Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 318
Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys explores the thoughts, feelings, struggles, and pain of a woman exploring Paris as well as her own soul. Sasha Jansen is a middle-aged English woman who comes to Paris in 1938 after a long absence. She had visited the streets and shops of Paris before, as a much younger married woman. She now sets about to confront her thoughts and feelings of the past that have haunted her since she left the beloved city.
The novel begins with Jansen at what appears to be the lowest point in her life. Struggling with depression, she looks for hope in some of the old locations that once brought her such happiness. She also looks for solace in alcohol, but it does little to comfort her. She desperately struggles to find something she could consider a victory in her life.
Jansen later encounters a cathartic experience when reflecting on a painting featuring a sad-looking banjo player. Although her spirits have been lifted by pleasant encounters with strangers, the past speaks to her in the form of the painting, and is she compelled to see the familiar sights of Paris as merely forms rather than experiences filled with life and joy.
The novel then takes the reader through a deeper reflection of Sasha Jansen’s past. She thinks of her husband and the joy they shared despite their relative poverty. In an effort to relive those days and cast aside considerations of her age and present circumstances, Jansen sets out to live as a young woman again despite her initial hesitation. Sadly, her initial hesitation seems to have been right. An apparently innocent romantic encounter with a young gigolo turns threatening, and she is forced to justify her own initial concerns. Jansen finds it impossible to return to the happiness of the past, but she strangely finds value in the struggle, and more importantly, she finds herself.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1094
Prior to her writing of Good Morning, Midnight, Jean Rhys published four books—a volume of short stories, The Left Bank and Other Stories (1927), and three novels, Postures (1928; published in the United States as Quartet, 1929), After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (1931), and Voyage in the Dark (1934). After the publication of Good Morning, Midnight, twenty-seven years elapsed before her next novel, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), an imaginative re-creation of the life of Rochester’s mad wife, based on characters created by Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre (1847). Critics often say that the female protagonists in Rhys’s previous novels culminate in Good Morning, Midnight. If so, then Sasha represents the essence of a typical Rhys protagonist: a woman afraid, lonely, poor, whose life patterns are worked out in seedy hotels and bars and transitory affairs with men in a patriarchal society whose boundaries are defined by male values and class consciousness.
Sasha Jansen was married once to a charming but unemployed man named Enno (an anagram for “none”?). Enno is sure that money will turn up some way or another if he and Sasha are married and are living in Paris. He insists that Sasha leave all the worrying to him, and so, the world becomes now for Sasha, one big beautiful romance from which only lifelong happiness can result. Enno, however, does not find work and cannot find money. Poverty is not what Sasha bargained for: “I didn’t think it would be like this— shabby clothes, worn-out shoes, circles under your eyes, your hair getting straight and lanky, the way people look at you.... I didn’t think it would be like this.”
Then, after accusing Sasha of not knowing how to love, Enno leaves for three days; at this time, she becomes sure that she is pregnant. On the fourth day, he is back and she believes she loves him even more deeply. Life is not a fairy tale, however, especially for young women without monetary means to care for themselves. After the birth and death of an infant son, Enno leaves again, as Sasha really always knew he would. At this point, her life begins to go to pieces.
She returns to London, where a small annuity keeps her from starving and provides a series of rooms in which she lives. She spends her time trying to drink herself to death, a condition Sasha likens to drowning in a large, dark river. Then, a friend rescues her by providing some extra money for a trip to Paris, which is to be an attempt at rejuvenation.
Paris, however, is too painful. There, Sasha’s life exists in two separate worlds on two different time planes, past and present, and events from one time interweave with those from the other time. Characters from her memory come to mind and become actual substance, and people in her present mirror people in her past. To complicate further this replication of times and experiences, past and present, Sasha separates herself into two parts: the part that is world-weary and filled with despair and the part that still has not realized that happiness is illusory for an impoverished and unmarried but sexually active woman in a sexist society on the brink of World War II. Sasha’s separate selves have conversations with each other and one will sometimes create films in her mind, of scenes such as, for example, a married woman who envisions herself in a whitewashed room dressed seductively and watching for the expression of a man’s face when he turns to see her. Yet all is not well:Now he ill-treats me, now he betrays me. He often brings home other women and I have to wait on them, and I don’t like that. But as long as he is alive and near me I am not unhappy. If he were to die I should kill myself.
If Sasha rejects her “film-mind” as any way to exist, she rejects also what others have offered—Mr. Blank, for example, an employer from her past who treated her like an idiot or like a spoke in the machine of his operation, and Ren, who also calls her stupid because she will not play his game on his terms. Rene is a counterpart character to Enno, and both Rene and Enno are embodied in Mr. Blank.
Rene is a gigolo who mistakes Sasha for a moneyed woman, but even when he finds out the limited extent of her finances, he continues to pursue her to feed his ego and to satisfy his physical needs (food as well as sex). One part of her plays his games, stopping only at providing sex; the other part of her continually turns him away, refusing to play the role he has outlined for her.
In the brilliant concluding section of the novel, Rhys brings together all aspects of the duplicated characters. The events, seeming more like they are happening in dream or hallucination, play themselves out as they must, given the initial assumptions of the situation. Sasha allows Rene into her room as he is still imploring her to allow sex because it would make her feel so much better, but once again, she pulls back. The cerebral part of her rejects his fancy, and she insists that he leave. He does leave, and immediately the “feeling” part of her wants him back. She rushes to the door and finds him waiting in the dark hallway, and once again they go through the same charade. He tries to force her into submission and suggests that gang rape might be what she needs. Once again, she rejects him, deflating his ego by telling him that he can have money without “servicing” her.
He does take some money and he leaves, but she jumps up immediately to determine how much he has taken and finds that he has taken only a token amount. The feeling part of her emerges dominant once again, and she wishes him back. She plays in her mind the events of his returning, and while she imagines his return, she removes her clothes, unlocks the door, gets into bed, and waits for him to return. The door opens and a man appears as though she has willed his presence, but the man is not Rene. He is, rather, another variation of all the men who have attempted to use her for sexual and crassly material purposes. Her night visitor is the traveling salesman, who has throughout the novel taken her for a prostitute and now simply wants to take his turn.