The narrative structures of Jean Rhys' writings are made of an alternation of states of consciousness, including daydreams, memories, fits of rage or madness, moments of awakening, drunkenness, sexual ecstasy, and nightmares. Her novels rely upon a variety of alternative narrative techniques to advance the plot, including letters and book excerpts, overheard conversations and gossip, and perhaps most importantly, multiple points-of-view in a juxtaposition of antithetical entities or the so-called unreconciled oppositions and contrasts: black/white, sun/ shade, life/ death, slave/ master, truth/ fiction, day/ night, past/ present, sympathy/ hatred, attraction/ repulsion, knowledge/ denial, familiar/ strange, male / female, England/ West Indies.
Referring to Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys decides to begin her action with Antoinette's narration then to shift to Rochester's and finally to close with Antoinette's disintegrating narration, introduced and contextualized by the voice of Grace Poole. What is interesting about Antoinette's narration is how desperately and ingeniously she uses narrative techniques such as the "illusion of sequence" (Mitchell 1981: 13) and linear chronology to delay the final secret, climax, closure of her story which is her descent into madness and death. For example, an earlier version of Part I had her commenting on her childhood: "I got used to a solitary life and began to distrust strangers ..." (WSS: 8), which is unnecessary commentary and whose signification is more effectively revealed by Antoinette's reactions to ensuing events. Similarly, the final version cuts "but it was understood that she would not approve of Tia" (WSS: 9), leaving "My mother never asked me where I had been or what I had done" (WSS: 13) to stand as an even more poignant indictment of her mother's neglect.
As seen from the above, the movement of the narration is determined not by chronology but by associative memory. Antoinette has structured her narrative deliberately and, although the sequence of events is connected by associative memory rather than by temporality or causality, her narrative is forcibly contained by a motif that determines her memories and her retelling of them. Conversely, she herself is held together by the act of narrating. To measure time is a measure of how closely one is in touch with reality. Accordingly, Antoinette makes an effort to measure time and to progress from childhood, to school, to marriage. Rochester called her "a lunatic who always knows the time. But never does." (WSS: 165)
In Part One, Antoinette begins her story with an oblique reference to the Emancipation Act, "when trouble comes close ranks" (WSS: 17), continues with the anecdote of Mr. Luttrell's suicide, then recounts the poisoned horse incident (each episode 'marooning' them further), and moves on to Pierre's feebleness, and a description of the wild garden. Like her mother, she is suffering a division of the self where she undergoes what she calls the real death, the death of the mind, and becomes blank, doll-like, inhuman, in waiting for the second death, the death of the body. She succumbs to certain narrative habits that are revelatory of her present disturbed mind. She repeats the adverbs 'always' and 'never'. Within the opening pages, Mr. Luttrell "was gone for always" (WSS: 9); Pierre's doctor "never came again" (WSS: 27); Antoinette "never went near" (WSS: 87) the orchid in the wild garden at Coulibri; "The Wilderness of Coulibri never saddened me" (WSS: 64); Christophine "never paid them" (WSS: 78); "I never looked at any strange negro" (WSS: 87), "My mother never asked me where I had been or what I had done" (WSS: 13). In one sense the use of "always," along with the repetition of "still," ("she still rode about every morning" and "sometimes we left the bathing pool at midday, sometimes we stayed till late afternoon" is iterative and durative, implying continuity over a certain duration of time in the past.
In other words, the repetition of adverbs (whose very repetition would connote iterativity) in fact implies the opposite--closure, a finality. The frequency and persistence of repetition evokes this sense of finality and desperate sadness. With similar effect, Rhys often resorts to the verbal auxiliary 'would'. In reporting angry conversations between her mother and Mr. Mason, Antoinette describes their dialogue by reporting "he would say," "she'd speak,"; 'would' is here used in the habitual mode; the impression the reader receives is again iterative--this argument occurred over and over again. She also creates this effect by remembering that "Mr. Mason always said." (WSS: 32)
In Part II, Rochester reports one of the dialogues between him and his wife Antoinette ("'Now come for a walk,' she said, 'and I will tell you a story'", WSS: 82) in which she describes her dream of the watching rats and her moonlight sleep to explain her present state of mind. His narration of their dialogues also becomes a mode for her clarification of sequence: "... Is your mother alive?" "No, she is dead, she died." "When?" "Not long ago." "Then why did you tell me she died when you were a child?" "Because they told me to say so and because it is true. She did die when I was a child. There are always two deaths, the real one, and the one people know about." (WSS: 124)
As she begins her final narrative, Antoinette/ Bertha says: "In this room, I wake early and lie shivering for it is very cold" (WSS: 146). The present tense indicates that the judicious distance of her first narrative is obliterated. She has lost all sense of measured time and place for she refuses to believe "this is England," and of self for she does not recognize the woman with streaming hair, surrounded by a gilt frame as herself.
Rhys uses different narrative techniques to present differing points of view, those of both Rochester and Antoinette, encouraging the reader to analyse each character and even to dispute their interpretations of events, while Bronte in Jane Eyre wishes the reader to accept Jane Eyre's account of her life without question. Wide Sargasso Sea is a broader narrative than Jane Eyre, encompassing different cultures and races. Rhys's characters are shown to be shaped by many forces, while the influences of Bronte's characters are assumed to be known by the reader.
