Phobias, Obeah and the Emergence of Self in Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John

By Goddard, Horace I. | Kola, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Phobias, Obeah and the Emergence of Self in Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John


Goddard, Horace I., Kola


West Indian folklore is replete with phobias and neurotic beliefs which impact the lives of children and affect their psycho-emotional development. Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John is such a book. The thematic threads in the novel are held together by Annie's primal concern about death, its meaning, the loss it engenders, and the frustration and pain which emanate from it. Amidst this turmoil, there is the individual identity which is smothered in a geographical wasteland.

Annie's obsession with the nature of death is also linked to two myths: the living dead and the effects of touching the dead. Death, in Annie's situation, is symbolic of a separation which foreshadows her growing estrangement and alienation from her mother. Another inter textual layer is the reality and adjustment that she has to go through from her pre-teen years to adolescence which in essence is the death of one age and the growing emergence of another milestone in life. This transition into young adulthood is fraught with danger for Annie, especially with respect to sexuality.

Questions of sexuality (homo and hetero), of physiological and psychological maturing and mother-daughter relationships, are part of the intricate, narrative fabric. There are also sociological details about obeah, bush baths and burials that establish the boundaries of fear that lead to Annie's self-deprecating development. Kincaid weaves an intricate human interest story using colonial English to present her point of view. Jamaica Kincaid delights in the use of the colonizer's language and literary traditions but detests everything that this "mother country" represents. Anger and hate permeate her novel, Annie John. Let us begin this inquiry by examining the novel.

Annie John is a powerful story which revolves around eight episodes in the life of the heroine. The novel delineates the filial links that bind a child to her parents, her friends, her country and herself. In the rights of passage from childhood through puberty and into young womanhood, we are propelled along a route of a psychological journey through the exploding minefields of growing up in Antigua. Our first encounter with Annie is representational of the lives of most West Indian children in the nineteen fifties. Annie's life is constrained. There are only two neighbours and her only chore is to collect the vegetable scraps from them to feed the pigs.

Trapped in this veritable wasteland, Annie develops a phobia about death. She declares: "We were afraid of the dead because we never could tell when they might show up again" (p.4). This primal fear of the living dead, zombies, has a connection to the Black West Indian's African past. Mbiti illuminates this concept:

While surviving relatives remember the departed, the spirit more or less leads a personal continuation of life. It has become what we have called the living dead. People regard it as being much like a human being although it is dead. If it appears to members of the family, they will say they saw 'so and so.' (Mbiti, p. 119)

Annie's preoccupation with death is symptomatic of her inability to let go of the past which haunts her constantly. Nalda's death and preparation for burial leaves an indelible odour of bay rum: "a scent that for a long time afterward made me ill." (p.6). This psychosomatic connection of bay rum to death widens the gulf in Annie's relationship with her mother. She did not want her mother to touch her after these visits to places of death. Given that death is a constant in Annie's life, it points forward to her inability to mend the fractured ties with her mother. After Nalda's death, a neighbour, Miss Charlotte, dies and another girl around Annie's age. Death, decay and rot of all that is youthful, indicate the brutal waste in this harsh environment. To remove this curse of death, Annie's mother resorts to the ritual bush baths and increases her visits to the obeah woman:

... other times, it was a special bath in which the Barks of many trees, together with all sorts of oils, were boiled in the same large caldron. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Phobias, Obeah and the Emergence of Self in Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.