A Setting Analysis of Jean Rhys’ "Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers"

Term Paper, 2013

10 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The Setting as Accentuation for the Unnaturalness and the Declining Power of the British Colony

3 The Setting as a Tool for the Reprocessing of Childhood Memories

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

1 Introduction

Jean Rhys short-story “Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers” takes place on the Caribbean island Dominica at a time, when it was still a British colony. It is a story about a man called Mr. Ramage who buys a house on this island, marries a “coloured girl” (Rhys 1976: 15) and starts to behave so unconventional that the other people in the city become askant, spread rumours about them and pursue him. Under that pressure he probably commits suicide. Though the last-mentioned aspect is not said exactly it is most likely. The setting of the story is influenced by both, the environment and representatives of British colonialism and the nature and the wilderness of the Caribbean island itself. Rhys probably chose this exotic setting for two reasons.

2 The Setting as Accentuation for the Unnaturalness and the Declining Power of the British Colony

The first motive for Rhys choice of the setting was probably her intention to describe the crucial differences between British-colonial elements and the Caribbean surrounding. In her short-story she uses comparisons, distinctions, symbols and transformation of the setting to emphasize the fact that Dominica’s colonization was never really successful, neither through England nor through France, the former occupying force of this island (Angier 1990: 4). With her description of the places and elements she tries to show that European people are out of place in this Caribbean surrounding, in spite of all the things and habits they brought from their former home to feel more comfortable. The reader gets the feeling that Dominica’s wild nature is going to recapture what the colonialists take from it. A closer look at the locations and objects will show how Jean Rhys accomplishes this effect. According to Ströker’s and Hoffmann’s approach of analysing a narrative setting (Haupt 2004: 70) the places in Jean Rhys’ story are related correlatively because she uses them to show the contrast between colonial and Caribbean elements. In correlative relations particular attention is given to the differences between the single places and the values that are represented through them (Haupt 2004: 79). In this case the values of a small white European society and a majority of afro-Caribbean inhabitants.

The story starts with a description of a place called “Market Street” (Rhys 1976: 11). Following Ströker’s and Hoffmann’s theory this location is a visual field. As the term indicates, vision is the most important aspect of this concept. In a visual field all the things that are visible for a subject are significant (Haupt 2004: 71). Due to the relative objectivity of such a place it is used to create a image in the reader’s mind that gives him or her basic knowledge about the place where the story is set (Haupt 2004: 76). The compound-modifier “yellow-hot” in combination with the description of the black women in the streets creates an exotic mood and the visual image of typical Caribbean market scenery, with the black women as an appropriate part of it (Rhys 1976: 11). However, the description of the attendant white women creates an opposed image and shows how conflictive the situation is. They try to protect themselves from the sun by using parasols and especially Mrs Menzies in her “dark riding habit” (Rhys 1976: 11) is not dressed suitable for the weather. On the following page a similar description is used for the male Europeans too who “wore dark trouser even when the temperature was ninety in the shade” (Rhys 1976: 12). The contrast between these two societies gets intensified through the ice block that Mrs Menzies carries to her house “for a cool weekend” (Rhys 1976: 11) contrary to the temperature on the above mentioned hot Market Street. Malcolm describes this situation as a confrontation of “two contrasting worlds [that] meet physically on market street in form of black and white women” (Malcolm 1996: 85).

Dr Cox’ “long, cool gallery”, which is described on the following page, emphasizes this impression of the colonial foreignness and non-conformance. This place is a visual field as well. Rhys describes it in detail with typical colonial objects like the “mahogany table” and the “tigerskin rug” (Rhys 1976: 12). Remarkable is the detailed description of a picture called “Napoleon’s Retreatfrom Moscow”. It works as a symbol for the unsuccessful colonisation of Dominica and England’s fading colonial power over the island. Just like the British Empire, Napoleon conquered and ruled many countries. But in 1812, during the French invasion in Russia, he was forced to retire his troops (Goerlitz 1999: 75). The reason was, among other aspect, the hostile nature of the hibernal Russia shown at the picture in Dr Cox gallery. The nature of Dominica was destructive too. Besides the hot weather and the high humidity there were hurricanes and diseases that hindered life in the colonies (Angier 1990: 4). Dr Cox describes this hostile situation on page thirteen with the words: “Nothing lasts in this island. Nothing will come of it. You’ll see.” (Rhys 1976) But apparently not only had the British people struggled with this uncomfortable island. It seems that the French invaders had their problems too. A hint for this assumption is a place called “Twickenham” (Rhys 1976: 14). Its former name was “Malgré Tout” which means “in spite of everything”. That sounds like a kind of French stronghold in a hostile environment. But in the end the former owner seem to left it and it became the property of a British colonialist. Through these two elements, the painting in Cox’ gallery and Twickenham, Rhys stresses how helpless the French and British conquerors stood in the face of the island’s nature.

A further important element of the setting of “Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers” which emphasizes the decay of colonial power is the “Imperial Road” which is mentioned on page 13 the first time (Rhys 1976). There is no detailed description of the road in the text but it bases upon a real street with the same name that still exists on Dominica. The first part of this road was originally built by the French invaders. But after years of disregard it “reverted to forest” (Angier 1990: 5). Dr Cox describes the road conditions with the words: “And if you’re far along the road, you’ll have to cut the trees down, burn the stumps and start from the scratch.” (Rhys 1976: 14) Some lines below the mood there is described as lonely and melancholic. (Rhys 1976: 14) In 1899, the year where “Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers” is set (Rhys 1976: 11), Sir Henry Hasketh Bell became the colonial administrator of Dominica. He gave the assignment to rebuild the orphaned street. His goal was to simplify the cultivation of the British plantations (Savory 2009: 2). But Bell’s ambitious project came to grief and the road was never finished due to the lack of financial support from the parliament (Angier 1990: 5). In Rhys short-story the Imperial Road is probably supposed to be a symbol for the pretended strength and power of the British occupying force. It crosses the land like a big manacle and was originally supposed to crow over the nature of the island. But with knowledge about its history and its future the road becomes more an allegory for the decay of Great Britain’s imperial power over the island and Dominica’s liberation from heteronomous domination.


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A Setting Analysis of Jean Rhys’ "Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers"
http://www.uni-jena.de/  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Introduction to English/American Literary Studies II
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Jean Rhys, Pioneers, oh, colonialism
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Sebastian Flock (Author), 2013, A Setting Analysis of Jean Rhys’ "Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/346859


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