Jamaica Kincaid’s novel Annie John (1991) is a pure reflection of female relationships that might be seen to go against societal norms. In the novel, the author creates a heroine who struggles in her search for self-identity but whose life is dotted with affection for fellow women starting from her mother to other girls with whom she interacts. The theme of homosexual or homosocial female love is present in the story and is best expressed through Annie John, the protagonist in the book. Annie expresses her desire towards her mother especially when she gets jealousy of the relationship between her parents. She is so possessive of her so much so that their relationship becomes strained at the very sight of her parents making love. But her feelings are later relocated to other girls. Throughout the book, Annie forms critical friendships and homosocial emotional attachments with Sonia, Albertine, Gwen and the Red Girl as will be discussed in this essay.
Annie John Spends much of her time with her mother during summer vacations. They sleep together and sometimes prepare her birth. That is typical of any mother- daughter relationship especially when they are young. It gets to a point where they shower together, and her mother adds herbs to their bath water, something that Annie loves so much. Mother and daughter go to town together and through such experiences she gets closer to her mother. That makes Annie love and appreciate her more, making her think that her mother is the most beautiful woman. Her affection for her grows to such an extent that she becomes so possessive of her and she envies the relationship between her parents. She feels that her mother does not value their union anymore, and that destroys their special relationship. Her mother might not have understood her daughter’s feelings of affection for her; she thought them simple but was more complex than meets the eye (Bloom 67). That brings out Annie’s personality on matters of gender relations and affection, which remains a part of what forms her attitudes and lingers on the other relationships she forms with other girls throughout the novel. Her homosocial attachment to her mother is the genealogy of her inner feelings and attitudes that he exhibits towards the friendships she develops with the girls she meets.
At the very onset of the story, Annie states in a matter of fact way that she holds affectionate feelings towards members of her gender. She fondly talks about her feelings towards Sonia when she says, “I loved very much- and so used to torment till she cried- a girl named Sonia. I thought her beautiful. I would then stare and stare at her” (Kincaid 7). Anyone could have expected that to happen between a boy and a girl and in most cases such sort of behavior is exhibited by boys towards the girls they love or hold affectionately. In this case, the feelings are emanating from a girl towards another. The allusion of this kind of love only shows how much little Annie values women, and that is the one form of love that has been influenced by the relationship she has with her mother before the Oedipal complex feelings set in. She appreciated womanhood in ways that are not morally acceptable, but that is how she feels towards fellow girls.
The relationship between Annie John and Gwen shows the self-conscious nature of the romantic attraction that the former develops with the latter. For instance, on the first day, she reported to school Annie says, “I liked a girl named Albertine, and I liked a girl named Gweneth. At the end of the day, Gwen and I were in love, and so we walked home arm in arm together" (Kincaid 33). That shows how she held same-sex desires with the girls she encountered and in as much as these girls do not reciprocate the love it does not matter. Annie goes on to openly display her affection for Gwen, and that is one of the best reflection of how she feels about her other female friends.
The Red Girl is the epitome of masculinity found in women, and that is what mostly catches the attention of Annie. The girl is tomboyish and Annie admires her just like a girl could admire a boy. She exclaims,
“I had never seen a girl do this before. All the boys climbed trees for the fruit they wanted, and all the girls threw stones to knock the fruits off the trees. But look the way she climbed that tree: better than any boy” (Kincaid 56).
The Red Girl exhibits a kind of masculinity that Annie had never seen before, in her she saw a person who could fill the gap of a boy because she behaved like one. Annie sees her for her ability to compete as a boy, and that gives her a new perception and possibility of having her in her circles (Simons 42). Even when playing marbles, the protagonist feels as though she was the best, and Annie says “she loved to play marbles and was so good that only Skerrit boys now played against her” (Kincaid 58). The most important thing about The Red Girl is that she challenges male supremacy and makes Annie feel as though she is good enough to take the place of a boy in her life. After all, she preferred girls, and that makes her want to defy gender conformity even more.
When the Red Girl came into her life, Annie’s preference shifts from Gwen and that proofs that it is possible that infidelity happens in homosocial relationships just like it happens in heterosocial ones. The heterosocial relationship that exhibited between Annie’s parents stands in the way of the relationship between mother and daughter (Simons 72). The Red Girl also comes in and takes the place of Gwen instantly, and it seems as though Annie is toying around with the two girls. It is funny how she fantasizes about playing around with the feelings of both girls when she says,
“We walked into our classroom in the usual way arm in arm. The Little Lovebirds, our friends, called us. Who could have guessed at that moment about the new claim of my heart?” (Kincaid 60).
Annie fantasizes of a possibility of having a romantic relationship with two girls just like the case is in normal boy- girl relationships. That only shows how natural romantic feelings between people of the same sex can be.
Perhaps the best way to look at homosexuality in this story is through a careful observation of the behaviors of Annie and the girls she desires. But Kincaid succeeds in concealing it in such a way that she used coded language to regulate it. For instance, she describes a scene where Gwen and Annie John lie down in a pasture and expose their breast to the moonlight and sometimes share an affectionate pinch. Annie derives a lot of sexual fun when she exposes Sonia to some form of brutality that is sexually motivated (Bloom 45). For instance, she could “pull at the hair on her arms and legs, gently at first, and then awfully hard, holding it up taut with the tips of my fingers until she cried out” (Kincaid, 7). That kind of touch evokes some sense of bodily play that is sensual. When it comes to the Red Girl, Annie simply articulates strong emotions when kissing replaces the twisting of her flesh (Kincaid 63).
Perhaps the best way to look at Annie John’s nonconformity to traditional ways of showing appreciation is to look at her behavior as one that desperately wants to replace her mother’s love and can only do that by showing romantic emotions and attachment towards fellow girls. It is her way of overcoming her deep rooted hatred for her mother who shifts love and attention from her daughter to her husband, but at the same time passes for a stage of maturation and movement from one age to another. It is imperative to note that the author uses the adolescent stage which is evolving and gives a child a chance to develop into adulthood. But all the same, she could have chosen to get involved with boys her age but she chooses otherwise and starts to develop feelings for fellow girls.
In the absence of boys in her life, the teenage Annie John finds solace and comfort in homosocial and homosexual behavior, and it passes for necessity. She does things with fellow girls which she could have done with boys. For instance, they fondle each other’s breasts. Annie says, “We had to make do with ourselves. What perfection we found in each other” (Kincaid 50). It may have been a childish way of exploring their sexuality, but again it is a perfect experimentation of some of the things that society has not fully accepted. It is not surprising that Annie is a bit secretive about these relationships, and that only mean she is well aware of society’s harsh stand on such matters. Jamaica Kincaid succeeds in exploring a topic that was well ignored at the time, and through the protagonist Annie John, she tells of a possibility of a girl developing affection for fellow girls as a process of maturation. In the end, Annie moves from Antigua and perhaps that is a way of showing that she outgrew her emotions and conformed to societal ideas.
Bloom, Harold. “Introduction.” Modern Critical Views: Jamaica Kincaid. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1998. Print
Kincaid, Jamaica. Annie John. New York: Noonday, 1991. Print
Simons, Diane. Jamaica Kincaid. New York: Twayne, 1994. Print