I Used to Live Here Once by Jean Rhys
In I Used to Live Here Once by Jean Rhys we have the theme of struggle, connection, freedom, change, acceptance and loneliness. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Rhys may be exploring the theme of struggle. As the narrator is describing the stepping stones that the woman once walked across Rhys appears to be using each stone to suggest that at times the woman has struggled to get from one side of the river to the other. Symbolically Rhys could be using the river. In particular the water to suggest that in life the woman has also struggled. She has had both good times and bad times. Though it is interesting that the woman does successfully manage to navigate her way across the river. This could be important as Rhys may be suggesting that the struggles that the woman encountered no longer hinder her. She is free. The fact that the road is also wider could be important as Rhys could be highlighting the fact that there have been changes in the woman’s life.
The fact that the woman is in constant movement till she reaches her old home may also have some significance. Rhys could be using the woman’s constant movement to highlight how important it is for an individual to keep moving forward. Though the reality may be that the woman’s destination is most likely the after-life. Something that becomes clearer to the reader by the fact that despite calling out to the two children the woman is not heard or seen by the children. Which adds an element of loneliness to the story. It may also be a case that Rhys is highlighting the fact that the transition from the real world to the after-life can be a lonely journey. Just as the woman may have once struggled on the stepping stones when she was younger. Now in death she may also face a struggle making the transition from the real world to the after-life. It is also possible that the woman is attempting to make an impossible connection with the children. Impossible because she is dead and they cannot see her.
It may also be a case that the woman does not know (till the end of the story) that she is dead. There are no signs that she can pick up on. Yet the reader can. It is as though the woman is journeying through a part of her life that was once familiar to her. Possibly when she was younger. To further emphasis the fact that the woman is dead Rhys introduces coldness into the story. As the woman approaches the children. They begin to feel cold. Often in literature to highlight that a spirit may be in a particular environment a writer will introduce a sense of coldness. Rhys is no different. It is also possible that by calling out to the children that the woman is not yet ready to pass on through to the after-life. Which would suggest that the woman is not prepared to accept she is dead. This could be important as Rhys could be highlighting the difficulties that some might face when moving from the real world to the after-life. It may not necessarily be a smooth transition for some people. With the desire to live being stronger than the pull of the after-life. However inevitably everybody must move from the real world to the after-life. Whether they accept it or not.
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader suspects that the woman when she sees the children run into the house becomes to realise that she is dead. The fact that the woman’s arms also fall by her side may have some symbolic significance as she may feel defeated. This feeling of defeat may also be the woman’s first acceptance of the fact that she is dead. No matter how unpleasant this may be to the woman. If anything along with the fact that the woman is forced to accept that she is dead comes an element of sadness and loneliness. The woman is unable to make the connection she would like with the children and the reader suspects with others. She is on a different path. A path that may be lonelier than the woman could have ever imagined. Which may be the point that Rhys is attempting to make. It is possible that she is suggesting that with death comes the unknown. There is no template for an individual to work from. Apart from a disconnection from the world that the individual once knew. Whereas some critics might suggest that the transition from the real world to the after-life is a smooth transition. This is not necessarily the case for the woman. Part of her may still wish to be able to connect with others. To live as others are living.