Jean Rhys | Critical Essay by Helen Tiffin

This literature criticism consists of approximately 18 pages of analysis & critique of Jean Rhys.
This section contains 5,311 words
(approx. 18 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Essay by Helen Tiffin

SOURCE: "Mirror and Mask: Colonial Motifs in the Novels of Jean Rhys," in World Literature Written in English, Vol. 17, No. 1, April, 1978, pp. 328-41.

In the following essay, Tiffin discusses the portrayal of exploitative male-female relationships, distorted female self-identity, and imperialism in Rhys's fiction.

Since Wally Look Lai's illuminating study of Wide Sargasso Sea, the importance of West Indian history and character in Jean Rhys's writing has been generally recognized, though both he and later critics such as Dennis Porter tend to regard Wide Sargasso Sea as a "new departure" rather than a culmination of moods and motifs. Rhys's fiction in its entirety, however, presents a complex picture of the mind of a people uniquely isolated by the vagaries of history and winning a grip on their "postage stamp of native soil" not, like Faulkner's Southerners, by revolutionary war but from the Sargasso Sea of an ambiguously divisive yet shackling colonial history.

All of Rhys's heroines, whether ostensibly English or actually Creole, share a recognizably colonial sensibility, and since this sensibility is the product of a relationship between at least two peoples and two places, it is generally expressed and explored in liaisons between individuals whose world views differ and who are bound in a destructive relationship involving dominance and dependence. In Palace of the Peacock Wilson Harris traces a process of psychic decolonization whereby "the oldest uncertainty and desire in the world, the desire to govern or be governed, rule or be ruled forever" is abrogated in favour of a union between all sexes and all races through the agency of the spirit of place. In her novels Jean Rhys works towards a comparable solution to this colonial dilemma; and if ultimately she lacks Harris' confidence, it is because the white West Indian has the double problem of rejecting former affiliations and power structures and of being accepted into a community from which she seems irretrievably excluded by the hostilities of a history which is, and yet is not, her own.

The white Creole is, as a double outsider, condemned to self-consciousness, homelessness, a sense of inescapable difference and even deformity in the two societies by whose judgements she always condemns herself. "White nigger" to the Europeans and "white cockroach" to the Blacks, she sees herself as a gauche, immature distortion of the Europeans on the one hand, and a pale and terrified "deformed" reflection of her Black compatriots on the other. As the distorted reflection of two images, neither of which is really her but which beckon and taunt her with their normality, the Rhys heroine relies on mirrors and mirror images, and they are central to Rhys's depiction of her dilemma.

Enable to judge their own worth, Rhys's heroines are obsessed with mirrors and the need for outside opinion. All are inevitably outsiders in the European worlds through which they drift, and all rely for financial survival and physic support on Englishmen who are usually much older than themselves. Indeed their whole sense of identity or conviction of self-worth is entirely dependent, as is their fate, on these men and on external accoutrements. Though the Rhys heroine usually has sufficient sensitivity to despise the arrogant complacency of her English lover, she remains shackled to his every whim. In fact it seems that it is dependence itself to which the women are addicted. When the men tire of the liaison, it is abruptly terminated, and independence is foisted on the reluctant mistress whose unhealthy, child-like need for support has only been exacerbated by the association.

The men of Jean Rhys's novels also share certain characteristics: as Englishmen these lovers are almost by definition cold, cautious, hypocritical, and joyless. They are self-absorbed and self-assured, firmly rooted in a world which mirrors their every characteristic—an urban world of perpetually dark streets, actively hostile look-alike houses, and grim cheerless interiors where reluctantly kindled fires shed no warmth. These men patronize their mistresses, encourage their child-like dependence, but readily abdicate ultimate responsibility for their fate. By contrast to the women they exploit, they have little interest in the impression they make on outsiders, although they are devoted nevertheless to keeping up appearances and to "playing the game." But this insistence is intimately connected with the survival of the values of a closely-knit group rather than with personal survival or identity. These men share a total tack of interest in anything that is not English and not, therefore, immediately comprehensible to them. Their reserved, aloof outlook contrasts with the women's open acknowledgement of emotion, which the men consequently find "fantastic" and "hysterical," and condemn as evidence of lack of maturity and self-control.

The liaison is of secondary or even tertiary importance in the life of the man, while it forms the very texture of the woman's existence. The women rarely influence the men; indeed their daily thoughts and actions are a complex and painful mixture of their own undervalued resources and the usually low (and undiscriminating) opinions held of these resources by the men. The parallel between destructive male/female relationships and between imperial nation and colonial underdog is obvious.