"The madwoman in the attic," a stock character in 19th century Gothic fiction, is portrayed in terrifying but simplistic detail by Bronte, and disputed in Wide Sargasso Sea. Jane Eyre accepts Rochester's interpretation of Antoinette's sanity because she has heard the screams and witnessed the psychotic episodes of arson and attempted murder for herself, and knows nothing of Bertha's personal history, but Rhys encourages the reader to question the origins of this madness by exploring how Antoinette has lost her identity and sense of belonging. Antoinette's actual state of mental health is hard to determine accurately; it is interpreted by Rochester and Daniel Cosway as madness, but Antoinette's behaviour and own narration reveal little. Rochester assumes Antoinette is mad because she alternates periods of extreme emotion with periods of blankness, and because he does not accept the cultural and racial differences between them. He defines sanity in terms of his own emotional nature: "I was exhausted. All the mad conflicting emotions had gone and left me wearied and empty. Sane" (WSS: 172). Rochester's own sanity is questioned by Rhys. He lived in Jamaica for a month before his wedding, three weeks of which were spent in a debilitating and confusing fever. His sense of dislocation at Granbois during his honeymoon is explicit: "As for my confused impression they will never be written. There are blanks in my mind that cannot be filled up" (WSS: 145). Rhys's use of circular narrative, flashbacks, and the altering narration of Rochester and Antoinette contribute to the sense of fragmentation and dislocation of both characters, suggesting that madness is a result of many complex factors and cannot be ascribed to the facile Gothic novel explanation of heredity.
The issue of voice in other novels is a specific transition from free-indirect style to stream of consciousness. In free-indirect discourse the narration adopts the point of view and mode of speaking of the character or world described, thereby giving a sense of the perspectives through which life is viewed. Free-indirect style highlights the specificity of point of view, and also shows the way we see the world through received and conventional styles of speaking. There are no subjects who speak, but manners or styles from which subjects or point of view are created.
The novel Good Morning, Midnight is paratactic. It opens with a description of Sasha's hotel room in the present tense which emphasizes that the simple physical presence of the room combats and overpowers her emotions: "Now the room springs out at me, laughing, triumphant. The big bed, the little bed, the table with the tube of luminal, the glass and the bottle of Evian, the two books, the clock ticking on the ledge, the menu ..." (GMM: 178). The enumeration quality reinforces Sasha's sense that the objective world is antagonistic to the efforts of her fragile consciousness. In contrast to this use of language to highlight the fixity of physical reality, Rhys uses wordplay to characterize the subjective side of Sasha's experience. A verbal world of sounds detached from references is constructed by her susceptability to the suggestive power of words. Thus, in this novel there is a far more intense impersonality of voice. The first one for example is the dominant use of the noun-phrase: "The Cinema Danton. Watching a good young man trying to rescue his employer from a mercenary mistress" (GMM: 89). We are provided with a description without a subject who sees or who describes. Objects and scenes are listed as though a camera or inhuman and impersonal eye were surveying the scene. Indeed, the idea and image of the camera is crucial to Rhys's style and imagery. Her central character not only spends time in the cinema, watching films twice or leaving them early--as though art did not have any form outside its mode of consumption--her fiction operates like a cinematic eye: "At four o'clock next afternoon I am in a cinema on the Champs-Elysees, according to programme. Laughing heartily in the right places. It's a very good show and I see it through twice" (GMM: 15). Towards the end of the novel, she reflects on the way in which her mind is taken over by the 'film mind' where the self is a spiritual automaton replaying cultural cliches. More importantly, the novel works with a cinematic time of triggered flashbacks, with the past intruding not in any coherent or logical style but as though scenes were cut and pasted in montage.
Good Morning Midnight opens with a disembodied voice attributed to a room, and the language of things dominates the novel. The world is described, not as it is before the viewing eye of a specific subject, but as already formed by the jargon of hotel room marketing: "That's the way it is, that's the way it goes, that was the way it went ... A room. A nice room. A beautiful room. A beautiful room with bath. A very beautiful room with bath. A bedroom and sitting-room with bath. Up to the dizzy heights of the suite. Two bedrooms, sitting-room, bath and vestibule. (The small bedroom is in case you don't feel like me, or in case you meet somebody you like better and come in late.) Anything you want brought up on the dinner-wagon. (But, alas! the waiter has a louse on his collar. What is that on his collar? ... Bitte schon, mein herr, bitte schon....) Swing high.... Now, slowly, down. A beautiful room with a bath. A room with bath. A nice room. A room" (GMM: 29). Phrases and cliches from advertising, popular song and everyday life interrupt the narration; such phrases are neither quoted nor attributed, and are repeated until the end of the text. Where Rhys uses cinematic technology to create an impersonal visual scene, she uses the disembodied voices or radio and telephones to create a speech without a speaking subject, a language that says nothing and deadens life.
In other words, the ruthlessness, barbarism and fragmentation of modern life are belied by a retreat into commodities, cliche, banality and fantasy. Rhys's critique of the nihilism of life is directly intertwined with a critique of capital. All time has been reduced to the same; there is no tomorrow and no past that does not come in other than as a trauma. The meaningless repetitive nature of urban life is a result of the commodification of time: "Always the same stair, always the same room" (GMM: 28); the art or sex that might allow us to live--without a thought for economy or efficiency are also enslaved to capital. A white-haired American lady and a girl who looks like her daughter are talking in the hall, "look here, look at this. Here's a portrait of Rimbaud. Rimbaud lived here, it says." "And here's Verlaine ... Did he live here too?" (GMM: 33).
In modernism women become more and more associated with shopping, commodities and popular culture. Women are both commodities--the women she works with cannot be distinguished from mannequins: "the mannequins and saleswomen are all mixed up" (GMM: 35); and they are also targeted as the site where the desire for commodities can be manufactured. The narrator views women buying clothes, hats, shoes and then reads a menu with pictures of women asking to 'send more money': "In spite of everything, the wires from Paris always buzzing send more money" (GMM: 38). The despair in Good Morning Midnight opens the circulation of capital time through episodes of loss, waste and non-profit: "And five weeks afterward there I am, with not one line, not one wrinkle, not one crease. And there he is, lying with a ticket around his wrist because he died in a hospital. And there I am looking down at him, without one line, without one wrinkle, without one crease" (GMM: 52). However, there are two key moments of hope in the text, when she first receives the painting that she will then subsequently pay for: "I am surrounded by the pictures. It is astonishing how vivid they are in this dim light.... Now the room expands and the iron band round my heart loosens. The miracle has happened. I am happy" (GMM: 83); and when the gigolo refuses to take the money for the sexual encounter that she later lives through only at the level of the imaginary: "Everything in their whole bloody world is a cliche. Everything is born out of a cliche, rests on a cliche, and survives by a cliche. And they believe in the cliches--there's no hope" (GMM: 36).
