Pioneers, oh pioneers

7 July 2016

The author Jean Rhys was born in 1890 and brought up in Roseau, Dominica (Rhys 1981: 10). Her father was Welsh and her mother Creole (Rhys 1981:6), so she grew up between two worlds. Savory underlines that this is manifested in her divided attitude towards cultural identities (1998: 35). Rhys was an author of novels, short stories and an autobiographical fragment which is called “Smile Please”. But not only this book is autobiographical. Jean Rhys had almost always some autobiographical aspects in her stories. To her friend David Plante, who later became the ghostwriter of her autobiography, she said:

“I can’t make things up, I can’t invent. I have no imagination. I can’t invent character. I don’t think I know what character is. I just write about what happened” (1983: 52). In “Pioneers, Oh Pioneers”, which was originally published under the name “Dear Darling Mr Ramage” in The Times and later became a part of the story collection “Sleep It Off Lady” (Rhys 1976), the reader will also find some autobiographical aspects. The female child protagonist Rosalie is “aged 9” (Rhys 1970: 12)1 and “her father is the local doctor” (Hooper 2005:122).

Pioneers, oh pioneers Essay Example

In 1899 Rhys was the same age and her father also had “decided to become a doctor” (Rhys 1981: 68). Malcolm and Malcolm point out that Ramage “is neither white nor black” just like Jean Rhys was. In her family she was the one with the palest skin (Rhys 1981). Do you consider yourself a West Indian? ” She shrugged. “It was such a long time ago when I left. ” “So you don’t think of yourself as a West Indian writer? ” Again, she shrugged, but said nothing. “What about English? Do you consider yourself an English writer? ” “No! I’m not! I’m not!

I’m not even English (Plante 1983:44). Jean Rhys seemed nowhere to be fit. To come to terms with this experiences, Rhys uses the character Mr Ramage in “Pioneer, Oh, Pioneers”. She adopts his eccentricity, but apart from that, she “gives him a rather different story” (Hooper 2005: 122). 1 All references from the short story are from: Rhys, Jean. “Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers. ” Sleep it Off Lady. London: Penguin Books, 1979, 11-21. 1 The following analysis will start with a short definition of the term setting and a closer investigation of the general setting in the short story.

Furthermore, this seminar paper is aimed to show the link between nature and the emotional state of the main character Mr Ramage. Besides, the main issue of the story, namely the cultural clash between the black and the white insulars, will be analyzed. 2. Setting ___________________________________________________________________________ To get a general understanding of the main topic of this seminar paper, namely the setting of the short story “Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers”, the definition of Michael J. Toolan is to be considered.

He points out that “We like, in our reading of narratives, to know where we are, and look for clear spatiotemporal indications of just where and when a thing happened. “ (1988: 102). In answer to the question of the point in time during which the action of the plot takes place, the reader finds out that “It was still the nineteenth century, November 1899” (11). According to Malcolm and Malcolm this date indicates the inability of Ramage to fit in the community of the island population. It symbolizes the situation of Ramage being caught between two cultures (1996: 85).

He is neither Creole, nor a proper English man, because he is trying more and more to disassociate himself from England, for example by marrying Isla. “Her given name, Isla, the Spanish for Island, may suggest that Ramage has embraced the island itself” (Hooper 2005: 124). The date 1899 also implies that the action occurs at the time of colonialism. To have an overview of the history of the society living there at that time, the reader may consider that the West Indies were discovered as a place where tobacco and sugar grew very well and one might earn money by planting there and shipping the goods apart.

For this reason thousands of people from Africa were departed to the West Indies to work there as slaves. Although in 1899 slavery was already abolished, racial segregation was still present. “[T]he majority of Dominica’s population is of African descent, mainly speaking French Creole and of the Catholic faith. ” (Savory 2009: 2) but the minority of white people, mostly from Europe, who believed in the Anglican Church, was still the dominating class. They urged the black people to adapt to their culture and rules (Smith 1974: 5-6).