In Quartet and After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie the nature of the colonial dilemma is established in the portrayal of the aimless, drifting, dependent lives of Marya and Julia. In Voyage in the Dark the historical basis of the personality and way of life of the earlier heroines is made explicit, and the first step towards an exit from this impasse is posited, Good Morning, Midnight reappraises and reestablishes the original situation of the eternal exile and continues the exploration of the relationship between outcasts rather than between the outcast and "organized society" that was explored in the first two novels. Wide Sargasso Sea at last offers the revolutionary alternative to the aimless, sargasso drift of the heroines of the earlier works.

In Quartet Marya, almost inexplicably an outsider, is forced after her husband's imprisonment into living with the Heidlers, an English couple, and with Lois' apparent connivance, into becoming Heidler's mistress. Marya's three most frequent "postures" provide the reader with illuminating images of her relation to the Heidlers.

It is only after her husband Stephan goes to prison that Marya falls prey to this couple, and the joy Stephan had introduced into her sombre world is extinguished. She is frequently shown visiting him in prison, and as they sit facing each other with bars between them, the couple are now mirror images of each other, for just as the Santé has extinguished Stephan's joy, so Marya's "imprisonment" by the Heidlers crushes her spirit. Like Stephan, Marya is now a "caged animal" and the cool, cautious, joyless Heidler replaces the mercurial Stephan, Confined by Heidler's hypocritical decorum, her longing for joy is

like some splendid caged animal roused and fighting to get out. It was an unborn child jumping, leaping, kicking at her side.

Since Lois Heidlers regards Marya as "some strange animal that might be dangerous" the conclusion that joy itself is terrifying to the English and so must be confined, is inescapable. A "captive attached to somebody's chariot wheels," Marya feels "the fright of a child shut up in a dark room. Fright of an animal caught in a trap." This wild animal-child fears that enslavement to Heidler's world will result in her domestication, and the extinction of even the faint inner spark of rebellion she retains. Both "prisons" are now "familiar," and the mirror image of Stephan's cowered spirit haunts her.

Not just Stephan but Lois provides a mirror image for Marya's condition. In their common subjugation to Heidler, Marya sees a reflection of her own trapped condition in Lois who has the eyes of a "well trained domestic animal." The second memorable image of Marya in the novel is of her sitting side by side with Lois, crying, although this rare communion of victims is only a temporary aberration. Both Lois and Marya know that they are Heidlers victims, yet they make the common tragic mistake of underdogs—tearing each other to pieces instead of attacking the source of their domestication and imprisonment in the greed and self-absorption of the dominant male.

Looking into Heidler's hypnotic blue eyes is Marya's third and most frequent posture in Quartet. It is here that her "desire to be governed … to be ruled," and Heidler's complementary one to "rule" and "govern" meet to express the subtleties of the ties that bind colonizer and colonized. "The way men look with their hard greedy eyes…. When he touched her she felt warm and secure, then weak and so desolate that tears came into her eyes." Even though Marya knows he almost despises women and love, she still cannot resist the desire to depend, and to please, to "live up to his idea of her" as his "petite femme." She feels she is a "marionette," all strings pulled by Heidlers who, significantly, "looks exactly like a picture of Queen Victoria." "Convincing, impressive, and full of authority." H. J. clearly believes that "victims are necessary so the strong may exercise their will and become more strong."

In Quartet, then, though Marya ostensibly is English, the relationship between Heidler and Marya deliberately duplicates that between imperial power and colonized people, and while Marya shares her slave status with Lois, their common plight cannot unite them. The Heidlers live on the Avenue de l'Observatoire, and against Heidlers, invulnerable observer and judge, Marya has almost "no chance."

In After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie the central character, Julia Martin, is again English, and is the "black sheep" of a poverty-stricken middle-class family dominated by the Heidler-like figure of Uncle Griffiths who once "had represented to the family the large and powerful male." Even now when he has aged into a self-centred distance, "he appeared solid and powerful, and she felt a great desire to please him, to make him look kindly at her." Neither her uncle nor her sister Norah is pleased to see her, and during her stay in England she remains "outside the sacred circle of warmth." Norah, from whom she had hoped for a little affection, regards her, as the Heidlers did Marya, as "something out of the zoo," and again an ostensibly English character remains almost puzzlingly alien, her unconventional looks and wanderings the apparent source of her ostracism.