The body movements have an important meaning for Sasha when she describes her friend's actions in order to understand her own identity within the city: "Half-shutting her eyes and smiling the smile which means: 'She's getting to look old. She drinks.'" (GMM: 11). To Sasha, bodies are the place where people in the city say things they can't or won't say aloud, and this fact is crucial. Sasha is confused over her inheritance when it is presented to her, but she claims, "when I saw the expression in his eyes I knew exactly why she did it" (GMM: 42). Sasha can communicate only by reading bodies; only through the body can she make a connection to another person. It is her trust on bodies to determine her feelings towards people that reflects the status of bodies as the place for developing relationships.
When Sasha's companion tells her "I have wounds," she cannot understand him until he shows her a scar, and only then does she thinks, "Now I understand what it means" (GMM: 174). It is after this moment that she says that their relationship is "getting serious" (GMM: 174). In seeing the mark on her companion's body, she appears to make a connection to another person, understanding him through his body. She observes of the woman who is nursing her after childbirth, "She has slanting eyes, very clear. I like people with clear, slanting eyes. I can still give myself up to people I like" (GMM: 59). People's bodies are supposed to identify who they are and what they will do, and she relies on reading those bodies to tell her something about the internal motivations and emotions of the people she meets. Yet the city does not support human bodies that outwardly reflect changes such as those required for developing relationships. Throughout her experience of the city, the bodies that are most valued and marked as belonging to the city are those that are artificial, unchanging, or mechanical. Looking at dolls in a shop she thinks: "what a success they would have made of their lives if they had been women. Satin skin, silk hair, velvet eyes, sawdust heart--all complete" (GMM: 18). The dolls are the epitome of successful womanhood not for any suggestion of their personality or accomplishments, but because each part of their bodies--skin, hair, eyes, heart--is artificial. What makes the body 'complete' and successful in the city, then, is being artificial. The city values such artificial bodies because they correspond to the city itself. Unlike natural bodies, the city appears to go through changes but remains fundamentally the same. After telling a companion that "Montparnesse is very changed" (GMM: 66). She almost immediately counters her own opinion, saying, "But I don't believe things change much really; you only think they do. It seems to me that things repeat themselves over and over again" (GMM: 66). Her version of events matches the city, as she equates each room, cafe, bar, and lavabo with other places she has been in the past, often remarking that they never change. This unchanged city landscape corresponds to bodies that also do not change, thus promoting the artificial takeover of natural bodies. Towards the end of the novel, she relates a vision of the world that seems to actually indicate 'the city', which is the only world presented in the novel. She claims that "all that is left in the world is an enormous machine, made of white steel. It has innumerable flexible arms, made of steel. Long, thin arms. At the end of each arm is an eye, the eyelashes stiff with mascara. When I look more closely I see that only some of the arms have those eyes--others have lights. The arms that carry the eyes and the arms that carry the lights are all extraordinarily beautiful. But the grey sky, which is in the background, terrifies me ..." (GMM: 187)
In what concerns the identity performance of the body in the narrative present of the novel, Sasha teeters between two extremes, the deteriorating old women and the unchanged artificial dolls. She claims, "I have ended as a successful woman, anyway, however I may have started" (GMM: 34), suggesting that she is aligned with the dolls, her body artificial and accepted. Yet the fact that she is called "the old woman" suggests that there are cracks in her veneer of success, and it is those cracks that cause her to constantly compare herself to aging and deteriorating women. The contradiction between her body and her experiences and within her body itself is called to the reader's attention early on, when she narrates: "Nobody would know I had ever been in it. Except, of course, that there always remains something" (GMM: 10). She recognizes that human bodies cannot achieve the unchanging perfection of artificial dolls, but she repeatedly attempts to reach such perfection by acting to make her body more artificial.
This theme recurs throughout the novel, as Sasha desperately attempts to become as artificial as possible. When she goes to have her hair dyed, the hair-dresser tells her, "In your place, madame, I shouldn't hesitate. But not for a moment. A nice blond cendre" (GMM: 61). She is told that the right thing to choose for her hair is the dye that requires that the hair "must be bleached, its own colour must be taken out of it--and then it must be dyed, that is to say, another colour must be imposed on it" (GMM: 52). The hairdresser, then, acting as an agent of the aesthetic of the city, promotes the most artificial color, that which absolutely drains the original part of the body (her original hair) and replaces it with a completely false one. Simultaneously, Sasha reads magazines promoting artificial bodies, presenting artificiality as the "hope" that will combat the fact that "Nothing is easy" (GMM: 62). After noting that the magazines point the way to "hope" on specific pages, in specific articles, she reads "a long article by a lady who has had her breasts lifted" (GMM: 62), suggesting that such artificial measures at retaining youth are the source of hope the magazine referred to. Yet because bodies in the city are constantly altered to become more artificial, reading bodies becomes both dangerous and unstable, as one's body can lie about the meanings it holds. When Sasha tries to impress a new employer, she thinks: "smile ... No, don't smile. If you smile, he'll think you're trying to get off with him ... Don't smile then, but look eager, alert, attentive ..." (GMM: 24). Her body must offer the proper reading in order for her to navigate life in the city, but bodies in the city rarely have clear and concrete meanings because the body may not line up with the person's internal identity. Watching her supervisor, Sasha is confronted with the multiple meanings of bodies: Salvatini makes a rolling movement of his head, shoulders and eyes, which means: "I quite agree with you. Deplorable, deplorable." Also: "Oh, my God, what's all this about? What a day, what a day! When will it be over?" (GMM: 27)
Although reading bodies is required to make meaning out of interactions, bodies in the city refuse to be consistently read. This happens again to Sasha with the owner of a cafe, when she "can't make out whether his smile is malicious ... or apologetic ... or only professional" (GMM: 52). Particularly in this situation, she relies upon the meaning of the smile to know whether or not she belongs in the city. After a nearby girl asks her (in her own translation), "What the devil ... is she doing here?" (GMM: 54), she is no longer certain if her body belongs to her. She seems certain that the girl's words were provoked "because she didn't like the look" of her body, so she turns to the cafe owner's body for reassurance of her position. Yet, just as her own body offers different readings to different people, Sasha cannot read the bodies of others to determine her position, try as she might. That Sasha herself is incorporated into this system of the city becomes clear when a stranger tells her that "Englishwomen have melancholy expressions. It doesn't mean anything" (GMM: 47). The constructed nature of ideal bodies in the city inhibits the ability of characters to confidently read each others' bodies, and thus threatens their relationships. Sasha ultimately refuses to accept the one human relationship left to her because she fears that it will change her body and betray her connection to the city. Only by letting her body change can she make it match her identity and thus allow relationships to develop through the reading of that body, but she chooses instead to attempt to remain connected to the city by participating in the bodily misreadings that lead to unfulfilled relationships. When the gigolo attempts to connect with her through her body, he says, "I could do this with you ... and afterwards you'd be different" (GMM: 175).
