A Matter of Duality

The central conflict of Jean Rhys’s novel Good Morning, Midnight is rooted in the concept of perception. Concerning narrative, the work revolves around the character Sasha Jansen’s various, volatile perceptions of the environment in which she exists and her consistent failure to achieve peace of mind within that environment. The ultimate significance of the plot, however, depends entirely upon the reader’s perception of Sasha Jansen. Is this novel a complexly detailed and accurate depiction of the problems encountered by modern women? Does it provide any insight into the chaotic nature of human existence? Or is it merely a narrowly scoped portrait of one unhappy individual? In order to devise an answer to these questions, it is first essential to determine the reliability of Sasha as a narrator, and second to construct an objective approach to the narrative events.

There exists a sense of extreme duality within the manner through which Sasha views her environment. Her descriptions of different characters render them at various points in time to be both unrepentantly cruel and charmingly sympathetic. She constantly expresses her annoyance with and mistrust of the gigolo René, but nevertheless declares his ability to make her “feel natural and happy, just as if [she] were young,” (130). Sasha then applies this same contradictory style of judgment to all humans. At first she states, “What I really mean is that I hate them. I hate their voices, I hate their eyes, I hate the way they laugh,” (144). The disgust she conveys with the human race suggests that she prefers a life of loneliness. Within the same speech, however, she implies the exact opposite: “Now I am lying in a misery of utter darkness. Quite alone. No voice, no touch, no hand. … How long must I lie here?” (145). The confusion she exhibits concerning her own personal opinions reveals her debilitating lack of judgment. This lack of judgment in turn establishes a confounding duality in events such as the novel’s final scene. Does Sasha’s acceptance of the man in the white dressing gown into her bed suggest that she is now embracing a humanity she previously claimed to despise? Or does it signify that she is further sinking into the misery of mental instability and isolation? How might the reader seek to simplify the relationship between these dual perspectives?

Sasha’s recollection of past events in Part Three of the novel offers a wealth of insight concerning the institution of her numerous dual perceptions. The purpose of this narrative segment is to reveal the limitations she has had to struggle against in order to develop such a convoluted, contradictory worldview. These include an unhappy marriage, a lack of financial security, and the loss of her only child. Given what the reader knows about Sasha’s lack of judgment and poor reliability as a narrator, however, should these elements be accepted as the root of her unhappiness? What dual perspective regarding Sasha’s lifestyle can be gained from this passage? Throughout this portion of the novel, many subtle references are provided concerning the protagonist’s burgeoning alcoholism. With regards to her wedding day, she declares, “We have more port. It’s the first time that day that I have felt warm or happy,” (97). Likewise, Sasha depicts herself as having consumed alcohol during the entirety of her pregnancy. At the conclusion of Part Three, after having lost her child and her marriage, she resolves, “And when I have had a couple of drinks I shan’t know whether it’s yesterday, today or tomorrow,” (121). Sasha’s dependency on alcohol to feel happiness is apparent from the earliest remembrances of her story. Thus, it becomes essential to question: Have any of her life’s limitations been self-imposed? What exactly is the correlation between her alcohol consumption and the dissolution of her personal relationships? Is Sasha’s alcoholism a product of her life’s pressures and mental instability? Or is she suffering an emotional collapse as a product of her alcoholism? Furthermore, has Sasha been narrating the entire novel in a state of intoxication? How does this interpretation affect her credibility in discussing events such as those at the conclusion of the novel?

The extent to which Sasha’s affinity for drink has negatively impacted the course of her life is debatable, but it does provide strong evidence for some of her more serious character flaws. Understanding these flaws allows for a more critical understanding of her worldview. Her character possesses neither a comprehension of moderation nor a strong sense of foresight. These issues are the factors that establish her mental state of unbalance and cause her to perceive her environment with a sense of duality. So long as Sasha has relied on physical gratifications such as alcohol, she has never been able to achieve a healthy and clear perspective. Whatever her decision may be at the end of the novel, it is certain that the conflicts she has created through a lack of self-control will persist the next morning.

Jean Rhys’s writing style perfectly captures the essence of a mind not in control of itself, but do the thoughts of this mind characterize the nature of modern feminism or the nature of humanity as a whole? Good Morning, Midnight merely depicts the ways in which the conflicts and responsibilities of human existence are sometimes shirked in favor of a life dependent on substance and physical gratification. Sasha Jansen remains a poor representative of the feminist cause, or any sort of cause involving human development.

 

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