Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416
Jean Rhys' novel explores the themes of male abandonment, alienation, and male versus female worldviews.
Sasha Jensen, the female protagonist, was once married to a charming scoundrel named Enno. For his part, Enno was a happy-go-lucky optimist. Once a chansonnier before he became a journalist, he was as apt to make promises as to break them. Enno is the first man to break Sasha's heart. During their brief marriage, Enno had insisted on worrying about the money; his Pollyanna outlook on life, however, had proven inadequate in sustaining the couple's future.
As their financial situation worsened, Enno began to leave Sasha for days at a time. Eventually, Enno left altogether. Despite his faithlessness, Sasha continued to love him. It's quite clear that her vision of marriage conflicted with Enno's conception of sexual fidelity. Sasha's naive nature compelled her to trust implicitly, despite overwhelming evidence against such a stance. Throughout the novel, Sasha's alienation from men (after her disastrous relationship with Enno) and the larger culture is apparent.
There are no redeeming male characters in this novel, it seems. Sasha's infant son, his birth anticipated with quiet desperation by his mother, fails to survive. Sasha is as bereft of comfort as she is circumscribed by the parameters of her society. The novel certainly highlights male abandonment and its effects on women. Sasha's resulting alienation, however, remains largely hidden from others. Only we, the readers, are privy to her suffering. For her part, Sasha excels in keeping what she considers a vacant, neutral expression on her face. This neutral, dispassionate mien allows Sasha to be largely invisible to others.
As she struggles to repel the sexual advances of Rene, a gigolo, Sasha finally lets the mask fall. She confesses that she is afraid of men and even admits being more afraid of women than of men. Sasha characterizes other women as predatory hyenas; she makes an astonishing claim about being victimized by the entire human race. To Sasha, her personal failures must render her a laughing stock to the majority of women. While men will abandon her, women are far more cruel.
Sasha's worldview is, of course, foreign to the dissolute Rene. Sasha's dysfunctional relationships with men contribute to her paranoia and mental neurosis. In the end, her hallucinations leave her suspended in a Kafkaesque mental prison, even as she submits to the mysterious stranger in a white dressing gown (who some argue is the personification of death). The novel's last page is disturbing as well as revelatory.