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Date of Award

9-2005

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Supervisor

Ronald Granofsky

Language

English

Abstract

Jean Rhys, the English Caribbean's first internationally known writer and its foremost white female author, created a relatively small body of work that includes five novels and over fifty short stories. Her short fiction is noted for its intense subjectivity, spare and elegant prose, and a preoccupation with alienation and forms of entrapment - physical, social and sexual. Most of her writing is memoir-based, and has, in varying degrees, the West Indies as its psychological landscape. Rhy's literary voice articulates a unique form of autoethnographic expression - what I describe as a 'colonizer discourse' that alternately mimics and challenges the English canon and its reductionist inscriptions of the Caribbean, but never questions the superiority of white Creoles over their fellow West Indians. Some critics cite Rhys's articulation of a white Creole subjectivity as her 'achievement' because she calls attention to the discursive process by which a white self is constructed over the black Other. While this is a valid argument it does not consider Rhys's self-conscious championing of the white Creole, her true 'underdog,' through which she seeks to correct distortions and misrepresentations of the Antillean planter class. Writing from a perspective that is firmly entrenched in the nineteenth century world of colonial privilege, she reclaims her history as a subaltern with a view to fight textual control through textuality. Rhys has brought Caribbean literature to the world stage but her 'colonizer discourse' does little to reduce the marginality of non-white Creoles. Her alternative colonial historiography is reminiscent of what Ross Chambers describes as "oppositional behavior... a form of resistance that does not challenge the power in place ... [but] ... has the extremely tricky ability to erode ... the power from which it derives" (1-2). This thesis will examine the ambivalences and paradoxes of Rhys's 'colonizer discourse' through a selection of her 'Caribbean' short stories. It will argue that Rhys's configurations are meant to redeem only the white Creole from Otherness in the European context and that her racial and gender constructions serve this process using a recurring motif of destructive and doomed relationships built on a paradigm of patriarchal Empire and the colonial Island as a dependent and sexualized female.

McMaster University Library

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