But Sasha cannot allow her body to become different, and even as it starts to do so, the tyranny of the artificial body reasserts itself and develops a misreading that aborts the connection. Just as she admits: "My mouth hurts, my breasts hurt, because it hurts, when you have been dead, to come alive" (GMM: 182), acknowledging change, she returns the relationship to one supported by the city, an economic exchange. Her internal thoughts, longing for bodily change, do not match her external bodily actions, where her "clear, cold voice" speaks of money (GMM: 183). Because her body does not represent her, as she internally claims "that's not me speaking ... Nothing to do with me" (GMM: 183), he misreads her desires and thus their relationship is ended. She later says of the body acting in this scene, as opposed to the body she identifies as herself, "The other ... She isn't me" (GMM: 184). This echoes earlier indications she has given that she is being pushed by an external force that has now invaded her body, as when she thinks, "I haven't always like it, either--the voice that gives orders" (GMM: 181). Her body has been taken over by the voice of the city, which refuses to change, and this takeover leads to the bodily misreading that dooms her relationship to failure. Her experience with pregnancy and childbirth represents another aspect of the ways in which artificially frozen bodies make relationships fail. When she is pregnant, the city accepts her changed body with ease, perhaps because her condition is clearly temporary. She first says that in the city, people are "very kind" to her during her pregnancy, but she quickly retreats, rephrasing her thought as "it seemed to me that they were kind. All the same, I'm not so mad now about going out." (GMM: 132)
Despite people's kindness, the city as a whole is not a place that Sasha feels comfortable in with a changed body. Her vague perception of the city as unwelcoming to changed bodies is reinforced after her child is born, which is at first the moment where she seems the least concerned with the city, attempting to focus on her new relationship with her son. After giving birth, her body immediately begins to revert back to its former form, as her "breasts dry up" (GMM: 59), even though the consequence is that she "can't feed this unfortunate baby" (GMM: 60). Her body tries to conform to the city's standards by trying to remain the same, but this immediately causes direct repercussions for her most bodily relationship, that between her and her newborn. She cannot feed her child because her body refuses to change, so as to accommodate the child. Significantly, her milk appears to dry up because of the worries the structure of the city is imposing upon her, namely the lack of "Money, money ..." (GMM: 59). Even as Sasha attempts to develop her connection to her son, wondering "Do I love him?" (GMM: 59), her focus on her relationship is subsumed by the city's pressing structure, demanding that she revert from her emotional attachment to questions of financial support. Thus, the structure of the city forces her body to refuse change, disrupting her ability to bodily or emotionally develop a connection with her child.
This change in Sasha's body towards her prepregnancy body foreshadows the next change in it, which has even more devastating repercussions. The woman caring for she tells her, "Now I am going to arrange that you will be just like what you were before. There will be no trace, no mark, nothing" (GMM: 60). She ambivalently says "That, it seems, is her solution" (GMM: 60), suggesting that it is not her solution to her woes but is being prescribed as an answer to her current conflict with urban society, not having enough money to feed her baby. The novel goes on to suggest that this practice is a much-sought for and common one in the city, as the woman mentions that people "advertise" their ability to do the procedure and that she "charges a great deal for this as a rule" (GMM: 60). The novel pauses for a comparatively long time on this procedure, with the woman assuring her over and over again, "you'll be just as you were before" (GMM: 60-61). This refrain, which she consents is true (GMM: 61), is specifically linked to the death of her child. Immediately after her bandages are removed, revealing "not one line, not one wrinkle, not one crease," the next paragraph reads: "And five weeks afterwards there I am, with not one line, not one wrinkle, not one crease. And there he is, lying with a ticket round his wrist because he died ... And there I am looking down at him, without one line, without one wrinkle, without one crease ..." (GMM: 61)
The novel draws a clear connection between bodies frozen in time and the collapse of relationships. The ability for bodies to continue through life unchanged comes with a price--the disruption of relationships, even to the point of death. Towards the end of the novel, the gigolo finally asks Sasha the question that may have been plaguing readers all along, "What happened to you, what happened ... to make you like this?" (GMM: 175). Yet she refuses to point to any one event in her life, saying, "It wasn't one thing. It took years. It was a slow process" (GMM: 175). Ironically, this "slow process" is the opposite of the natural aging process through which bodies change. What has happened to her is that she has attempted to let nothing happen to her, to let no mark upon her body jeopardize her place in the city. The true tragedy of the book is that she fails even at this, unable to keep up with the harsh standards the city sets. The city itself rejects her, saying (through a mirror in a public restroom), "Last time you looked in here you were a bit different, weren't you? ... I keep a ghost to throw back" (GMM: 170). Try as she might, she cannot keep up with the city's obsession with sameness, and thus she is figured as a "ghost." Ultimately, the novel suggests the only way to remain truly unchanged is through death, and as long as the city promotes this ideal, people will be no more than ghosts, and their relationships will not survive.