Besides telling the reader that the story is set in the time of colonialism, the date fulfils another function. November 1899 is the turning point between two seasons, two years and two centuries. As Malcolm and Malcolm point out it “adds to the sense of uncertainty and displacement” (1996: 85). 2 The question of where the action takes place is more difficult to answer, but it will be discussed in the chapter “Dominica” of the seminar paper. Particular places of action are “Spanish Castle”, the “yellow- hot Market Street” (11), “the Imperial Road” (14ff) and Cox’s house.

In the following chapters, those places will be analyzed in more detail. 2. 1 Dominica ___________________________________________________________________________ Dominica plays an important role in the analysis of the setting, since it is probably the place where the entire plot takes place and it is furthermore the island that accommodates the most important houses such as Ramage’s Spanish Castle or Dr Cox’s house. “Dominica is part of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, in a strip of islands known as the West Indies.

It is situated between the French islands of Guadeloupe to the North and Martinique to the South. ” (Kamyab 2009: 3). Other islands of the Lesser Antilles are Barbados and Trinidad (Brockhaus Weltatlas 1993: 255). Before Ramage came to Dominica he “went to Barbados […]”(19), on Trinidad he marries Isla Harrington and at the end his wife is said to have stayed with relatives from Guadeloupe. As all these islands are directly mentioned, the reader can conclude that the location where the action takes place is a Caribbean island as well.

Savory points out that Rosalie and Irene are “clearly in Roseau, Dominica in 1899” (2009:100). One fact which proves that Savory’s statement is very likely to be true is the reoccurring motive of the “Imperial Road”. “Along this new Imperial Road” (13) Ramage looks for a place to live. He finds his new home, a mansion called “Spanish Castle”. Another fact that may lead to the impression that Dominica is the place where the action takes place, is the “West Indian newspaper” (Rhys 1976: 12) which is mentioned in “Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers”: “the Dominica Herald and Leeward Islands Gazette”.

First of all, the newspaper is named after Dominica, therefore the reader may conclude that this is the place where the story occurs. Furthermore, an article published in this fictional newspaper mentions the Imperial Road and defines its idea as made “to attract young Englishmen with capital who would buy and develop properties in the interior” (19). The real Imperial Road had a similar concept. The administrator of Dominica at the period from 1899 to 1905, Henry Hesketh Bell, developed the idea of this concept.

Bell was a fine publicist and attracted a number of new venturers on Crown Lands opened up by the Imperial Road, thirty on his own estimation, who 3 together had invested about ? 40,000 by the end of 1904 (Bell Papers (12. x. 1904)). In September 1900, while on leave in London, Bell wrote a long letter to The Times under the title “Planting in Dominica,” extolling the virtues of the island and seeking young men. He received many replies, three planters returning with him to Dominica later that year (Hulme 2000:29). 2.

2 Dr Cox’s house ___________________________________________________________________________ The house of the Cox family is described as one room which is: “[…] full of rockingchairs, a mahogany table, palm leafs fans, a tigerskin rug, family photographs, views of Bettws-y-Coed and a large picture of wounded soldiers in the snow, Napoleon’s Retreat from Moscow” (Rhys 1979: 12). Furthermore, the fact that the two girls had to “go upstairs to bed” (13) leads to the conclusion that this house is not a simple one in the Caribbean.

The financial situation of the Cox’s is never directly mentioned in the text, but looking at the fact that they life in a house where, for example, timber-made chairs, belong to the furniture, the reader can come to the conclusion that the Cox’s are a family that is well off. Here Rhys uses the setting to promote an “indirect characterization” (Toolan 1988: 104). To give some information about Dr Cox’s character, a description of his desktop is used. “The Times weekly edition, the Cornhill Magazine, the Lancet and a West Indian newspaper, the Dominican Herald and Leeward Islands Gazette”(12), are to be found there.

This indicates that Dr Cox is a man of vast reading and therefore well-educated. Objects like this “handled or otherwise encountered by the characters” (Chatman 1993: 63) are called props. Other props are two pictures. The first one is a picture of Bettws-y-Coed, this tells the reader that the Cox’s have a British origin (http://www. betws-y-coed. com 2013). The second one with the historical Napoleonic background, implies that they are a family which is interested in culture and history. The house of the Cox family is situated near the centre of the city, close to the Market Street, which is part of Irene’s and Rosalie’s way back home (11).

