Gender and Colonial Space in the Writings of Jean Rhys and Katherine Mansfield
Colonialism, as a material, discursive and imaginative process was based on constructing colonized territories and native populations in rigid and specific ways. Colonized territories were depicted as lush, wild and hostile, the opposite or ‘other’ to the colonizing nation. A spatial binary of civilized and ordered metropoles contrasted with unruly and disorganized colonies, marginalized and subordinated the latter. Yet, colonialism’s attempts to organize and control differences often met opposition from those who existed in ambivalent spaces that didn’t fit colonial binaries. This paper explores the work of two such authors Jean Rhys and Katherine Mansfield and argues that their writings subvert and challenge colonial boundaries by depicting spaces as fluid and heterogeneous. As white women from the colonies (Caribbean and New Zealand respectively) Rhys and Mansfield occupied liminal positions, unable to fit within colonial binaries of white and native, they were marked as inferior due to their social background as well as gender. This gave them unique insight into the patriarchal colonial system and it’s arbitrary boundaries. Focusing on Rhys’ novels Wide Sargasso Sea and Voyage in the Dark and Mansfield’s short stories 'Prelude and At The Bay', this paper examines the blurring of colonized, native and metropolitan spaces in these works. Analyzing the authors’ depiction of natural spaces, this paper further argues that Rhys and Mansfield highlight instances of colonial insecurity and expose the shaky foundations of colonial knowledge. By eschewing the male, colonizing gaze Rhys and Mansfield depict spaces as contradictory and multidimensional and in this process break down colonial walls and boundaries.
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