In After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, a technical tour de force and a brilliant evocation of psychic disorientation and despair, Rhys works from the first-person narrator to the third-person point of view, yet the narrative voices are so close to those of the protagonists that the limit between narrator and character inevitably becomes blurred. The characters, dependent on the largesse of others, think but do not voice their critiques, for which the narrative itself provides the only outlet. The reader feels as if he is in the presence of a writer who is trying to tell it as it really was, to pull back the curtain of social decorum and say: "Look! This is what we're really like to one another!" (ALM: 45)
Voyage in the Dark opens with a stark description of the split between Anna's two lives: "It was as if a curtain had fallen, hiding everything I had ever known. It was almost like being born again" (VID: 9). Anna begins her narrative with the statement of the discontinuity between her childhood self of the West Indies and the new self born in England. She associates this side of her nature with Francine and with being black; hence the conflict between her loyalty to Francine and to her English stepmother Hester, each representing the spiritual mother of one of her sides. Moreover, the conflict between her two halves and the gradual loss of her authentic self are mirrored in the novel's style. When she remembers the past, the style changes, suggesting the qualities of her inner life. At the most immediate level, the contrasts become evident: the descriptions of the past are full of adjectives, those of the present are comprised of disjointed sentences that suggest both repetitiveness and lack of unity.
In Quartet, although the narrative focus still moves through the events, the realistic level is frequently blended with open-ended images and dreamlike visions that are strictly controlled or achieved by the direct and simple style. This technique, which becomes a dominant characteristic of Rhys' later fiction, is related to the form of the entire novel. This concentration on the interiority of the text, allied with harsh realism, creates a much deeper engagement between the reader and the work of art.
When she opposes the voice of a society that represses women, Rhys uses some kind of call-and-response narrative technique. She sometimes creates this device when some secondary characters repeat the protagonists' concerns and reflect their values, thus avoiding the repeated stance of the omniscient narrator, and maintaining the moral relativism of her modernist universe.
In conclusion, Marya Zelli in Quartet (1928), Julia Martin in After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (1930), Anna Morgan in Voyage in the Dark (1934), Sasha Jansen in Good Morning, Midnight (1939), all share the Kafkaesque condition of drifting through life as through a nightmare. The only truly realised female character in her work, Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea, shares her sisters' feeling of life as unreality or rather as a reality she can only cope with through a final self-inflicted violence and the redemption of death.
Symbolizing. The most frequently used symbol in Wide Sargasso Sea is the dream and foresight: "Is it true that England is like a dream? One of my friends wrote and said London is like a cold dark dream" (WSS: 126). In developing Antoinette's identity, Rhys no doubt inspired through the idea of Jane's dreams and premonitions. She also often employed the technique of the so-called 'word-painting' at significant moments in the text and used the landscape imagery to construct plot, characters and theme. The marriage between Rochester and Antoinette can be viewed as being doomed from the beginning due to the landscape they pass through on their journey to their honeymoon. They stop in a village named 'Massacre' where it is raining and rather grey, and Rochester takes an instant dislike to the place because of the name and the inhabitants, both of which he describes as "sly, spiteful, malignant perhaps" (WSS: 38)--words which appear to convey his whole attitude to all those who surround him. Later Rochester describes the night the couple spent in Massacre, emphasizing that he lay awake all night listening to cocks crowing; a Biblical symbol of deception (for example, when Jesus says to Peter: "before the cock crows, you shall deny me thrice"). Interestingly, this line appears in the novel further on, when Rochester confronts Antoinette about her history.
In what concerns the title, just as the name Jane Eyre can be seen to reflect Jane's character, it can be seen to reflect the development of its plot. The Sargasso Sea is almost still but at its centre has a mass of swirling currents, an image suggestive of Antoinette's character, and of the turmoil of her imprisonment and the method of her escape. Antoinette is aware from a young age of the element of entrapment/imprisonment that hangs over the West Indies; the paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell.
The symbolism of colours, for example the black and white, also links the skin colour to the colours that surround the characters in their environments. For example, Antoinette is called 'White Nigger' by her friend Tia, meaning that the white slave owners were in the same position as the blacks. The 'white nigger' is neither a white person nor a black person, but is regarded as inferior to the Negroes.
The symbolism of fire distinguishes between the representations of the burning emotions which surround the character of Antoinette and her descent into her 'zombie-like' state, which describes Rhys' insanity and spiritual death through Obeah, a form of the Caribbean magic. Rochester discovers this black magic and is even accused by Antoinette of performing it on her: "You are trying to make me into someone else, that's Obeah too" (WSS: 147). It is Rochester's calling her 'Bertha' after he discovers her history, and that her mother's name was close to her own, that sparks this outburst by Antoinette. Fires occur throughout the novel, symbolizing destruction and hatred passions, or even death, magic and incantation (e.g. the fire that burned down Coulibri Estate and predicted the madness of Antoinette's mother; the use of candles and the moths that are burnt by their flames, all these foreshadowing Antoinette's own tragic end).
Describing the events of the Coulibri fire, Antoinette recalls Coco's gruesome death in vivid detail. Thus, the symbolism of birds foretells Antoinette's own doom. She experiences, perhaps, an unconscious presentment of her own final moments, falling from the burning battlements of Thornfield Hall. In the dream that precedes and inspires her death, Antoinette thinks back to Coco, imagining herself as a wild incarnation of the tropical bird: "The wind caught my hair and it streamed out like wings. It might bear me up, I thought, if I jumped to those hard stones" (WSS: 68). Just as the servants point to and stare at the flaming bird, generations of readers have imagined the physical appearance of a Creole madwoman and watched her death with a voyeuristic complacency.