The description of Dr Cox “sitting in an armchair with a three- legged table by his side. On the table there were his pipe[…]. Also a Times weekly edition […]. He was not to be spoken to […]” (12) has also a biographical aspect. The place where Rhys’s father used to sit is described in a similar way: […] a round table with a green- shaded reading lamp, the latest Times weekly edition a fortnight old, his pipe rack, and a large armchair where he sat reading and we weren’t allowed to disturb him or speak to him (Rhys 1981: 68 f. ). 4 2. 3 Ramage’s house

___________________________________________________________________________ Ramage’s home is the place where the function of the setting, namely to underline the character traits, is most recognizable. Rhys focuses on “male exploitation of women, on women’s resistance to and collusion with that exploitation, on marginalizes exiled figures from the Third world, on class antagonisms and conflicts” (Malcolm & Malcolm 1996: 11). But in “Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers” the protagonist is a “male […] outsider” (Malcolm & Malcolm 1996: 82). The character Ramage is also not completely invented. The real Ramage was a well-known figure in Dominica.

[…] His attempt to dig a hole to reach China stands in parody of Chamberlain and Bell’s modernizing efforts: much digging to no ultimate purpose, and with moral laxity, madness, and death […]. (Hulme 2000: 10) The main intention of the fictional Ramage in “Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers” is to find peace: “’Peace, that’s what I am after. ’” (14) but the only way to find it is: “ ‘to pay for it’ […] ‘You’ll be very much alone. ’” (14). But this does not bother Ramage much. He prefers being alone and is considered to be “very unsociable” (12). He does not follow any “invitations to dances, tennis parties and moonlight picnics” (12f).

Furthermore he does not seem to be interested in religion very much, for he never goes to church (13). The setting of the Imperial Road underlines this antisocial attitude. Only made “to attract young Englishmen” the Imperial Road is a very isolated place to live at. The closes neighbor of Ramage is the owner of Twickenham, Mr Eliot (14). In the beginning, Ramage appeals to the inhabitants of Dominica, whether they are black or white. He is “followed about by an admiring crowd of little Negro boys” (12) and regarded as “a gentleman” (12) by Miss Lambton. “Ramage appears made to fit in.

” (Malcolm & Malcolm 1996: 88). It is conspicuous that Rhys uses the setting to create a link between the outward appearance of Ramage and the one of his house, the “Spanish Castle”. At the beginning of the story, Ramage is described as a man that is “a king among men when it came to looks “(12), wearing his “tropical kit, white suit, red cummerbund, solar topee” (12). His eventual home, the Spanish Castle, is said to be “beautiful but not prosperous” (14). As the story continues, things change. Ramage is now “burnt a deep brown, his hair fell to his shoulders, his beard to his chest. ” (16).

With only “wearing sandals a leather belt, on one side which hung a cutlass, on the other a large pouch. ” (16), he attracts the attention of the other inhabitants of the island. 5 Spanish castle is now “unkempt deserted […]. The grass on the lawn had grown very high and the verandah hadn’t been swept for days” (17). Rhys uses the setting to underline the change in Ramage’s life. He doesn’t care about how he looks like anymore and seems desperate, because he seems to be unable to catch up with the society on the island. He simply wants to find peace. He isolates himself from the island population and tries to go native, but fails.

“Ramage’s public appearance as naked, with long hair and deep brown skin, seems to indicate a serious, if flawed, attempt to go native. Ramage looks – with the exception of the beard – just like depictions of the real natives of Dominica” (Hooper 2005: 125). Ramage may try to leave his British origin behind and to identify himself as a fixed part of the island. His whole struggle with trying to live a quiet life is reflected in the appearance of his estate. By marrying Isla, Ramage splits himself off from the English society and puts down roots on Dominica. But the people who live

on the island do not except this marriage. He is said to be “lost to white society” (15) now. Resulting from his interracial marriage, the island population assume that he rejects the idea of the natural superiority of the British race (Wende 2012: 229). When Mrs Ramage disappears, rumors are spread that Ramage might have killed her. An article published in the Gazette calls him a “beastly murder[er]” (19). Toolan points out that there is a causal or analogical relation between the setting on the one hand and characters and events on the other hand (1988: 104).

