Essay: Jean Rhys Good Night

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[. . .] The alienation Sasha felt from society can be seen in her saying (in an imaginary confrontation with her boss "I am an inefficient member of Society, slow in the uptake, uncertain, slightly damaged in the fray, there's no denying it" (Rhys 29). The view she has of herself is mirrored back to her throughout the book in the way other people treat her. Because she has this depressed view of her self-worth, others seem determined to prove to her that she is right. When, in reality, she is the author of their disdain and indifference (Konzett).

Modernism

There is actually a disagreement between reviewers whether the novel can truly be considered modernist or not. Konzett argues the positive saying that she is just engaging in a familiar theme among those acknowledged to be of this school about "The mythology of white supremacy [that] collapses from within, exposing the formerly unchallenged race as merely another ethnic construct, devoid of any internal legitimation." The reviewer says this because, like Faulkner or Joyce, Rhys is pointing out that there is no grand mystery about the White race that makes the people that occupy its heritage in any way superior to those of other culture. One of the traits of the modernist author was to break down the barriers between reality and fantasy for the benefit of society in general. At least, that is what this particular reviewer believes.

The other stance is that this is not a modernist novel at all but is more the antithesis of such. In her review of the book "Good Morning, Midnight: Good Night, Modernism," Gardiner shows that the elements of style and substance common to modernist writers is not common to the writings of Rhys. Instead, Gardiner states that "Her [Rhys'] first-person masterpiece, Good Morning, Midnight, published in 1939, is a rich and allusive work that criticizes modernist pretensions." To summarize her point, she believes that modernist works were not a transition to a more physical and emotionally honest style as has been the case of many who would define these types of novels, but a continuance of the male dominated scene that was common to earlier styles, and that Rhys does not receive her full value when she is said to be a modernist.

It is necessary, of course, to define what a modernist is and is not before a proper critique can be entered upon. Literary modernism can be defined as a movement that sought to examine human traits more deeply in their works. This meant that emotions were expressed with vigor and insight. Another feature of this style is that it embraced the odd styles of experimental authors such as Faulkner and Joyce. The goal was not to be different, but completely different than the authors that had preceded them. The modernist tradition then is one that shakes off the constriction of romanticism and classicism and, supposedly, moves the whole of expression (of which literature is a part) into the next phase of its development.

With this view of what is modernist, does it seem that Konzett, who sees Rhys as a modernist writer, or Gardiner, who does not, is correct. Sasha is seen as looking at the world from in the third person while she is the first person in the novel. Writers will generally adopt a first person or third person narrative style so as to keep the book flowing in a consistent narrative direction. Rhys chooses to do something entirely different. She experiments with narrative and form so that she can fully show the anxiety, isolation, despair of Sasha as it is happening within her own head. The style is appropriate because Sasha is a stranger inside her own head. She does not seem to have a grip on the world as it truly is, but she also does not understand the world as she sees it. Therefore the first/third narrative experiment works for this character.

There is also the overt expression of the psychological and the pared down feminism. She cannot be said to be feminine from a romantic or classic perspective, but she also does not embody the feminist as characters in, for example, Virginia Woolf's books do. In reference to feminism, this seems to be a new type of novel. However, the way in which Rhys is able to express the inner workings of Sasha's mind seem to mark this as a novel of a specific type. Sasha can be completely recognized by how Rhys portrays her. She is not a stereotype, except as a recognizable Rhys heroine, she is an individual who has complex, though shallow, emotions, and she is the type of literary character who breaks from the norm of old styles into a new. It seems from an examination of the character that this is a modernist work, but that it is a late modernist work that is seeking a new style of its own.

Conclusion

Rhys did not as much create strong female characters as she tried to express herself, in expansionist terms, through her heroines. Rhys may not have been this character in entirety, but she did have some of these sensibilities and Rhys could be recognized in Sasha definitely. Good Morning, Midnight is the story of a woman who is completely used up, not by the world around her necessarily, but by her view of it. Sasha wants to be a strong feminist character, but she fails; she wants to experience life as a different, more engaged, person, but somehow she cannot. Her despair about the life she feels born into, and the fact that nothing she imagines as better ever makes it better, controls her attitudes toward her life and toward life in general. This is a late modernist novel that brilliantly uses a unique narrative viewpoint to describe the sad world.

Works Cited

Davidson, Arnold E., and Jean Rhys. "The Dark is Light Enough: Affirmation from Despair in Jean Rhys 'Good Morning, Midnight'." Contemporary Literature 24.3 (1983): 349-364. Print.

Gardiner, Judith Kegan. "Good Morning, Midnight: Good Night, Modernism." Boundary 2-11.1/2 (1983): 233-251. Print.

Konzett, Delia. "Ethnic Modernism in Jean Rhys's 'Good Morning, Midnight'." Journal of Caribbean Literatures 3.3 (2003): 63-76. Print.

Rhys,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Jean Rhys Good Night.  (2012, December 13).  Retrieved June 24, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/jean-rhys-good-night-midnight/6066673

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"Jean Rhys Good Night."  Essaytown.com.  December 13, 2012.  Accessed June 24, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/jean-rhys-good-night-midnight/6066673.