Text: Kincaid, Jamaica, Annie John, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1985.
Summary of Chapter Five: Columbus in Chains
The narrator gives a typical morning scene on the island of Antigua in their hometown. Her mother shoos hens out of the garden, but at the same time, the Anglican church bell rings while Annie is having a history lesson in school. Though she is in first place in her class and made class prefect, she continues her bad behavior, especially toward any of the girls who are respectable. She seems to prefer the dunces and outcasts. She makes fun of Miss Edward, the English history teacher who teaches the history of the West Indies. She also contemplates Ruth, an English girl, whose ancestors, she is aware, were the slave owners, while she and her people were the slaves. One of her favorite illustrations in the history book is of Columbus in chains being sent back to Spain in disgrace, for she hates Columbus. While most teachers love Annie, Miss Edward dislikes her for teaching the other girls bad behavior. She sends Annie to the headmistress for writing slander about Columbus in the text book. She is removed as prefect of the class, an honor given to her rival, Hilarene. She hopes for comfort from her mother, but her mother pays attention to her husband instead of her daughter.
Commentary on Chapter Five: Columbus in Chains
The older Annie gets, the more shocking her thoughts and behavior, for she does not filter them for the reader. She allows her mean feelings or emotional feelings to be stated simply. She does not want to be respectable. Her honesty is amusing at times, for she has a satirical streak. She appears to be an ideal student, except that teachers make remarks on her report card that her behavior is undesirable. She is a ringleader for student pranks. This is a terrible blow to Annie's mother who wants to brag about her accomplishments.
Annie's sensuous and romantic feelings for the other girls continue. She is still in a relationship with Gwen after giving up the Red Girl. The girls are waiting for their breasts to grow, and expose them to moonlight, along with other superstitious practices, to become women. Annie sees parents as opposing the joy of the children, as for instance, Gwen's father who will not let her join choir. She vows to love Gwen since she is one of ten children, and her mother would not have time for her.
This chapter begins Annie's more adult and astute observations on growing up under an English colonial power. She speculates that the dunce of the class, Ruth, who is English, is ashamed of her white heritage as the slave owners. The satire on the picture of Columbus shows her awareness of European colonialism and its significance for her people. The caption she writes under the picture of Columbus in chains, “The Great Man can no longer get up and go” in elaborate old English letters, is considered a great blasphemy by the teachers. Annie is punished and removed from her glorious first position. She expects sympathy from her mother, but the mother suddenly appears to her as a crocodile with big white teeth.
Annie has now found an identity of her own, with her own likes and dislikes. She is increasingly unable to keep her differences from others to herself and actually leads other girls in her wrong ways. Ironically, it is all grist to the mill, for Annie's punishment is to write out the first two books of Paradise Lost by John Milton. This is where Satan and the angels fall from heaven. She likes the poem but not the moral. She is a portrait of the artist as a young girl.