The image of a cool, dark landscape that opposes Jamaica's brightness introduces the symbolism of forests and trees. Following a strange, faceless man, Antoinette finds herself in a foreign place that portrays her future 'entrapment' in England. Another forest omen resides in the name of the honeymoon estate, Granbois, which translates into 'great forest'. Like Antoinette's forest dream, this name foretells her move to the cold forests of England. It is here at Granbois that her husband loses himself in the woods, stumbling upon the haunting ruins of a stone house. Rochester's eerie experience in the forest echoes his wife's dream; in fact, it provides the second half of her nightmarish prediction. In the forest, he seems to be facing the consequences of his own actions: a ruined house in the woods, a clear image of his English estate that will be finally burned and abandoned.
The symbolism of the garden at Coulibri Estate is compared by Antoinette to the Biblical Garden of Eden, with its luxurious excess and lost innocence. In her own words, the garden has 'gone wild', assaulting the senses with its brilliant colors, strong odors, and snarling overgrowth. The flowers look pretty sinister; one orchid is described as being 'snaky looking', thus, recalling the Biblical fall and man's decay into greed and sensuality. The decadent Creole lifestyle as portrayed in the novel--upon exploitation--finds its natural counterpart in the fallen garden.
One feature the novels have in common is that both authors make use of symbolism in their writing. In both novels, our appreciation of the characters and themes is enriched by the symbolism inherent in such narrative elements as dreams, visions, landscapes, characters' names, place names, colours, fire, and even titles.
In Rhys's writings the colonizer's attempt to unveil the Caribbean woman does not simply turn the veil' into a symbol of resistance; it becomes a technique of camouflage, a means of struggle. The veil--once signifying the cultural limits of a woman--now masks her, transgressing the colonial boundary. As the 'veil' is circulating in the public sphere, between and beyond cultural and social norms and spaces, it thus becomes the object of an interrogation. In this respect, a common symbol associated with identity for the heroines of Rhys's novels is clothing.
The type of clothing entirely depends on the person who is wearing it. Clothing is also a means of information about the person wearing it. Therefore, it becomes a reflection of his perception of himself, which leads us to the concept of personal identity. A person's choice of clothing and accessories as personal belongings (e.g. clothing that is worn or carried, but not part of a person's main clothing) is as important as identification through the color of hair, height, skin and gender. It is a cipher; a code that needs a deciphering in order to understand what kind of person is underneath it. The cultural contexts provide a great number of such "cryptograms" and therefore give people a variety of opportunities to reveal their identity. Therefore, every cloth carries a strong message about its owner and every owner "nests" a certain value in it, depending on his temperament, mindset or mood, or even cultural background. So, the clothing of a person is a means of communication with the outside world. It is the way of telling people about the inside world, about the "state" and the "status" of its owner and his cultural context.
As every person belongs to a clearly defined culture and has the right to reveal it, personal identity may sometimes be replaced by cultural identity. In this case, cultural identity is the type of identity that is connected to a certain culture or a separate social and cultural group. It also brings together people belonging to a definite culture, highlighting at the same time the differences with other people. Also, in terms of culture, clothing is to reveal either the historical roots of a person or the roots the group he belongs to.
In this way, for example in Voyage in the Dark, "clothing is used to compare the sexual hierarchies in England to racial hierarchies in the Caribbean, suggesting a similarity in situation between Anna's relationship to Walter and a slave's relationship to her master" (Harrison 1988: 81-82). It thus speaks about a memory of the history of race and racism, colonialism and the question of cultural identity--for in seeing the phobic image of the native, of the colonized, deeply woven into the psychic pattern of the West, Jean Rhys offers the master and slave a deeper reflection of their interpositions, as well as the hope of a difficult, even dangerous freedom.
Veronica Marie Gregg says of the incident in Wide Sargasso Sea when Antoinette and Tia get into a fight over three pennies and Tia steals Antoinette's dress: "A focus on dress is threaded through the narrative to inscribe an examination of the roles of Creole women within the racialized hierarchies of plantation society of the nineteenth-century West Indies" (Gregg 1995: 105). The concept of cultural cross-dressing in literature might just as well be a "strategic sign of the ability to cross barriers of difference" (Thomas 1999: 9).
Taking on the garments of another allows the individuals a release from their own existence, "the promise of transgressive pleasure without any material penalties of actual change". In Wide Sargasso Sea the cross-dressing moment is described in the changing process of dresses (identities) between Tia and Antoinette. Antoinette's desire to be just like Tia, to take on her cultural identity is adequately expressed in the above-mentioned scene, with the the notion of re-dressing representing a form of escaping from her own (inner)misery. However, following the critique of this idea, such cultural re-dressing does not contribute to the metamorphoses of the existing hierarchies of power; the cross-dresser can always "reveal or revert to her First World identity beneath the re-dressing of difference" (Thomas 1999: 9). It is important to note that Tia's supposed freedom within Wide Sargasso Sea masks the fact that she was obliged to play with Antoinette, and did not necessarily choose to do so of her own agreement. When forced to wear Tia's dress, Antoinette feels "sick ... hating her", without realization of what she said to make Tia steal her clothes: "you cheating nigger" (WSS: 8).
In Voyage in the Dark the dress becomes an esoteric symbol. For Anna clothing represents a way to show who she is: "Out of this warm room that smells of fur I'll go to all the lovely places I've dreamt of. This is the beginning" (VID: 28). She even sells some clothing to raise money to pay her rent. But for Anna's landlady, Anna's new clothing is symbolic of sexual promiscuity. She needs to buy new clothes or else she thinks the man she is going out with won't marry her.
In After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, Julia Martin's attempts to look pretty, wearing her fashionable clothes, so as to give others the impression that she is well off, augmenting her relatives' disgust when she asks them for cash. She considers selling her fur coat but at the same time thinks: "People thought twice before they were rude to anybody wearing a good fur coat" (ALM: 278).