Dr Cox, who seems to be the only friend of Ramage, is not able to see the danger signals. When he visits his friend, the last time before Ramage kills himself, he gives the impression to be okay. The “‘nasty beastly horrible Ramage. ’”(11) was now “wearing one of his linen suits, clean and pressed, and his hair and beard were trimmed. ” (17). He says that he feels “splendid” (17) but his garden tells the truth. Here the setting, in this case the garden, gives some information about the feelings of the male main protagonist. As already mentioned above, the garden is “unkempt and deserted […].

The grass on the lawn had grown very high and the verandah hadn’t been swept for days. ” (17). Deep inside he also feels “unkempt and deserted” (17) because the people throw stones at his house (18), think that he killed his wife (19) and do not accept his new way of dressing (16) and his marriage with Isla (15). That “‘the servants have all walked out’” (17) shows that everyone left Ramage and he is all alone now, as Dr Cox predicted it before. Although he said at the beginning that he had no problem with being alone (14), he is hapless now.

Nobody seems to understand him and therefore he is not able to find the only thing he was after: “Peace” (14). Neither fitting into black nor white society, Ramage decides to commit suicide. On the day of his funeral “it was lovely weather” (21). Here the weather denotes that Ramage has finally realized his dream. 6 2. 4 Comparison Imperial Road and Market Street ___________________________________________________________________________ The comparison of the Imperial Road and the Market Street is used to clarify the function of the setting to underline the racial segregation.

“’In Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers,’”the two contrasting worlds meet physically on Market Street in the form of black and white women there” (Malcolm & Malcolm 1996: 85). Rhys illustrates the complex hierarchy of race and class (Davis 2005) in her short story. She does this by using the setting. Like Davis points out, on Market Street “the black women were barefooted, wore gaily striped turbans and highwaisted dresses” (Rhys 1976: 11), while Afro-French Madame Menzies maintained the dignity of her old-fashioned riding habit, and British Mr.

Ramage lived out an imperialist fantasy in his “tropical kit, white suit, red cummerbund, solar topee” (12). These different perspectives are linked through the consciousness of the young protagonist who rejects the reductive, hegemonic vision of colonial society (Davis 2005). When Ramage arrives on the island, he is looking for an estate and he tells Dr Cox that he “was told that there were several places going along this new Imperial Road […]” (13). But Dr Cox is not convinced of this plan. “‘Won’t last. ’” (13), he says. But Ramage still decides to buy an estate located at this lonely road.

He acquires Spanish Castle, “one of the older properties” (14). The nearest estate is the one of Mr Eliot. It was used to be called “Malgre Tout”, but now it is called “Twickenham” (14) after a London suburb. Wende points out that this renaming represents the British sovereignty (2012: 227). In contrast to the young men, like “young Errington, […] young Kellaway, who had bought estates along the Imperial Road and worked hard […]” (14) but failed and had to sell their land after only a few time had passed, Ramage does not want to gain prosperity. The only thing he wants to find is peace (14).

In one way this can be interpreted as a “desired escape from Britain” (Hooper 2005: 124). The loud and crowded Market Street corresponds to the lonely Imperial Road. The Imperial Road seems to be a place built up by white people to separate themselves from the black society. It is a place where people who want to live in another country, but do not want to integrate, live. They rather want to stay among people of the same origin. This is to be noticed by the fact that there are no black people to be found on the Imperial Road. Only rich white people live there.

The Market Street is the place where black as well as white people meet. As already mentioned above: “[T]he few white women […] carried parasols. The black women were barefoot, wore gaily striped turbans and highwaisted dresses. ”(11) Though they are humans, all people Rosalie watches on Market Street are only part of the setting (as well as 7 the admiring negro crowd). They are used to underline the contrast between black and white on the island, and are not important as characters for the story. They are only props, as Chatman defines (1993: 63). The white women do not seem to enjoy the weather.

