Jean Rhys Good Morning Midnight Essay

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Jean Rhys "Good Night, Midnight"

The explanation for the title of the book, exposed as a poem by Emily Dickinson, sets the tone for the work. It is assumed from the words that a woman is coming home after a night out with a suitor and she was, for some reason, rejected. Thus, since the "day" would not have her she is happy to say good morning to the midnight that is her life (Gardiner, 1983). This seems, according to the research, to be a familiar lament among the women who work as main characters in Jean Rhys books. The fact that this woman feels abandoned and, apparently, ashamed is nothing new for a Rhys heroine and would not be the last time that such a forlorn woman was the subject of one of her books. "Good Morning, Midnight" is a prime example of prose and writing style that so many feminist readers would come to expect of one of the most influential female writers of the twentieth century. A writer, who like her principle characters, was somewhat downtrodden and looking for a true commitment, Rhys had a style that allowed the full image of the character spill out onto the page. This book is thought to be more autobiographical than others because it is written in the first person narrative style, but also because she said, in life, that she identified more with Sasha than any of her other characters. This paper examines the themes of feminism and psychology, and the modernist mode of the book in a hope to understand the underlying meaning of this work.

Feminism

Feminist literature is supposed to somehow lift up the woman in the story; it is supposed to put forth an ideal for women that is something to be admired and followed by females who read it. That is the difficulty with calling this book by Rhys "feminist literature." She does nothing to raise her character above the male dominated society she is a part of, as a matter of course, the character seems resigned to her fate. At the end of the book, she has just paid and dismissed a young male gigolo, a man she controls because he is being paid to give her pleasure. This seems a type of role reversal that may be found in feminist literature. She releases him from his sexual obligation and just asks him to leave which should demonstrate the power she has to rise above the object and sexual "thing" that people have portrayed women as. Unfortunately, she leaves the door ajar, and her neighbor, an older, unattractive man who was described earlier in the book, finds her lying naked and vulnerable on her bed when he just walks into her home. She accepts the fact that he is there, as she has always accepted the fact that men are in her life to use her, and she gives in. The text says "He doesn't say anything. Thank God, he doesn't say anything. I look straight into his eyes and despise another poor devil of a human being for the last time. For the last time. ... Then I put my arms round him and pull him down on to the bed, saying: "Yes - yes - yes. . . ." (Rhys 190). This action is typical of the character, but it is not typical of the women in feminist literature.

She could have been the perfect heroine for that type of novel. Sasha lived in a small, uninteresting apartment, she tried a life working as a clerk in a small retail store, and she was always discussing her dalliances with men. Unfortunately, she could never rise above her station and become the empowered woman that all feminist novels would have her be. She was still a victim of the male dominated world and allowed herself to be despite the poor attempts she made to make her life one which equaled the feminine ideal. And she may have reached that for the time. At one point, Sasha looks at the meaninglessness of her life and says;

"My life, which seems so simple and monotonous, is really a complicated affair of cafes where they like me and cafes where they don't, streets that are friendly, streets that aren't, rooms where I might be happy, rooms where I never shall be, looking-glasses I look nice in, looking-glasses I don't, dresses that will be lucky, dresses that won't, and so on" (Rhys 46).

So, her life is complicate, but it is complicated with drudgery. Hers is a life of choices, as most are, but it is the way she sees it that most makes it seem less feminine and more reactionary to the place and times around her. Critics have found that she is less the feminine ideal than the antifeminist heroin, as many in Rhys' stories are, so, in effect, it is a feminist novel because it shows a woman what not to become (Davidson & Rhys). In an interesting way Rhys is always looking to protect the feminine reader of her novels by showing them what personal empowerment is not.

Psychology

Rhys loves to use her characters as psychological examples. Her women are at once bored with the world and wanting more of it, depressed and excited by the slightest notice, almost manic about feminine sexuality but, at the same time, they are repulsed by the notion that they must give up themselves to the male dominated society to achieve the pleasure that they crave (Davidson & Rhys). Her heroines are also seen as extraverts in that they are "increasingly devoid of any interiority and defined by a consciousness that is totally externalized" (Konzett). Not being able to introspect and see self for what it is happens to be a mode for determining the mental imbalance that seems to be present in all of Ms. Rhys' primary characters.

The reviewers that would try to understand Rhys' novels always use a certain word to describe the place these women occupy -- despair. Literary applications of the idea such as the "Slough of Despond" in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, or the utterly dismal landscape in Wuthering Heights, are brought to embodiment in the actions and outlook of Sasha. Her despair, many say is best seen in her last act; that of taking the neighbor, supposedly willingly, though she has been disgusted by him throughout the rest of the novel. But, that is just the climax to a life that has seen every action of other humans with despair, and has viewed her own life, through the eyes of other people, with the same amount of hopelessness and helplessness. She does not seem to think that she can change anything about who she is, or at least who she has become, so she does not try.

Part of this idea of despair can be examined in the way she treats and sees other people. At one point in the novel, she is working at a boutique and she sees an older woman, who is somewhat bald, and a younger enter the shop. She says;

"Oh, but why not buy her a wig, several decent dresses, as much champagne as she can drink, all the things she likes to eat and oughtn't to, a gigolo if she wants one? One last flare-up, and she'll be dead in six months at the outside. That's all you're waiting for, isn't it? But no, you must have the slow death, the bloodless killing that leaves no stain on your conscience" (Rhys 23).

One reviewer sees this as a kindness, and for Sasha maybe it is, but it also demonstrates the disdain she had for people in general and the intolerance she exhibits that she also receives. It is like she thinks this was about other people, so she expects other people to think this way about her. The despair seems to come from the utter disregard she has for other people. At times it seems that this cannot be true, but, more often than not, she reverts back to this mainstay of thought and again demonstrates her true nature.

Gardiner points out another interesting psychological point that both Rhys and her characters share. The reviewer says of Rhys "Her heroes are women alienated from others and themselves because they are female, poor, and sexually active" which is, again, just an autobiographical statement. The theme though is alienation. Sasha sees herself as a someone who is not a part of the world. She is excluded from it, and she is tortured because she must, for some reason, be a witness to it. The feminist perspective here is interesting because what may have been seen as a woman's right in modern society (i.e., being female and sexually active) degrades her in people's eyes in the time when Rhys was writing her books. Books such Good Morning, Midnight were responsible, in part, for the change, but, unfortunately, the world did not change in time to…[continue]

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