Julia's mother however was not English; she had been "transplanted" from Brazil. The very-English Norah obviously associates the mother's origins with what she regards as the family malaise, pointing out "That there's something wrong with our family. We're soft, or lazy, or something." In the central episode of the novel, Julia's mother, already paralysed, dies.

Earlier in the novel Julia had been deeply affected by the Modigliani painting of

a woman lying on a couch, a woman with a lovely, lovely body. Oh, utterly lovely…. A sort of proud body, like an utterly lovely proud animal, And a face like a mask, a long, dark face, and very big eyes. The eyes were blank, like a mask, but when you had looked at it a bit it was as if you were looking at a real woman, a live woman.

The painting seems to be telling Julia, "I am more real than you. But at the same time I am you. I'm all that matters of you." The dark, proud animal of the portrait is the felt reflection of Julia's own inner self, and the first indication that a Rhys heroine might escape her paralysing devotion to an outside reflection and judgement and thus eventually eschew the dependence that is symptomatic of her "colonial" condition. Further associating Julia with the Modigliani print and with the perpetual search of the Rhys heroine for a darker skin are Julia's "blackened eyelids" which particularly incense Norah.

But the Modigliani print has more immediate significance in its application to Julia's mother herself. In the cold, grey, English environment to which she has been transplanted, Julia's mother frequently appears to be "sickening for the sun. Julia remembered her saving: "'This is a cold, grey country. This isn't a country to be really happy in.'" The mother, like the Modigliani woman with whom Julia had already identified herself, is "dark skinned" and "beautiful, as and animal would be in old age." It becomes obvious that Julia, like her mother, in spirit if not in fact, is the dark, wild, transplanted foreigner and that this is what marks her off from her erstwhile English "relatives."

In her relationships with the shadowy Mr. Mackenzie, whose brief cafe appearances open and close the novel, and with the even more unpleasantly self-absorbed Mr. Horsfield, Julia is again the subservient child that Marya of Quartet was, and Mackenzie and his lawyer in their invulnerable insensitivity are seen by Julia to represent "organized society." She is again the outside, the wild animal caged, and when she sees this reflection of herself in their solidly respectable eyes, she loses her confidence in the implicit approval the portrait woman seems to give to her own character. The problem for Julia is still, whose mirror?

Norah is the domesticated slave-sister reflection of the "wild" heroine. Julia's presence in Norah's domestic establishment triggers a momentary spark of rebellion in her and inspires her with the desire to hurt Julia's whose "caged" fires remind her only too well of the potential within her which is now largely extinguished. "Everytime she looked at Julia she felt a fierce desire to hurt her or to see her hurt and humiliated…. It was as if meeting Julia had aroused some spirit of rebellion to tear her to bits." This instinct arises in Norah as she is (coincidentally) reading Almayer's Folly:

The slave had no hope, and knew of no change. She knew of no other sky, no other water, no other forest, no other world, no other life. She had no wish, no hope, no love….

Again domestic and tamed wild animals sit side by side and attack each other, instead of directing their attention to their shared fate, or to the root cause of their enslavement, which in this case is less directly a single, representative individual than the grey life of English caution to which the mother had been transplanted and which imposes its cold male judgements on women and colonies alike.

In Voyage in the Dark the Creole colonial background of the heroine, implicit in the earlier novels, is made explicit, and the contrasting viewpoint against which Marya and Julia were judging Europe and finding it wanting is given specific form in Anna Morgan's West Indian world. While this is the land and the climate Anna loves, and the society to which she would dearly like to belong, her childhood is by no means a total contrast with her adult European experiences, as both involve rejection by a majority community which finds her unacceptable.

Anna's abortive attempt in childhood to identify with the black Creole community by burning her white skin black in the Caribbean sun (an attempt which ironically results in a fever) is paralleled by her similarly abortive attempt later to "fit in" with the English, though she would vastly prefer acceptance by the former community. But her experiences with Walter Jeffries and with a series of itinerant lovers leave her again friendless, nomadic, and dependent, a prey to European and American whims. The pattern of her life mirrors her own Caribbean history of European conquest, flirtation, and desertion, and the resultant dependence of the colonial on the colonizer.

The imprisonment of the alien colonial in the ideals of the almighty "Motherland," and yet the unreality of that land, is expressed in Anna's dream of the ship which sails in a doll's sea, "transparent as glass."