Their appearance is much darker than the one of the black women, who express much more joy with their bright clothes. Not only that the black women are barefooted, but Mrs Menzies also passes by riding, she is therefore in the physical position to look down on other people. This underlines the clear distance between the colonialists and the people who are colonialized. Even though slavery was abolished by this time, hierarchical structures were still present (Wende 2012: 237). In “Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers” the white society seems to be very hostile to acts or people who do not fit in their idea of life.

Not only the Market Street shows the racial segregation, but also the description of the two cemeteries. On the one hand, there is “the Catholic cemetery, where all day the candles burnt almost invisible in the sunlight. When night came they twinkled like fireflies. The graves were covered with flowers- some real, some red of yellow paper or little gold cut-outs. ” (21). This cemetery is the one where mostly black people were buried. Just like their clothes, their cemetery is described in a more colorful way. Whereas “the Anglican cemetery, which was not very far away, down the hill, was deserted and silent.

” (21). Just like the people, the cemeteries have some point where they seem to be alike, for they both are places where people are buried, but they have significant differences. When referring to the people this could be interpreted as the black people are more kindly (bright) and the white are more dismissive (grey). 3. Conclusion ___________________________________________________________________________ An impoverished stranger comes from off the island, usually from ‘home’, and courts and marries a local woman who, in narrative terms, is seen to represent the island itself.

That story is fundamental to Rhys’s work. […] It is the story of Mr. Ramage, in “Pioneers, Oh Pioneers. ” And, crucially, it is the story of Rhys herself […] (Hulme 2000: 20). In Jean Rhys’s short story the setting fulfills several functions. One the one hand, it is used to determine the place where the action takes place. As already mentioned above, the place where the entire plot takes place and where the houses which are directly mentioned, such as Ramage’s Spanish Castle or Dr Cox’s house, are to be found, is Dominica. On the other hand, the setting is used to characterize acting people in an indirec way.

For example, it is never said that the Cox family is a rich one. Only the description of one room in their house with chairs made of timber and a tigerskin rug leads the reader to the conclusion that they are a family which is well off. Furthermore, the setting tells the reader important character traits of 8 Dr Cox. The description of his desktop with a lot of newspapers implies that he is intelligent and a prestigious man. Another function of the setting in “Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers” is to point out the racial segregation, that was still present on Dominica in 1899.

Although the differences were never mentioned explicitly, it becomes clear that there is a huge discrepancy between black and white people, as the setting implies. For example, when Ramage marries Isla, he is “lost to white society” (15). In their eyes, the way Ramage lives does not match their ideas of a hierarchy everyone has to stick to. They want a clear separation of colonialists and the people who are colonialized. As Malcolm and Malcolm point out “Pioneers, Oh, Pioneer”, deals with the cultural clash between those two groups (1996: 83).

The white people outrank the black islanders. This is also to be seen in the scene on the “yellow-hot Market Street” (11), as the reader already got to know. The white women Mrs Menzies does not only feel like she is in a higher position, she actually really is, because she rides past the black people on her horse. Furthermore Malcolm and Malcolm emphasize that even the date emphasizes the clash. Peter Hulme sees in Jean Rhys’s short story ‘Pioneers, Oh Pioneers’ not only a foreshadowing of the life of the inexperienced settler, but a critique of precisely the sorts of

imperial road-building ambitions that were promoted by politicians and administrators such as Chamberlain and Hesketh Bell (Hooper 2005: 9). 9 4. Bibliography Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Orlando: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. , 1988. Chatman, Seymour. Reading Narrative Fiction. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1993. David Plante. Difficult Women: A Memoir of Three. 1983. Hooper, Glenn (Ed? ). Landscape and Empire. Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2005. Hulme, Peter. “Islands and Roads: Hesketh Bell, Jean Rhys and Dominica’s Imperial Road.

” The Jean Rhys Review 11:2 (2000), 23-51. Malcolm, Cheryl Alexander & Malcolm, David. Jean Rhys: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996. Rhys, Jean. “Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers. ” Sleep It Off Lady. London: Penguin Books, 1979, 1121. Rhys, Jean. Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography. London: Penguin Books, 1981. Savory, Elaine. The Cambridge Introduction to Jean Rhys. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Smith, Michael Garfield. The Plural Society in the British West Indies. London: University of California Press, 1974.

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