Identities displaced and misplaced: aspects of postcolonial subjectivity in the novels of Jean Rhys

Paul, Nalini Caroline (2008) Identities displaced and misplaced: aspects of postcolonial subjectivity in the novels of Jean Rhys. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis examines various aspects of female subjectivity in the characters of Jean Rhys’s five novels: Quartet (1928), After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, (1930), Voyage in the Dark (1934), Good Morning, Midnight (1939), and Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). These aspects are informed by race, gender and class, unique to each of the novels, and all involving a degree of performance and/or mimicry.
Although the phrase, “Stages of Postcolonial Subjectivity” was considered, it was replaced with “Aspects”, as a term that more accurately reflects subjectivity in these novels. The word “stages” denotes progress, suggesting that the subject is at some point unified or fixed, and progresses from one stage to the next. However, the term “aspects” suggests some of the central themes to the thesis, including mirroring, reflecting looking and gazing. For Rhys’s characters, it conjures up their awareness of others viewing them, and the ways in which this awareness shapes their own subjectivities, which in turn are constantly undergoing change and flux, and are never at any point fixed or unified.
The thesis is divided into five chapters. The first chapter provides a critical overview of Rhys’s last and best-known novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, building on some of the key debates in subsequent chapters, including psychoanalytical readings, postcolonial readings, race, gender, representation and the ability of the text to “write back” to the centre of power. The second chapter explores the phenomenon of the postcolonial female gaze in Wide Sargasso Sea, that of the white Creole and of Christophine as a black woman. Using film theory as a theoretical framework, the discussion focuses on Antoinette’s female gaze directed against her English husband, as well as Christophine’s ability to exert her own “other” power that lies outside of language and Englishness. The third chapter charts the fragmented subjectivity of Rhys’s female characters, examining their ambivalence towards England and an assumed other culture, from which they have originated. Postcolonial and psychoanalytical theories are applied to the analysis, which explores the female characters’ ability to challenge fixed categories of race and gender. The fourth chapter also challenges these fixed categories, exploring the performativity of the female protagonists in Rhys’s early novels, in terms of clothes, hair and make-up. These seemingly superficial details convey a deeper sense of understanding about the societies in which these characters live, the spaces they inhabit and the male figures with which they interact, and on whom they depend. The fifth and final chapter examines Rhys’s early female protagonists as metaphorical zombies, using sociological research into the Haitian zombie as a theoretical framework. Despite their zombification, however, these characters demonstrate their ability to engage in life through the use of memories and nostalgia.
My analyses of Rhys’s female protagonists take into account the many, varied and often contradictory critical responses to her work and themes, which result from the complex and subtle evocations of the characters themselves.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Jean Rhys, postcolonial, subjectivity, gender, film theory, performativity, zombie.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Maley, Prof. Willy
Date of Award: 2008
Depositing User: Dr Nalini C Paul
Unique ID: glathesis:2008-474
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 26 Jan 2009
Last Modified: 21 Sep 2018 11:13

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