Somebody said in my ear, "That's your island that you talk such a lot about." And the ship was sailing very close to an island, which was home except that the trees were all wrong. These were English trees, their leaves trailing in the water. I tried to catch hold of a branch and step ashore, but the deck of the ship expanded. Somebody had fallen overboard.

With the characteristic irrationality of dreams, a doll-like boy-bishop who has cruel associations for the dreamer emerges from a coffin to render the dreamer powerless, and thoroughly fatigued, she is left attempting to negotiate a deck that is slippery and lacks any solidity. As a pawn in a power game so remote as to be meaningless, West Indian Anna has been checkmated by King's bishop and is left to wallow in a volitionless Sargasso Sea.

If the thraldom that this dream expresses is ever to be broken, Anna's only chance seems to be to identify with the members of the black Creole community. She feels she shares their fate even if they (like Lois or Marya or Norah) are reluctant to acknowledge the relation, seeing Anna, instead, as part of the white European establishment, to which, it is made painfully clear in another context, she most definitely does not belong. History is responsible for her plight and for that of her ex-slave compatriots.

Forced to act as puppet reflections of their owners, black slaves masked their hatred of their white masters with diurnal submission and nocturnal satire, which, in post-emancipation days, emerged as the Masquerade which Rhys depicts in Voyage in the Dark. The mask in which the blacks dance is a satirical mirror in which the white Creoles, had they sufficient sensitivity, would see themselves in shocking caricature. Instead, they reject the "wild" behaviour of the blacks as typically animalistic and thus avoid confronting the message of the mask.

The mask had been for the child Anna a terrifying reminder of the chasm which yawned between black and white West Indians, when Anna's nurse Meta terrified her charge by poking her tongue at her from behind the mask. Later in the Masquerade, the masks the blacks wear to satirize the whites are understood by Anna to express the deeply felt hatred of one section of the community for the other. It is only after an experience or reenactment of slave history that she is able at the end of Voyage in the Dark to arrive at an unself-conscious emotional identity with the Black masqueraders and overcome in the final scenes the typical violence between exiles and underdogs. It is interesting to note how the mask gradually replaces dependence on the mirror for the Rhys heroine in later novels as both the path to association with other victims and as a way to unapologetic self-assertion and even criticism of the colonizer.

Anna's English "master," Walter Jeffries, is first associated with slave owning when he admires Anna's teeth and then leaves her money. Later, when Anna is humiliated by Walter and his brother Vincent, she retaliates with what is almost a parody of the typical slave act of burning the great house. She burns Walter's hand with her cigarette. Comic in its comparative inefficacy, it nevertheless stresses the pathos of her powerlessness, and the depth of her hurt. Petty and almost parodic as these hints of slave experience are, they do provide a demonstrable link between white and black Creole.

Finally, identifying with the black West Indians involves Anna's change of stance from the "I" of white observer to the "we" of black participator.

I was watching them from between the slats of the jalousies dancing along dressed in red and blue and yellow the women with their dark necks and arms covered with white power—dancing along to concertina-music dressed in all the colours of the rainbow and the sky so blue…. I'm awfully giddy—but we went on dancing forwards and backwards backwards and forwards whirling round and round.

The black community does not in actual fact accept her, but she overcomes her fear of their hatred, and unself-consciously identifies with them as fellows in oppression, dancing with them their joy and their satire. Significantly this dream communality occurs as the adult Anna is having the abortion which is the inevitable result of her failure to effect a mature and satisfying relationship with a hostile Europe.

The white heroine, through her immersion in the black world, however, may gradually overcome her initial passivity and arrive at the twin possibilities which the masks express: retaliation against former masters and true communality with colonial compatriots. But this thoroughly hopeful prognostic has been qualified by the earlier mention of the fate of the Caribs, who chose extermination over the alternative of domestication by the British, and the Caribs as much as the Blacks are colonial sisters of the white West Indian.

