Although many factors to the production of happiness are not necessarily controllable by the individual, there are certainly efforts that can be taken to make happiness all the more obtainable. There are ways to open the aqueduct that leads to what is quite possibly a goal of all humanity. Jean Rhys’ protagonist, Sasha Jansen, is a failed woman who has personally blocked her own path to happiness. Though the death of her newborn child by no means produced joy, she is ultimately the greatest contributor to her own misery. In order to be truly happy, one has to be able to accept situations and people that are conducive to happiness. Sasha, on the other hand, pushes everything away. The only situation that she is willing to accept and embrace is her misery.
The city of Paris presents Sasha with the freedoms that hold the possibility of happiness, yet she is most consistent in her refusal of such freedoms. When walking the streets of Paris, she walks not in prospect, but in remembrance of her failure—she wallows. Everything she sees is a reminder of her past, not a promise of her future. Though she speaks of a desire to change, how can we believe her when she is so resistant to begin? She thinks of what change will bring, yet she “lies awake trying to resist a great wish to go to a hairdresser in the morning” (42). Everyone around her, and even herself, is aware of this laziness. Even her role in her failed marriage was one of passiveness. The reader, too, does not believe that her tomorrow, her new self, will ever come.
“Tomorrow I’ll be pretty again, tomorrow I’ll be happy again, tomorrow, tomorrow (48). Why not today? Why does she maintain this willingness to hold off on beginning her transformation? She is even aware that “tomorrow never comes” (133). In her refusal to begin in the present, she is throwing away her chances of happiness just as she threw aware Enno’s Turkish Delights. The only transformations she begins to accept are those of a physical and superficial kind. She colors her hair. She buys a new hat. She spends three hours a day doing her makeup. Like many others, she has a belief that a change in the material will induce a change in her misery. What she does not seem to realize is that she must change the way she lives her life. Does she not understand that dyeing her hair blonde means nothing if she spends her life hiding in a cheap hotel room? Get out, Sasha! Get out and do something!
She is so afraid of people—so afraid of human cruelty—that she only feels safe when hidden away. She is saved and rescued by her hotel room, the only place she feels she belongs. It is there that she is in “hiding from the wolves outside” (33). Again, does she not realize that isolation only clogs the flow of happiness, and that shutting herself off from all people is just a form of self-mutilation? With the Russian, she is presented with the opportunity to form a real human connection. Yet, her fear of people inhibits her from accepting this connection. She leaves her hotel to meet him, only to run back and bolt the door. She is literally locking her heart up.
Her inability to accept any form of human connection comes to a climax in her relationship with the Canadian gigolo. Though he is certainly pursuing her sexually, he is clearly seeking to connect with her emotionally as well. However, Sasha continually rejects his advances; she refuses to accept a connection. It is evident that he cares for her in some way and wants to help her out of her misery. “What I know is that I could do this with you’—he makes a movement with his hands like a baker kneading a loaf of bread—‘and afterwards you’d be different. I know. Believe me” (146). Despite his overt expression of care and his willingness to work through her problems, she leaves. She goes back to her hotel. The only way she will accept any connection with the gigolo is if he accepts her payment. Otherwise, she is completely disinterested.
Sasha’s refusal to accept situations that are the most probable to draw happiness creates a complicated relationship between her and Rhys’ reader. We find ourselves in the same place as the gigolo. We feel connected to Sasha and eagerly await her happiness, yet experience bouts of frustration because she is so self -damaging. In the end, we, like the gigolo, don’t have any other option but to leave her in the misery of her hotel room.