At the end of her school years, Annie decides to leave Antigua

and her family, butnot without a measure of sorrow, especially for the mother she once knew and never ceases to mourn. “For I could not be sure,” she reflects, “whether for the rest of my life I would be able to tell when it was really my mother and when it was really her shadow standing between me and the rest of the world” (p.107).

P R E PA R I N G TO R E A D

The questions, discussion topics, assignments, andsuggested reading list that follow will enrich your students’ understanding of the many rich themes of Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John. They are also designed to help place the novel within its historical context and within a literary tradition of coming-of-age novels. Encourage your students to read other accounts of growing up and leaving home. What do Kincaid’s book, her heroine, and her point ofview have in common with those of other such novels? In what way is her account unique? Encourage your students to write about their own experiences: their parents, their schools, their friends, the culture they live in, and that culture’s tacit assumptions. In what way does growing up in 1950s and 1960s Antigua resemble their own experiences? In what way is it markedly different?
U N D E R S TA ND I N G T H E STORY

F I G U R E S I N T H E D I S TA N C E

1. Why is this chapter named “Figures in the Distance”? Does this title have more than one meaning? 2. Why were Annie and her friends afraid of the dead? Is such a fear common to people all over the world? Why? 3. Why does Annie begin to look at her mother’s hands differently after Nalda’s death? 4. If Annie loves Sonia, why doesshe feel compelled to make her suffer? 5. Why does Annie think it is shameful for Sonia that her mother has died and left her alone in the world? 6. Why does Annie begin to go to funerals? Why is she so eager to attend the funeral of the humpbacked girl?

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THE CIRCLING HAND

1. What is an obeah woman? What services does she perform for Annie’s mother? 2. “How important I felt to be with mymother,” Annie says proudly (p.15). From this chapter, what impression do you get of Annie’s mother? What sort of person does she seem to be? 3. Annie says that her father had loved other women and had children with them before he married her mother. Why are these women hostile toward Annie’s mother but not her father, who left them? Why does he pass them in the street without acknowledging...
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