In Good Morning, Midnight, the heroine is again ostensibly English, and irretrievably the insecure and exploited outsider. This novel again records the state of colonial "impasse" where, in the dream Sasha has at the beginning there seems no "exit," and all corridors lead only to the "Exhibition," the familiar double exposure of the heroine to critical observation. Another caged and exhibited animal, the ageing Sasha, formerly a resident on the Continent, has returned to Europe, and painfully retraces many of her earlier steps. She remembers her dismissal by an English employer, Mr. Blank, who shares the recognizably characterless but domineering qualities of Heidler, Uncle Griffiths, and Mr. Mackenzie. Yet Mr. Blank's relation to his employee is less important than Sasha's liaison with the gigolo and with the strange man in her adjacent hotel room, both of whom she meets on this return visit. Here then Rhys turns her attention to recording the nature of hostilities between underdogs and suggests a tentative exit from this particular branch of the colonial impasse. No movement forward in possible with the "Mr. Blanks," but as in Voyage in the Dark, progress is made towards a colonial brother/sisterhood in suffering.

The gigolo whom Sasha encounters is, like herself, one of La Legion Étrangère, and like Sasha, is selling his affections. Of obscure origin and no fixed abode he is obviously a reflection of herself, but Sasha sees in this soul brother not the potential for rebellion against the organized society which has brought them to this "impasse," only an opportunity for retaliation.

I had meant to get this man to talk to me and tell me all about it, and then be so devastatingly English that perhaps I should manage to hurt him a little in return for all the many times I've been hurt.

To achieve this, she casts herself in the familiar role of ruler and slave-owner, and admires his teeth. "'Very nice, very nice indeed. Beautiful teeth,' I say in an insolent voice." In her exquisitely subtle exploration of the moves and counter moves of these wary underdogs, Rhys traces the slow growth of Sasha's respect for her mirror image. The culmination of this mood is her acceptance of the man in the white dressing gown as her lover, without despising as she had previously done, all underdogs, including herself.

Colonial implications are evident not only in Sasha's imaginary conversation with Mr. Blank about his exploitation of her labour, but also in the difficulties of deciding what colour to dye her hair:

Shall I have it black? Now black—that would be startling. Shall I have it blond cendré? But blond cendré, madame, is the most difficult of colours. It is very, very rarely, madame, that hair can be successfully dyed blond cendré…. First it must be bleached, that is to say, 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. (Educated hair…. And then, what?)

It is obvious that this technique of hair re-education, is, like many seemingly incidental images and motifs in Rhys's earlier works, an appropriate metaphor for the processes of colonization. But here it expresses not only the general colonial dilemma but the specifically white West Indian one: communal identification with people of a different colour who may refuse to accept her "colour change" even after the difficult denaturing and reconstructing process.

Just as the situation of Sasha seems a general summation of the condition of Marya, Julia, and Anna, so the image of the colonial state more vividly realized in Anna Morgan's dream of the islands and the boy-bishop emerges here as once again the colonial is "plunged in a dream, when all the faces are masks and only the trees are alive and you can almost see the strings that are pulling the puppets."

Wide Sargasso Sea provides the summation and climax of Rhys's explorations. In the marriage between Antoinette Cosway and Edward Rochester, the imperial/colonial relation is clear. What were purely metaphoric expressions for psychic states in the earlier novels are actual in Wide Sargasso Sea. Antoinette is literally Rochester's prisoner in England. She is friendless, has lost her own name, and is regarded as a wild animal who must be restrained by her captors. Earlier heroines felt they were being exposed in a zoo, but Antoinette actually has a keeper in the formidable Grace Poole, a confessed "underdog" herself. This attitude toward Antoinette, like those of the Englishmen in the earlier novels, is directly ascribable to fear of, and inability to tolerate what cannot be comprehended.

While the ultimate implications of that always-destructive colonial/imperial relation are now laid bare, so too are the very real similarities between Antoinette's fate and that of black slaves in European hands. Antoinette is bought for profit, and is regarded as exotic, hysterical, and incomprehensible by her buyer. He changes her name to a more comfortably English one, and she is dependent on him for her very existence. When she seems to show signs of rebellion she is cruelly punished, though the evidence against her is at best circumstantial. Finally she is reviled as a wild animal and confined in a cruelly uncongenial prison. Antoinette Cosway is thus shown to share the history which apparently divided her from the Blacks.

As a child, Antoinette was pulled between the prejudices of the white and black communities, as Anna Morgan was, and though she subconsciously realizes her affinity with Blacks as victims of history, the divisive stereotypes created by that history continued to thwart her attempts at identification with them. Her embryonic friendship with Tia is shattered when, feeling cheated by Tia, she reacts with automatic white prejudice and dubs Tia "cheating nigger." Yet her conviction that Tia is her soul-mate persists, though Tia forcibly rejects her former playmate when Antoinette's family home is fired by the Blacks. Though Tia utterly rejects Antoinette here, it is noteworthy that in Antoinette's memory of the incident all violence is repressed, and what is shared is emphasized. Antoinette, like Sasha in the end, can reach beyond the immediate violence of the relation between "underdogs" to perceive their common condition. Victims of history, one is the true sacrificial mirror image of the other.

