Annie John, Kincaid’s 1985 novel, contains a description of the death of Annie’s Uncle Johnnie. When he fell ill, his mother was convinced that traditional (obeah) medicine was the way to cure him, while his father preferred Western medicine. His father got his way.

For two years, Uncle Johnnie lay in bed, each day looking rosier and rosier. Then one day he died. On the day he died, he had never looked better. When he died, a large worm bored its way out of his leg and rested on his shinbone. Then it, too died.

Kincaid’s later book The Autobiography of my Mother from 1996 contains a very similar scene, this time concerning the death of Alfred, the half-brother of the book’s protagonist, Xuela.

And so my father’s son lay, his body covered with small sores, his entire being not dead, not alive… His father believed one remedy would cure him [Western medicine], his mother believe another [obeah]…

This boy died. Before he died, from his body came a river of pus. Just as he died, a large brown worm crawled out of his left leg; it lay there above the ankle, as if waiting to be found by a wanderer one morning. It soon dried up and then looked as if all life had left its body thousands of years before.

Both suffered long diseases, there was a conflict in whether they should be treated by Western or traditional medicine, and when they died a worm emerged from their leg. Kincaid has stated that her work uses many experiences from her own life. Does this death scene derive from a real-life experience?


1 Answer 1


Yes, Kincaid's own uncle John died in a similar way.

From an interview with Kincaid, conducted in May-June 1987 and published in Selwyn R. Cudjoe, "Jamaica Kincaid and the Modernist Project: An Interview", Callaloo 39 (1989), pp. 396-411:

CUDJOE: When you speak of your grandmother - who was a Carib Indian, very tall and very dark - you say that she accepted Christianity but then went back to her own native religion. Were you trying to juxtapose the two worlds?

KINCAID: [...] She was pagan; her deep belief was not Christian, and then she married a man who, as it turned out, lived a really wild life. He was a policeman, but then he became rather pious. He owned some land and was a lay preacher. So she accommodated his beliefs while, I think, always keeping her own beliefs. Then there was the tragedy of my uncle dying. She felt her beliefs would have saved him, and he [her husband] felt that his beliefs - his beliefs being faith in God and Western medicine - would have saved him. Well, it turns out that his illness was of a type that my grandmother's beliefs would have cured.

CUDJOE: What was the illness?

KINCAID: Well, he was possessed, and something was set on him.

CUDJOE: That's where the obeah just keeps coming up.

KINCIAD: Yes, my family practiced, and now my mother is in this high state of excitement - what is it called? She's one of those Christians - they sing and clap - "the charismatics". [...] Every Friday she'd go and have her cards read, and it also has to be said that she felt she lived in a state of war with the other women my father had loved - or not loved but just had a child with - so she was always consulting people, with the memory of her brother in mind, I think.

CUDJOE: Her brother died? He was sick at home, during the rains.

KINCAID: Her brother John had died when she was a child, from obeah things. He had a worm crawl out of his leg. Now, this sounds odd, but it did happen.

From Kincaid's description of her grandparents, it's clear that John's mother believed traditional (obeah) treatment was the way to go while his father believed in Western medicine. It's also possible that John died while he was still a child, but this is not 100% clear: his sister, Kincaid's mother, was said to be a child at the time, but we don't know the age difference between the siblings. Either way, it pretty closely fits both of the passages you've quoted.

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