Ma Chess is Annie's grandmother, her mother's mother, from Dominica. She is a Carib Indian and a healing woman of obeah magic. Strong-minded, she refuses to speak to her husband for the rest of his life for not allowing her to heal their son, John, who died after being treated by Western medicine. She is called in to heal Annie, whom Western doctors cannot heal. She is successful in her rebirthing of her granddaughter and bringing her back to the world after her withdrawal into depression.
Pa Chess is Annie's grandfather, a strong patriarchal figure who owns land on Dominica. First, his daughter, Annie's mother, rebelled, leaving home when she was sixteen, and then his wife rebelled against him when he did not allow her to heal their son John. He does not believe in the old religion and tries to force the family to be modern.
Uncle John Chess
John is the beloved brother of Annie's mother. She, like her mother, Ma Chess, is devastated by his death. He lingers for two years with some disease the Western doctor cannot cure and dies at the age of twenty-three. Ma Chess keeps his belongings in a chest in her room.
Miss Dulcie is a seamstress to whom Annie is briefly engaged as an apprentice in her teen years. She hates this memory for Miss Dulcie was cruel and made her do the chores but never taught her sewing.
Mr. Earl is a fisherman who shares a wife with another fisherman, Mr. Nigel. Annie gives examples of the island's polygamous habits despite its official Christianity.
Miss Edward is the history teacher at Annie's school who catches her writing a sarcastic caption under the illustration of Christopher Columbus in chains and has her demoted to second place.
Hilarene is Annie's classmate, the sexton's proper daughter, who is second in class after Annie. After Annie's disgrace about Columbus, Hilarene is promoted to first place in the class.
Annie Victoria John
Annie Victoria John is called Little Miss by her parents as a child. She announces her grown-up status at the end of the book when she is seventeen and leaving for a boat to England to nursing school. “My name is Annie John,” she says, insisting on her own individual identity. She is the main character and first person narrator of this coming-of-age narrative. Annie is a sensitive girl who notices everything—beauty, cruelty, hypocrisy—and chronicles what she sees in an honest voice, refusing to be socialized by her mother or by school. She falls ill of a depression because she has her secret life and then the role she must play in public. Her main grievance seems to be that her mother does not accept her as she is or wants to know who she is. Her mother is more interested in her being a proper young lady who will make her proud. Annie has been passionate about her mother until her mother insisted she become someone she feels she is not. Then she decides her mother is trying to kill her, a chief enemy. Her mother goes from nurturer to evil witch in her life, blocking her attempts to be herself.
Annie is the star in school academically, and she is also personally popular as a leader. Her independence, however, trips her up when she cares more for experimenting in her life than appearing respectable. She goes for forbidden things—marbles, strange people, books, ideas. Annie thinks for herself and does not accept the school version of Columbus as a hero. She has understood that he and colonialism destroyed her island. She does not know why she has to pledge allegiance to Britain as if it is her country. Annie is always a fish out of water in her world growing up in Antigua. Her brilliant fragments of memory let the reader share Caribbean culture in its European overlay on the more primal emotions and lifestyle of the indigenous people.
Mr. John is never named but is Annie's father. He is much older than her mother and has many former lovers and their children on the island that he does not acknowledge after marrying Annie's mother. Annie and her mother have to be constantly on guard against his former lovers for they are sure to put curses on his wife and child out of jealousy. When younger, Annie found some companionship with her father since they both liked to rebel against the mother's rules. As she grows up she resents the time her mother spends on him, laughing at his jokes, and making love to him. He has false teeth. He is a carpenter and makes all the furniture in their house, a feat that Annie finds annoying. Her father seems kind and attentive and tries to care for her when she is sick, but he does not approve of the obeah healing.
Mrs. John is Annie's mother, the villain of the story in her eyes, for abandoning their precious intimacy when she was twelve. Her mother demanded that she begin to grow up and would not let her be as close as before, making her wear her own clothes and go to classes to learn to be a young lady. In the beginning Annie worships her mother as beautiful, with lighter skin and Indian blood, coming from Dominica, where her father owned land. Her mother is intelligent and well educated and wants the same for her daughter. She encourages Annie's ambition, but Annie finds the way to sabotage her mother is to get into trouble or to do things she finds disgusting, like playing marbles or hanging out with the dirty, lower-class Red Girl. Annie's mother seems able to destroy her with a look or a word. She is a strong and independent woman with her own opinions that she tries to impose on her daughter. Annie thinks she is beautiful and brave and tall and strong. She imagines a rivalry or enmity with her, thinking her mother is trying to kill her. When Annie makes herself ill over this, her mother calls in the obeah women to heal her. Whether or not she does something to Annie on a psychological level to injure her, she seems a perfect mother in terms of caring for her daughter, sewing all her clothes, telling her stories, teaching her, and trying to keep her healthy. She is proud of her daughter's success in school and encourages her. She sends her off to nursing school in England.
Ma Jolie is the local obeah woman called in when Annie falls ill with some mysterious illness. Her remedies are lined up against those of Dr. Stephens, the regular medical doctor. Neither can cure Annie until her grandmother arrives, who knows much more obeah medicine than Ma Jolie.
Gweneth Joseph is Annie's best friend at school, whose love replaces the love of her mother. At first, Annie is in love with Gweneth, and they are always together. As Annie matures, she finds Gweneth boring and conventional, especially when she looks forward to her engagement and tries to get Annie interested in marrying her brother, Rowan.
Mineu is the older boy Annie played with as a child. He was domineering and did not let Annie do much in their made-up plays except be a mother or maid. He took all the interesting parts and expected her to be a support or audience. He was the one who made up the play based on an actual murder on the island with himself playing all the roles. He obviously typifies male ego to Annie and helps explain why she is not interested in boys.
Miss Moore is the English headmistress of Annie's school whom she describes as a prune with an owl's screeching voice. She looks around the room, hoping to see something wrong.
Nalda is a little girl with red hair who dies in Annie's mother's arms. She dies of a fever. Annie's father makes the coffin, and her mother prepares the body for burial. Annie is afraid of the dead walking, as are all the islanders. A child's death is very frightening to her.
Miss Nelson is the homeroom teacher at Annie's school. She first wins approval for an essay she writes on her mother and reads aloud in her class.
Mr. Nigel is the other fisherman who has in common a wife with Mr. Earl.
The Red Girl
The Red Girl is a wild friend of Annie's with red hair braided into corkscrews on her head. Annie has fantasies of the Red Girl in trouble and imagines she rescues her. The Red Girl symbolizes the rebellious part of Annie who wants to be free. The Red Girl is dirty, poor, and unattractive, yet Annie falls in love with her and steals money from her mother's purse to buy her treats. Annie likes to play with her because she does not have to follow rules. She teaches Annie the forbidden game of marbles. Annie also seems to have some sadomasochistic play with her in which the Red Girl pinches her until she cries, and then she kisses the hurts.
Sonia is an early example of Annie's sadomasochistic idea of love. She is a mentally retarded child with hair all over her body. Annie claims to love her and yet she torments her until she cries. As with the Red Girl, she steals money from her mother's purse to buy this girl a treat. Annie stops playing with her because her mother dies and leaves her alone. The loss of mother seems to her a shameful thing and something she will suffer herself.
Annie John : Characters