Jean Rhys Short Fiction Analysis
The range of Jean Rhys’s stories, as of her novels, is narrow. She focuses on the world of the lonely, the outcast, the vulnerable. Her central characters are all women who live in a world they cannot control, which regards them with indifference and cruelty. Communication is often found to be impossible, and the protagonists’ fragmented, tormented world is perpetually on the verge of falling apart. The dominant note is of isolation, dependency, and loss, with more than a smattering of self-pity.
The Left Bank, and Other Stories
Rhys’s first collection, The Left Bank, and Other Stories, consists of twenty-two stories, most of them short sketches, of life on the Parisian Left Bank. A few stories, “In the Rue de l’Arrivée,” “A Night,” and “Learning to Be a Mother,” end on an optimistic note, as does “Mannequin,” in which a young girl, at the end of her first day as a mannequin, feels a surge of happiness as she steps into the street and merges into the vibrant life of the city. She is one of the few heroines in Rhys’s fiction who discover a sense of belonging. The dominant mood of the collection, however, is one of helplessness and troubled uncertainty, and as such it sets the tone for Rhys’s later work. The stories focus on characters who inhabit the fringes of society: artists, exiles, misfits, deprived women. “Hunger,” for example, is a despairing, first-person monologue of an English woman who...
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