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I Used to Live Here Once by Jean Rhys – Analysis Essay

To what lengths will someone ever remember their home and recognize the things they’ve once known? Stories have been used throughout the ages to not only create a tale that can cause to the reader great imagination and wonders, it is also common for them to hide several meanings and twists to the adventure. Through the portraits of her life, and the perils of her adventures, Jean Rhys’ has incorporated many of the paths of her life into the illustrations she had developed into short stories.

These representation of her original life represent the strong and key points of her journey where she had felt abundances of emotions; many of which were transcribed into very short tales such as ‘I Use To Live Here Once’ where you may notice the precision on the details, the excess of description on the author’s view and imagination, as well as the direct correlation with herself. The following story entitled as mentioned, tells the tale of a woman returning back to a distant memory, and finds two mysterious figures that will enlighten her truth.

Further opinions will be referred to as a base to the literal analysis of the story, in order to understand the feelings of the author. Jean Rhys’ includes a particular genre and writing style in this short story that is built around her personality, the author’s use of the ending helps to symbolize the connection with her life whilst using specific types of imagery and juxtaposition throughout the story.

The story debuts on a quite simple scale with one description leading to another where each receive a thorough scan, to which we may notice several types of similes and metaphors used in order to express the themes and tones of the short story. The gradual increase of the ‘truth’ hidden at the end of the story can be understood as you proceed the reading through the use of these writing techniques; these reverses of ‘meaning’ give away odd particularities throughout the whole story: “She stopped and looked towards the house that had been added to and painted white. It was strange to see a car standing in front of it. (The New Windmill Book, 1994).

In this passage we understand that the main character is familiar with the house to begin with and have noticed several changes, this sets a doubt to the reader where the question is raised on what is the relation between the main character and this house. There have been some interference in her writing due to personal problems work as considered by Castro (2000), these interruptions have caused Jean Rhys’ novels to be highly influenced by her perils, she had reached a period of hiatus in her writing life due to alcoholism and financial status.

The story ‘I Used To Live Here Once’ has been written shortly after the author had gone back to Dominica to revisit her home to only find it burnt down and different to what she had once known. Being the only visit she had made back to her hometown, this has affected Jean Rhys’ view of her origin and roots. We understand throughout the story many of the correlation of the story with her life, as in one part where she describes the stepping-stones that the character in the story needed to step on to cross the river (The New Windmill Book, 1994, p. 57).

By identifying her events and the ones in the story, we can create a relation between these stones and the several encounters with men that the author had. More relation can be made on the similarities between the main character of the story and Jean Rhys herself, such as the feeling of nostalgia shown throughout the entire narrative, especially when the woman in the story is describing the house and children by the tree. In one piece in the story, the heroin had characterized the sky as “Glassy”.

We may confirm that there are some strong emphasis on this particular part of the story as the description of the sky given by the author releases information on the characters being in between two separate worlds (Brady, 2009); the implications stated behind that gap is her eventual situation as a ghost. Whilst the identification began when the explanation on the magnificent blue day was made, there is a notice on the exaggeration and contradictions between what the women in the story felt as it was immediately followed by the unusual illustration of the sky.

Moreover, when identifying the nature of the other descriptions made in the story, this confirms the confrontation with the ‘glassy’ comment of the sky. This interpretation showed very strong emotions released by Jean Rhys as it may reflect some feelings of transparency and a lack of presence to the heroin even though she feels being physically present. Considering her involvement in the tale, many features in the story give up nformation on how does the story reflect on the personality of the author. For instance, by looking at the way she had described the environment surrounding the heroin in this story, we can connect through this some of the descriptions, which are majorly contained of effects of degradation and undetected figures, which have been noticed by the main character.

These are several hints in connection to some of the traumas Jean Rhys had experienced in her life, as said by author Maren Linett (2005) “consider Rhys’s exploration of the dark subject of/in female masochism – not, as has been argued by some critics, as an individual psychological kink from which Rhys suffered…” these traumas has therefore raise more questions on Jean Rhys’ writing influence. Furthermore, her incorporation of the two kids in front of the house shows a lot on what and how the author thinks.

As stated by herself in the biography, she finds the color black warm and gay whereas she finds the color white cold and sad (The New Windmill Book, 1994, p. 156) considering that she had lived in Dominica and that this story is taking place there, we can identify some forms of irony as she observes and desribes the skin of the children (Brady, 2009) as most of the Europeans who had been born in there had similar skin. Whilst reading the story once, the ending of the story generates a shock to the reader.

There is some is some sort of a build up in this narrative, from one description to another, the descriptions that the woman makes creates images to which can imply on beauty of the day. This implies to the lecturer to reconsider the whole journey that the author had used to create symbolisms with her life. Considering the involvement of Jean Rhys’ life in the story, her point of view is revealed through the use of symbolism, to which readers can interpret the types of feelings that she is having in addition to the ones of the character in the story.

From this, the sudden appearance of her death helps the reader understand the different implications of what the heroin felt, thus relaying to the connection with Jean Rhys life. As said by Myranda Grencinger (2012) the use of symbolism in this tale allows the emphasis on the ending, which had transported the theme of the narrative to the eyes of the reader; in addition, it had not only showed but also set the tone of the story.

All in all, considering the author’s use of her writing style and techniques, genre and personality, we may conclude that the short story “I Used To Live Here Once” holds many secrets upon the feelings of the character. She had succeeded to include her particular techniques so that the reader can attempt to understand and reevaluate their view on a story. Whilst using specific types of imagery and juxtaposition throughout the story, Jean Rhys has been able to symbolize the connections with her life, thus showing more to the reader of the correlation between the woman and the author.

However, none of these writings would create much sense and order to the story without the use of the ending revealing the true nature of the tale. Therefore, many understandings can be made on the life of the author through reading this narrative – but to which extent can an author always create portraits of their life in stories, and how clear these can be understand will eventually depend on the imagination, styles and adventures of writers such as Jean Rhys.


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