CRL James’ Minty Alley and Herbert G. Delisser’s Janes’ Career both illustrates the realities that women are confronting in the society. In his novel, CRL James demonstrated this women condition not only by the women characters in the novel but also by the male character who exhibited the macho image which relegating women as sexual object. This was particularly exemplified by the characters of couple Mr. Benoit and Mrs. Rouse.
Commenting on the novel regarding the couple’s relationship, Selwyn Reginald Cudjoe and William Cain, stated, “All except Maise interpret Benoit’s treatment of Mrs. Rouse as deamining, devaluing, and threatening in a very personal way” (p. 74) In Herbert Delisser’s Janes’ Career on the other hand, Delisser depicts the women’s condition in Jamaica through the character of a young woman named Jane who became a domestic servant in Kingston. Delisser noted that women were deprived of their right to have a better life than what they were actually experiencing in which they were reduced to domestic servitudes. The two novels depict the social ills that women suffer during the particular period they were written.
Apparently, the writers were aware of the struggles that feminism were trying to let the society understands to justify their quest for equality in rights and in justice. Definition of Feminism in relation to the character in both novels Feminism during its heyday talks about women’s equality, that is, women’s demand for equal rights to pay, to work, the right to chose things such as: abortion, to choose sexuality or to choose what to wear. In short, feminism was about women’s quest of equality with men. But in deeper analysis feminism is more than just a quest for equality with men.
Feminism is a social struggle against racism on the basis of gender and sex. In CRL James’ novel the female characters had been particularly made stimulating by the character of Mr. Benoit who was described by Cudjoe and Cain as a “sensualist, a man of strong physical appetites” (p. 73). The narrator of the novel described him as “rather big man with a slight punch…. ” He is further described as “undistinguished-looking neither handsome nor ugly” (p. 30) and his age is between thirty-five to fifty years old. Mr. Benoit’s view of women as sex object is evident in his own statement to Mr.
Haynes. In his conversation with him, Mr. Benoit said “You have a nice, fat cook, man. The first day she come here to ask about the room I like her, though I didn’t know who she was. Mrs. Rouse tell me you say she does everything for you, and you wouldn’t let her go…. Any way guard your property. I am girls like you know. If she falls in my garden I wouldn’t have to lock the gate to keep her in” (p. 31). Indeed a considerable portion has reserved by the author to tell of Mr. Benoit’s maniacal appetite for women, despite that he is lawfully married to Mrs. Rouse for eighteen years.
He sees women as object of his desires. Cudjoe and Cain pointed out that in their eighteen years of marriage, Mrs. Rouse “worked at her bakery business to support the household while Benoit’s contribution to the general upkeep has been negligible. Mostly, he dresses up. Eats his nuts, and brags about his sexual appeal” (p. 73). The macho image being projected by Benoit defines his concept of women as merely sex objects. Here gender discrimination is very evident and it is reflected by Benoit’s attitude to his wife as well as to women character in the novel.
Philip Herbst aptly explained the devaluing implication of the notion of women as sex object. Citing Germaine Greer, Philip wrote, “The sexual object sought by all men, and by all women. She is of neither sex, for she has no sex at all. Her value is solely attested by the demand she excites in others, all she contribute is her existence (Herbst, p 95). Feminism then is both the exploitation and characterization of women in the novel as sexual object of men’s desire. For Benoit the value of women is in her sexuality. He objectified women for the sake of his own desire. This kind of objectification according to Ann E.
Cudd “involves taking of women to have a nature that suits them to be objects for the sexual pleasure of men, to fulfill men’s desires rather than to seek to know and fulfill their own, or as if their desires can be manipulated by coercive offers of promotions and the like, they are objectified” (p. 165). On the other hand, De Lisser defined feminism in his novel as the socio-economic struggle that women faces in Jamaica. Diane Austin-Broos cited that De Lisser was a leading advocate for Jamaica’s banana industry. He was among the Jamaica’s conservatives, a politically prominent spokesman for the planter class.