In Quartet, clothing and make-up are used to convey the Heidlers' power and Marya Zelli's lack of it. Thus, Lois Heidler wears "With assurance a drooping felt hat which entirely hid the upper part of her face" and when her eyes do appear "there was a suspicion, almost a deadened look in them" (QRT: 11).
"Illusion" depicts Miss Bruce, tall, thin and shining. She suddenly falls ill and the narrator of the tale enters her flat to get some necessities for her in hospital. When she opens Miss Bruce's wardrobe she finds a "glow of colour, a riot of soft silks ... everything that one did not expect" (TBL: 153). Evidently the clothes are never worn, but indicate that the sensible Miss Bruce is afflicted "with the perpetual hunger to be beautiful and that thirst to be loved which is the real curse of Eve" (TBL: 154). Miss Bruce is embarrassed that her friend knows she collects clothes and she asserts at the end of the story that she would never make such a fool of herself as actually to wear them.
Indeed, Jean Rhys used clothing to illustrate the emerging complexity and multifaceted nature of an individual's identity.
Laughing and smiling. In Rhys' writings the dialogue between art form and culture takes place without the detailed authorization of the writer, who is finally de-authorized once her text enters the linguistic sphere. Thus, a linguistic sign or a lexical repetition such as 'laugh' or 'smile', which appears to signify a new order, turns out to identify the mechanisms of a discourse integration as a tension between identity and alterity. It is the uncanny and subversive anti-literary stance Christophine assumes, in her defiant: "Read and write I don't know. Other things I know" (WSS: 104), which comes closest to achieving this. Aunt Cora exposes concepts of difference and otherness within her language; Christophine boldly and proudly asserts her difference from that language in its totality.
In Wide Sargasso Sea in which these items 'laugh' and 'smile' occur under different types of laughter. Thus, a linguistic sign, which appears to signify a new order, turns out to identify the power structures of the novel. The occurrences seem to fit into two basic types of laughter: a social and negative one, and an individual and positive one, an incubus and a succubus. In Part I Antoinette is described as an outsider in the Jamaican world, from which she feels separated by barriers of race and class, upheld by a negative form of laughter: the laughter of mockery and derision or its variant: the laughter of deception and hypocrisy. For example, in passages 1, 5, 6, and 7, Antoinette and her mother become the butt of the natives' laughter. In this respect, the mockery and derision is hidden behind a false smile of friendliness, behind a mask, associated with the guests at her mother's wedding (passage 3) and also with Rochester at his own wedding (passage 9). At one stage, Rochester had actually forgotten to put on his mask of friendliness and the true derisive ring of his laughter was revealed to Antoinette (passage 10). His weak excuse, that the mockery was entirely self-directed reassures Antoinette and thus seals her fate. Nevertheless, Antoinette and her mother Annette, are associated with the laughter of gaiety and happiness, of naturalness and spontaneity (passages 2, 4, 8, 11, 12). This type of smile can also turn into the laughter of wildness and passion (passage 13).
As a result, Rochester is determined to destroy Antoinette's passion, and laughter (passage 14). For this, he locks her in the attic, where Antoinette's laughter turns from a natural one into one of madness and despair (passage 15). The different types of laughter will be represented graphically as follows:
It is at the same time a moment of insight and revelation, in which she sees her whole life mirrored in the sky. Indeed the sentence "I saw" is repeated no less than thirteen times in the final scene.
1) My mother usually walked up and down the glacis, a paved roofed-in terrace which ran the length of the house and sloped upwards to a clump of bamboos. Standing by the bamboos she had a clear view to the sea, but anyone passing could stare at her. They [the natives] stared, sometimes they laughed. Long after the sound was far away and faint she kept her eyes shut and her hands clenched.
2) She [Antoinette's mother] would ride off very early and not come back till late next day--tired out because she had been to a dance or a moonlight picnic. She was gay and laughing--younger than I had ever seen her and the house was sad when she had gone.
3) I was bridesmaid when my mother married Mr. Mason in Spanish Town. I carried a bouquet and everything I wore was new--even my beautiful slippers. But their eyes slid away from my hating face. I had heard what all these smooth smiling people said about her when she was not listening and they did not guess I was.
4) Yes, what a dancer--that night when they came home from their honeymoon in Trinidad and they danced on the glacis to no music. There was no need for music when she danced. They stopped and she leaned backwards over his arm, down till her black hair touched the flagstones--still down, down. Then up again in a flash, laughing.
5) 'How do you know that I was not harmed?' she [Antoinette's mother] said. 'We were so poor then ... we were something to laugh at. But we are not poor now,' she said.
6) 'Annette ... They [the natives] are laughing at you, do not allow them to laugh at you'.
7) Some of them [the natives] were laughing and waving sticks, some of the ones at the back were carrying flambeaux and it was light as day... And I was afraid, because I knew that the ones who laughed would be the worst.
8) We [Antoinette and Rochester] came to a little river. 'This is the boundary of Granbois.' She smiled at me. It was the first time I had seen her smile simply and naturally. Or perhaps it was the first time I had felt simple and natural with her.
9) [In 9 and 10, Rochester remembers how he got to know Antoinette:] It was all very brightly coloured, very strange, but it meant nothing to me. Nor did she, the girl I was to marry. When at last I met her I bowed, smiled, kissed her hand, danced with her. I played the part I was expected to play. She never had anything to do with me at all. Every movement I made was an effort of will and sometimes I wondered that no one noticed this. I would listen to my own voice and marvel at it, calm, correct but toneless, surely. But I must have given a faultless performance.
10) 'But don't you remember last night I told you that when you are my wife there would not be any more reason to be afraid?' 'Yes', she said. 'Then ... you laughed. I didn't like the way you laughed'. 'But I was laughing at myself, Antoinette.' She looked at me and I took her in my arms and kissed her.
