Good Morning Midnight

Jansen’s self-awareness in Jean Rhys’ Good Morning Midnight, or rather “self obsession,” as stated in the introduction, is set within a narrative of oppositions as well as comparisons. The way she places herself in relation to the city and the attention paid to particular time frames, for example, is in many ways reflective of this. Early on in Part One, she expresses an anxiety associated with certain streets and places within Paris, a need to avoid them. She says, “No trailing around aimlessly with cheap gramophone records starting up in your head, no “Here this happened, here that happened” (page 14).  She keeps her mind focused by insisting on a “programme” and not leaving anything to chance. It seems that she struggles with this attempted repression because she soon remarks, “I walk along remembering this, remembering that…’Here this happened, here that happened’…” (page 15). Her intent to possibly detach herself, or to dissociate from memories of the past, is difficult. Relation to time seems to be an issue for Jansen, as she regresses quickly into the past while trying to stay in the present, and yet at other times anticipating for something in the future. “It’s all right. Tomorrow I’ll be pretty again, tomorrow I’ll be happy again, tomorrow, tomorrow ” (page 48).

The element of time also plays into the aspect of age, and the extent to which an old lady would be considered desirable or desperate and vulnerable. When assisting an old Englishwoman and her daughter, for example, she realizes that the mother is quite bald upon taking off her hat. Nonetheless, she tries on different hair-bands and combs, unfazed by how ridiculous it might look, while the daughter ashamed and irritated calls her a fool. There is a way in which Jansen possibly relates to this woman, especially when she cries later, not only for herself, but “for the old woman with the bald head, for all the sadness of this damned world, for all the fools and all the defeated…” (page 25). Just as the Englishwoman tries to make the best of her situation and instead leaves the store unlucky and shot down by her daughter, Jansen presumably tries to make the best of her situation too, except with alcohol, and has to face sitting at a bar most times ridiculed and looked at as a drunk woman crying to herself. “They all know what I am. I’m a woman come in here to get drunk…There’s nothing to be done about it now. I have drunk” (page 89). She has an awareness for women of her kind, who come out of the lavabo “-powdered but with hollow eyes – and, head down, slink into the street.” The word ‘slink’ in this context signifies an action that is rather unnoticed, which is well-suited for Jansen because her movement throughout the city is rather intentionally avoiding.

Jansen is relatively realistic of her situation and often mentions that she is trying to drink herself to death. Her attempts to change things in her life do not ultimately make things any better. She keeps mentioning how she needs to get her hair dyed, but when she finally does, she admits that she had expected to think about her new change for days and before she knew it, it had already slipped from her mind. The mention of changing rooms is also quite repeated throughout Parts One and Two of the book. She goes to another hotel and asks for room, and when one is showed to her she insists that she wanted a light room, not a dark one, and she promptly leaves. Her emphasis on light in opposition to dark goes well in reference to the fact that she does not want a room that is facing the courtyard. By facing the courtyard the room faces a high wall, it is more isolated and it could be viewed in this way as dark, as a room that would only depress her more. She then goes to explain how all rooms are the same, so she should not worry about changing it, since it is where she belongs and where she will stay.

By the end of Part Two, the scene leads back into her hotel room when she unrolls a picture she bought from le peintre of a man playing his banjo. Jansen feels the man staring back at her, and pictures him singing “It has been,” and “It will be.” The man standing in the gutter is mocking her as she stands in her room and her next words, “This damned room – it’s saturated with the past. …It’s all the rooms I’ve ever slept in, all the streets I’ve ever walked in” well reflects the own gutter she’s in (page 91). She mentions it all moving past her eyes in “an ordered, undulating procession.” “Rooms, streets, streets, rooms. …” The street, however, is somewhat comforting and sheltering to Jansen, especially because of her addiction to alcohol and the accessibility to it from the street. At this moment, the differentiation between the inside world and the outside world seems blurred, like a drunken haze, and it appears that Jansen has lost her place, and again a slight awareness of the present moment.

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