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Negotiating Hall'S Caribbean Identity In Kincaid'S Annie John

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Negotiating Hall's Caribbean Identity in Kincaid's Annie John

In his article "Negotiating Caribbean Identities," Stuart Hall attempts to relay to the reader the complications associated with assigning a single cultural identity to the Caribbean people. Even though the article is intended by the author to represent the Caribbean people as a splicing of a number of different cultures, the processes Hall highlights are noticeable on an individual scale in the main character of Jamaica Kincaid's novel, Annie John. Annie John's quest for self-identification leads her on a path strikingly similar to the one Hall describes. From Annie's journey, the reader might be able to glean what Hall hopes to instill in his own readers when he writes, "What I want to suggest is that despite the dilemmas and vicissitudes of identity through which Caribbean people have passed and continue to pass, we have a tiny but important message for the world about how to negotiate identity" (Hall 281). This message is clearly visible in Kincaid's novel if read along with Hall's article as a quest for Caribbean identity.

Hall's first order of business is to explain how vital the origin of a people is to finding identity. In the following quote he explains that culture is the foundation of identity:

But the discourse of identity suggests that the culture of a people is at root a question of its essence, a question of the fundamentals of a culture. Histories come and go, peoples come and go, situations change, but somewhere down there is throbbing the culture to which we all belong. It provides a kind of ground for our identities, something to which we can return, something solid, something fixed, something stabilized, around which we can organize our identities and our sense of belongingness. And there is a sense that modern nations and people cannot survive for long and succeed without the capacity to touch ground, as it were, in the name of their cultural identities. (Hall 282)

If a people's essence is tied to cultural roots, perhaps a person's essence is tied to their own roots; childhood and home life. Annie John is nothing if not a novel devoted to the exploration of the beginnings that formed the narrator's identity. The narrator's "return" to her childhood in narrative form is simply an attempt to "touch ground" in the same sort of way Hall touts as necessary to the survival of "modern nations." Every event the narrator analyzes, every person she mentions, every location she recalls is an endeavor to revisit the same essence of culture that Hall writes about.

During the narrator's attempt to "touch ground," she stumbles across another principle of Hall's identity formation. Hall states that part of a people's identity comes from outside sources reacting to that people. "Far from only coming from the still small point of truth inside us, identities actually come from outside, they are the way in which we are recognized and then come to step into the places of recognitions which others give us. Without the others there is no self, there is no self-recognition" (Hall 285). Hall's concept that one's identity comes from others is invariably demonstrated by the way Annie's own identity is affected by her mother. Annie's childhood identity is relayed to her through a trunk her mother brought with her when she left her own mother's house in Dominica to move to Antigua. In the trunk is a number of Annie's belongings from when she was a baby. A normal part of her mother's cleaning schedule is removing every item from the trunk and telling Annie a story about it, thus telling Annie exactly who it she was supposed to be. Annie recalls the memory fondly:

When she did this with the trunk, it was a tremendous pleasure, for after she had removed all the things from the trunk, and aired them out, and changed the camphor balls, and then refolded the things from the trunk and then put them back in their places in the trunk, as she held each thing in her hand she would tell me a story about myself. (Kincaid 21)

Annie's first concept regarding identity came directly from her mother. Annie is literally her mother's daughter and her identity is completely based on her mother's actions. The mother-daughter relationship in Annie's quest for identity has been a favorite topic for critics. H. Adlai Murdoch's article, Severing the (M)other Connection, deals specifically with that relationship and its affect on Annie's identity. Murdoch separates Annie's growth into phases, the earliest of which being an intense attachment with and affinity for her mother that does not foreshadow the conflict to come. The critic writes that, "There can be no doubt, then, of the extent to which Annie John identifies with and valorizes the maternal image at this stage" (Murdoch 330). Indeed, it is obvious from the text that their relationship is powerful, though most critics would argue the validity of Annie's perspective. The memory of the trunk and its contents, which the narrator seems to enjoy, Murdoch calls "representations of Annie's fragmented self and her need for self-identity and self-expression; they are put into place here as a symbolic depiction of Annie herself, and thus of the mother's enclosure containment, limitation, possession, and direction of her daughter's life and identity"(Murdoch 330). This view calls into question the narrator's reliability concerning her journey away from the mother-imposed identity into an identity of her own. This examination of her reliability will be a key element of the later portions of this discussion. Isabel Hoving is another critic who seems dissatisfied with Annie's recollection of and fondness for the events of her childhood. Hoving devotes a chapter of her book about Caribbean migrant women writers, In Praise of New Travelers to Jamaica Kincaid. In it, Hoving emphasizes the negative aspects of that beginning relationship between Annie and her mother, equating it with cannibalism. "In fact, this is as much a narrative of identification as it is a narrative of, to use a both psychoanalytic and Caribbean (post)colonial notion, cannibalism. The daughter allowed her mother to devour her, thus identifying heteropathically with the mother, who has swollen her own ego" (Hoving 232). Hoving's view is definitely in extreme opposition to Annie's view, who fondly recalls, "It was in such a paradise that I lived" (Kincaid 25). It is quite possible that the people of the Caribbean, former slaves kidnapped from overseas, hold the same view regarding their homelands that Annie has

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