As I ran, I thought, I will live with Tia and I will be like her…. When I was close I saw the jagged stone in her hand but I did not see her throw it. I did not feel it either, only something wet, running down my face. I looked at her and I saw her face crumple up as she began to cry. We stared at each other, blood on my face, tears on hers. It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking-glass.

Here at last is a mirror in which Antoinette can perceive herself, not the English distortion of self.

After her confinement in Thornfield Hall, Antoinette has suffered in fact a fate comparable with the black Creole one, and her reaction to her confinement is not the "sweet peace of giving in" of Marya of Quartet, but the typical slave retaliation in the firing of the great house. In this final, controversial section of the novel, Antoinette's red dress provides a striking and supremely important contrast to the black dress of the earlier Rhys heroines. Black there represented the ideal of male European taste: "'She wore black. Men delighted in that sable colour, or lack of colour.'" The women believed that the black dress provided camouflage, protecting them from the critical observation of others, and it was also frequently seen as a potential talisman which might ward off evil. But the black dress ultimately provides no armour against judging European eyes: It never provides the woman with the darker identity she seeks either. Her skin remains insistently pale, and the black dress only mirrors the cold, sad, northern world; it cannot invoke the warm gaiety of a tropical one.

The red dress is different. Beautiful, and strangely alive, it is both an effective mask and an integrated reflection of Antoinette's personality. Like the masks of Masqueraders, it is a satirical comment on an English character which fears and so represses any outbreak of spontaneous warmth, joy, or colour, and which tries, like Grace Poole, to force others into its "grey wrapper." The dress has its own obeah to ward off those who are now by its definition outsiders. Its charm works effectively against the English spell of darkness cast over former Rhys heroines, and which they were generally powerless to resist. For Marya, Julia, Anna, and Sasha only "the darkness of the streets had meaning." Antoinette's red dress is the antidote. "Something you can touch and hold like my red dress, that has a meaning." This meaning is the unashamed expression of a tropical riot of felt experience, the sights, sounds, and scents of the West Indian environment which had made the aggressively English Hester of Voyage in the Dark "faint" and which so appalled Edward Rochester. This red dress which has been locked away by her English captors is the true and undistorted image of Antoinette's personality.

As soon as I turned the key I saw it hanging, the colour of fire and sunset. The colour of flamboyant flowers. "If you are buried under a flamboyant tree," I said, "your soul is lifted up when it flowers. Everyone wants that." She [Grace Poole] shook her head but she did not move or touch me.

The scent that came from the dress was very faint at first, then it grew stronger. The smell of vetivert and frangipanni, of cinnamon and dust and lime trees when they are flowering. The smell of the sun and the smell of the rain.

Significantly Grace Poole cannot "touch her" while she communes with the dress which casts its charmed circle round her.

Though Antoinette's identification with Tia, and thus her genuine absorption by the black Creole community remains ambiguous to the end, the red flowers of fire and beauty which have blossomed out of Antoinette's actual experience of slave suffering promise that her choice of Tia's invitation to jump, rather than live as Rochester's captive, is the correct one. Though initially "faint" the "scent" of the red dress has been strengthened by this suffering, and in death she will at last be accepted and lifted up by her childhood environment through the myth of rebirth that "Everyone" shares. The fire which consumes Thornfield Hall that Antoinette sees in her dream is both the promise of a flamboyant rebirth and the culmination of her shared slave experience with the Blacks. Jumping to the still slightly taunting Tia, she rejects Rochester and the old imperial associations, choosing instead the fate of her Carib "ancestors." Along the dark passage that has been the experience of England for the Rhys heroine, Antoinette has at last found, in the mask of the red dress, the talisman that lights her way.

In the final scenes then, it is important that the altar of gold (empire profit, the boy-bishop, the Mr. Blanks) be destroyed by the combined powers of Christophine and the red dress (that unite to protect Antoinette as well) for this is a ceremonial, a religious reconciliation of a woman and her land. As in Palace of the Peacock, this ultimate union of the forces of a divisive historical destiny is achieved through the "magic" of the spirit of place, and its promise is an integrated, upright personality to annihilate at last the stunted reflection of a beguiling dream.

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