In his novel, he criticizes the social condition of the society. He states, “It will be apparent that if out of a population of less than nine hundred thousand …the number of domestics is forty thousand, almost everybody who has the slightest pretentions to be considered anybody employs a servant. In fact you are not respectable if you have not a servant” This comment was triggered by his observation that despite the increase in job opportunities, most of these jobs are unfit for women and they are forced to work in the field along side with boys and men.
De Lisser puts it, “In some parts of the island, field work is almost the only form of employment open to women. But most of the girls dislike it, and public sentiment revolts at the idea of girls of tender age working along with boys and men…. The aim and ambition of every decent country woman, therefore is to secure for girls good places as domestic servants (1913, 100). Here, de Lisser seemed to criticize the society for its tolerance of this social injustice on women. He sees the exploitation of young women by the middle and upper classes.
De Lisser pointed out that young women had to choose between two equally unpleasant jobs either in the field or in the homes of the middle and upper classes. He stated, “More often than not, they sleep on a bundle of rags on the floor; but this they take to be no hard ship. They are fed coarse food: rice, yams, sweet potatoes, bread, saltfish and split peas…with meat very occasionally…” (1913, 100). Feminism in the context of De Lisser’s point of view has to do with the social injustice that women suffer in Jamaica.
They suffer deprivation of opportunities, exploitation, and gender discrimination with regard to access to education, resources, and decision-making power in private and public life. Indeed Jamaican women faces acute problem of inequality in many aspect of their lives. An internet article entitled “Socio-Cultural factors” described Jamaican women to be submissive to men’s domain. According to the article, the gender role prescribed for women in Jamaica has been a submissive role, passivity in sexual relations, and ignorance about sex (Socio-Cultural Factor, p.
4). The article noted that masculinity obliges men to be dominating and knowledgeable. Women were subjected in various inhuman traditions and rituals that degrade women’s dignity and honor (par. 4). During the time of De Lisser, he saw feminism as a struggle not only against poverty but also against the society’s tolerance of the existing injustice and inequality. Jane’s character depicts the struggles of Jamaican women to escape from the bondage of servitude, to escape from the bondage of poverty, and to escape from ignorance due to lack of education.
This was clearly manifested in the opening statement, “The thought of earning a shilling a day- six shilling a week …filled the heart of Jane with inexpressible joy” (1900,1). Here was an expression of excitement because of the potential opportunity for improvement and freedom. The character of the young women depicts that women in general wishing for freedom than to be employed in domestic servitude no matter how kind was the employer. Although freedom in this context meant freedom from domestic servitude, De Lisser defined feminism as the women struggle to gain freedom in general.
From the conversation, the young women implies the true feminist concerns which are freedom from irresponsible husband, freedom from oppression, freedom from exploitation, and freedom to become the person they want to be. While the two authors were able to clearly define feminism based on how they reflect on the current trend of the society during their own time, yet they presented different context of defining feminism. CRL James defines feminism in the context of sexual objectification viewing women as object of desires.
James also saw masculinity and macho image as means of imposing men’s dominion on women and to exploit gender in favor of the male kind. H. De Lisser for his part saw feminism in Jane’s character as a young woman whose quest for freedom led her to escape from her master. This was also shared by other young women whose convictions were to work hard as a free individual. That is, their situation was their own choosing and they are free to do what they wished to do. The struggle for freedom was one of the key issues in the feminist struggle during their heyday.
Work Cited Primary Sources De L:isser, Herbert G. Jane’s Career: A Story of Jamaica Kingston: The Gleaner Company, 1913 James, Cyril Lionel Roberts Minty Alley USA: University Press of Mississippi, 1997 Secondary Sources Cudd, Ann E. Analyzing Oppression New York: Oxford University Press, 2006 Cudjoe, Selwyn Reginald & Cain, William E. CLR James USA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995. Herbst, Philip Wimmin, Wimps, & Wallflowers USA: Intercultural Press, 2001 Socio-Cultural Factors http://www. icaso. org/publications/gender_EN_3. pdf
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