11) Her [Antoinette's] little fan was on the table, she took it up laughing, lay back and shut her eyes. 'I think I won't get up this morning'.
12) All day she'd [Antoinette] ... smile at herself in her looking-glass (do you like this scent?), try to teach me her songs, for they haunted me ... she'd laugh for a long time and never tell me why she laughed.
13) She'll [Antoinette] loosen her black hair, and laugh and coax and flatter (a mad girl. She'll not care who she's loving). She'll moan and cry and give herself as no sane woman would--or could. Or could.
14) I tell you she [Antoinette] loves no one, anyone. I could not touch her. Excepting as the hurricane will touch that tree--and break it. You say I did? No. That was love's fierce play. Now I'll do it. She'll not laugh in the sun again. She'll not dress up and smile at herself in that damnable looking-glass. So pleased, so satisfied. Vain, silly creature. Made for loving? Yes, but she'll have no lover, for I don't want her and she'll see no other.
15) I [Antoinette in Thornfield Hall] saw the sunlight coming through the window, the tree outside and the shadows of the leaves on the floor, but I saw the wax candles too and I hated them. So I knocked them all down. Most of them went out but one caught the thin curtains that were behind the red ones. I laughed when I saw the lovely colour spreading so fast, but I did not stay to watch it.
Humour is thus used as a postcolonial strategy in Wide Sargasso Sea, deconstructing the frontier mentality of the 19th century colonialism and racism and masking a reflection on the process of creation linked with all forms of denial. Rhys confronts these issues, but she chooses to do so in ways that are often ironic or even manifestly grotesque, for she sees identity construction as inextricably intertwined in a contested Caribbean landscape. On the one hand, therefore the Western world has consistently, over time, rewritten the identity of the East to match a Western fictional construct, the recognition of difference being rooted in ideas of hegemony--that the West has somehow seen itself and its cultural institutions as superior and the pervasive filter through which all aspects of non-Western culture are defined and explored (Said 1994: 77). On the other hand, these interactions can be seen differently, in the sense that "the discriminatory effects of the discourse of cultural colonialism, for instance, do not simply or singly refer to a person or to a dialectical power struggle between self and Other, or to a discrimination between mother culture and alien cultures [...] the effect of colonial power is seen to be the production of hybridisation rather than the noisy command of colonialist authority." (Bhabha 1994: 34)
The confrontation between colonizer and colonized could thus be seen as as inherently paradoxical. In the Hegelian notion of master and slave, the colonial figures become, in a way, dependent on their subjects and in attempting to deny or resist this dependence, they seek to express superiority through stereotypes and stigmatization. The colonized, on the other hand, while submitting to colonial authority, begin creating a hybrid identity that is in opposition to that imposed on them by the colonial outsiders. Rhys uses humour to critically analyze and question any notions of colonial cultural superiority and to undermine attitudes that are patently false and liable to continue generating conflict if not confronted with their illusory power. The postcolonial purpose of Rhys's humour targets attitudes of racism and misplaced colonizing zeal. Here, humour encourages readers to question the belief systems that led to the various events and conflicts in the novel. Laughter thus becomes more than a cathartic device; it requires the reader to respond to these aspects of the text and acknowledge the existence of a new hybrid identity.
The tension between identity and alterity--"one belongs either to one group or to another; one is either in or out"--culminates in a "frightening consolidation of assertions of cultural superiority, mechanisms of control, whose power and ineluctability reinforce ... the logic of identity" (Said 1994: 56). The most fundamental challenge between 'laughter' and 'smile' is to confront the relation of superior to subaltern identity that is embodied in the construction of Otherness. Moreover, the 'smile' is a symbolic act of something that is not felt, but done purely for the sake of it. The point about this kind of experience is that it could serve to decentre a hegemonic and self-assured culture.
Allen G (2007) Intertextuality. London: Routledge.
Bal M (2008) Naratologia. Parvu S, trans. Iasi: Institutul European.
Bhabha H (1994) Location of culture. New York: Routledge.
Fido ES (1991) The politics of colours and the politics of writing in the fiction of Jean Rhys. Jean Rhys Review: 5.
Gilson A (2004) Internalizing mastery: Jean Rhys, Ford Madox Ford, and the fiction of autobiography. Modern Fiction Studies 50(3): 632-656.
Gregg VM (1995) Jean Rhys's historical imagination: reading and writing the Creole. Carolina: Chapel Hill.
Harrison NR (1988) Jean Rhys and the novel as women's text. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
Kalaga W (1997) Nebulae of discourse: interpretation, textuality, and the subject. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
Maurel S (1998) Women writers. Wide Sargasso Sea: The woman's text. London: Macmillan Press.
Mitchell WJT (1981) On narrative. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Nesbitt JP (2005) Narrative settlements: geographies of British women's fiction between the wars. New York: Routledge.
Prince G (2004) Dicfionar de naratologie. Parvu S, trans. Iasi: Institutul European.
Rhys J (1969) Voyage in the Dark. Harmondsworth: Penguin. (Cited as VID)
Rhys J (1969) Good Morning, Midnight. Harmondsworth: Penguin. (Cited as GMM)
Rhys J (1969) Wide Sargasso Sea. Harmondsworth: Penguin. (Cited as WSS)
Rhys J (1971) After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971. (Cited as ALM)
Rhys J (1972) Tigers are Better-Looking. Harmondsworth: Penguin. (Cited as TBL)
Said E (1994) Culture and imperialism. London: Vintage.
Thomas N (1994) Colonialism's culture: anthropology, travel, and government. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Voicu CG (2009) 'No sense of place' or an imaginary geography of the self: the Caribbean topos. Middle Ground: International Journal of Literary and Cultural Encounters 3: 45-66. Beni Mellal: Nadir Print.
Correspondence concerning this article may be addressed to email@example.com
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||The creative process|
|Publication:||Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2013|
|Previous Article:||Constructing characters.|
|Next Article:||The phenomenology of magic experiences.|