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Written by Polly Barbour
Annie Doak, the book's protagonist, and Annie Dillard, the author of the memoir, are one and the same person, but that doesn't mean that they are indistinguishable; after all, which of us is really the same person at almost fifty years old that we were at ten, thirteen, eighteen? Annie Doak is the person experiencing growing up in PIttsburgh as the memoir unfolds; Annie Dillard, now going by her married name, is the person telling the story of that childhood. Like most people, Dillard cringes, laughs at and has a great deal of frustration with her teenage self.
Young Annie Doak is a precocious child with an interest in absolutely everything. She loves sciences, yet spends more time reading literature than reference books. She is also crashingly self-absorbed sometimes, and she feels that once she has formed an opinion about something, then that is the way that it is. She is intelligent and well-read but this makes her rather cocky, and her family think of her as a Little Miss Know It All. As Annie Dillard looks back at her younger self, she cannot help but agree with them.
As a teen, Annie became interested in the world outside of her family's enclave of Presbyterian middle classness, particularly in the plight of the poor. She finds the insular nature of her life extremely frustrating and cannot understand why her parents want to spend so much of their time with the same people. They, in turn, cannot understand why she wants to socialize outside of the carefully selected peer group her friends seem happy with.
As a senior in high school, Annie becomes very rebellious, pushing her boundaries way beyond the limit. She is suspended from school for smoking, and she crashes a car whilst participating in an illegal drag race. This behavior is odd because her academic record does not decline, and she doesn't let her grades suffer. She loves getting an education but she no longer feels comfortable being controlled by everyone around her. She is becoming quite a strident young woman, without understanding the responsibility that goes along with standing on her own.
Annie's mother is very much like all of the other upper class mothers in Pittsburgh. She is a stay at home mom, but is not the stereotypical "little wife" at home. She is a practical joker with a bold sense of humor and a love of comedy. She is also perfectly happy to voice opinions that are different to her husband's - she is definitely not the Stepford-wife type. She has many political opinions that are far more left wing than Annie's father's.Whilst she is concerned about being seen to do the right thing socially, and to keep up correct appearances, there is also something intangible about her that makes her stand out from the other women in their circle.
Annie's father works in business, believes everything can be solved by hard work, and is middle of the road conservative. He is a big believer in the American dream and the ability of everyone to work themselves into a better situation. Like his wife, he adores comedy and is eager to be silly alongside her, but he also has a more thoughtful side. There are moments when he seems as though there is part of him that wishes his life were different; for example, he leaves his family for a while, with their blessing, to pursue his sudden, but all encompassing, interest in taking a trip on a boat. He has the same kind of itchy feet that Annie has when he spends too long conforming to social expectations, but he never gets the same kind of wanderlust that seems to be taking over his daughter.
Amy is Annie's younger sister and does not play an enormously important role in the memoir. They are very different people, despite the large amount of time they spend together. This time is not necessarily of their choosing; they never seem to seek each other out on purpose, and eventually Annie finds her younger, and far more conformist, sister, annoying and frustrating. Amy is sweet and quiet, and clearly in awe of her older sister's much bigger personality.
Oma is a very striking woman. In fact she does not bear much resemblance to the stereotypical grandmother one imagines. She is tall and has vibrant red hair. She and Annie spend a great deal of time together and have a strong bond. She includes Annie in adult conversations and also in her day to day life. From the time Annie can remember Oma and her daughter in law (Annie's mother) have had a rivalry, and a competitive relationship, primarily when it comes to deciding how Annie and Amy should be raised. Oma can be rather snobbish, and also, at times, somewhat prejudiced as well, but she is also extremely kind, and generous, particularly when it comes to her granddaughters.
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