Every Woman Is A Novel :A Jest Of God Essay, Research Paper
Rachel often addresses her thoughts to God. How does she imagine Him (Her
or It)? Does Rachel’s concept of God change during the course of the
Rachel Cameron, the heroine of "A Jest of God", is not simply as an
individual literary character but as a psychological portrayal of women
of Rachel’s time and inclination. Even we can easily find someone who has
the same problem Rachel has in the friends of us, or maybe in an early
morning when we get up; stand at front of the mirror; we will suddenly
have a idea, "I am Rachel too."
She has a common Cameron heritage. She is a gawky, introverted spinster
schoolteacher who has returned home to Manawaka from university in
Winnipeg, upon the death of her alcoholic undertaker father Niall
Cameron, to care for her hypochondriac mother May. Nevertheless, the
family resemblance is obvious: their shared Scots Presbyterian ancestry,
which Laurence views as distinctively Canadian, provides an armour of
pride that imprisons her within their internal worlds, while providing a
defence against the external world. To overcome that barrier between
personalities, she must learn to understand and accept their heritage in
order to liberate her own identities and free herself for the future. She
must also learn to love herself before she can love others. Rachel
receive a sentimental education through a brief love affair: as a result
of learning to empathize with their lovers, she learn to love herself and
the people she lives with. Laurence’s emphasis is, as always, on the
importance of love in the sense of compassion, as each of her solipsistic
protagonists develops from claustrophobia to community.
The beginning of "A Jest of God" extends beyond its Canadian perimeters
in Rachel’s branching imagination, both into the fairytale dream world
which gives depth and pathos to the disappointment and despair of her
present and out into a wider world in time and space than the grey little
town of Manawaka. The first lines of the novel tell us everything basic
to Rachel’s mind, her temperament, and her situation.
The wind blows low, the wind blows high
The snow comes falling from the sky,
Rachel Cameron says she’ll die
For the want of the golden city.
She is handsome, she is pretty,
She is the queen of the golden city.
They are not actually chanting my name, of course, I only hear it that
way from where I am watching the classroom window, because I remember
myself skipping rope to that song when I was about the age of the little
girls out there now. Twenty-seven years ago… (p. 1)
The reader is engaged in sympathy with Rachel by the sadness of the gap
between her dream-self, "Queen of the Golden City," and her reality, shut
in behind her classroom window, looking out and worrying about becoming
an eccentric spinster, that stereotyped butt of cruel laughter. But we
are also engaged by the range and the quality of Rachel’s imagination –
and it is this, continuing through the book, that holds our sympathy, our
interest, and our increasing respect. The golden city is at first the
dream world of Rachel’s sexual fantasies where she and her prince live
happily ever after; later in the novel it becomes identified with the
golden city of Jerusalem reinterpreted as the growth of the spirit within
the individual, a new dispensation which makes it possible for her to go
on liveing, if not happily ever after, at least affirmatively.
Rachel makes a double journey. She is just thirty-four, a frustrated
spinster, outwardly in bondage to her marcelled, blue-rinsed, anxious,
and superficial mother, but actually in bondage was braking of proper
appearances as set up in her own mind by Manawaka and its expectations.
She is afraid of life and death hangs over her always, especially
symbolized by her dead father’s vocation, undertaking, and by the
presence underneath her home of the undertaking establishment that had
been her father’s. She makes a journey into her own mind and personality,
and finally she dares to act upon what she finds there. "A Jest of God"
is a record of a tortured but unremittingly honest journey of
self-analysis and self-therapy. (George Bowering, "That Fool of a Fear")
It is both complicated and daring, in terms of the novelist’s techniques.
The present, the past, the questionings and fantasies of Rachel are all
woven together instead of being completely separated and counterpointed
as in the former work. All the strands come together in the aftermath of
her affair with Nick Kazlik. Rachel is symbolically biblical in her
"mourning for her children," the children she has never had. Nick is real
to Rachel as a lover, and yet she needs him more urgently as a fther for
her children than as a lover. She cannot understand the depth of Nick’s
own problem as the son of a Ukranian immigrant and as the child who
cannot do for his parents what Steve, his dead brother, would have done
(Class Notes). Steve would have preserved the land that Nestor Kazlik
loved and would have given himself to it; Nick cannot.
If we try to compare "A Jest of God" with the Bible, there are lots of
interesting things we can find. Just as Rachel is associated with
Jerusalem and the golden city, so Nick is identified with the prince of
romance and with the Israelites. ("a hidden Caucasion face, one of the
hawkish and long-ago riders of the Steppes." Characteristically, his
first kiss is absorbed back into her fantasy world; "It’s unreal, anyway.
If it isn’t happening, one might as well do what one wants." Yet this
encounter does function as the prince’s kiss of fairy tale and Rachel’s
affair with Nick marks the beginning of her transition to the real
world.) Describing his family he states explicitly; "I have forsaken my
house — I have left mine heritage — mine heritage is unto me as a lion
in the forest — it crieth out against me — therefore have I hated it’.
Because a Jacob-Esau relationship is implied to exist between Nick and
his dead brother and because Rachel’s speech, "If I had a child I would
like it to be yours," is immediately followed by the words of Rachel of
Genesis:"Give me my children," Nick is identified as a Jacob figure.
Ironically, however, the character of Nick is dual in aspect; he is both
the bringer of gifts that his name implies (St. Nicholas) but also one of
the devil’s party (Class Notes). Identified with the shadow prince of
Rachel’s dreams, he carries with him an inheritance of death and so cannot
make a covenant of the spirit with Rachel.
Nick understands Rachel better than she understands him. When he says,
"I’m not God, I cannot solve anything," and produces the photo graph of
a young boy. This particular detail, together with Nick’s indictment of
his father: "It’s this fantastic way he has, of creating the world in
his own image," and Rachel’s concurrent relization: "Have I finished
with facades?" all strongly suggest the thematic that Rachel does
finish with her false self to go on as an authentic person, and we can
see step by stey she find her God, but Nick (whose past almost exactly
parallels Rachel’s), is still tied to his own false God, his image of
himself as child and his relation to his dead brother. We know the depth
of Nick’s meaning, but at this moment, Rachel still has to learn it,
painfully. She does not lose Nick, because she never had him in any
committed sense (Class Notes), and she does not bear his child as she had
hoped and feared she would do. Instead she is humiliated and taunted by
the irony of knowing that the growth within her was not life but a kind
of random nothingness, a benign tumor. Through the pain of the emotional
and physical ordeals, however, she does learn to accept and to live with
her limitations and with life’s. As Nick could not be God for her, so she
cannot, need not, and must not be God for her mother. Her choices are
human and humanly limited, but she does have choices and she makes one of
them — the decision to move. She is no longer afraid to leave Manawaka,
for she is no longer dependent on her fear of the town for a kind of
tortured security of identity. She is free at least to the point of
knowing that Manawaka is with her forever, both its strength and its
constraints. These she will always carry within her to deal with as she
Rachel was looking for an Old Testament’s patriarch God, a father-figure
who would direct and protect her, and she was also looking for a New
Testament’s Christ who would redeem her. She moves finally to a reliance
on whatever strength she can find or forge within herself.
I will walk by myself on the shore of the sea and look at the
free gulls flying. I will grow too orderly, plumping up the chesterfield
cushions just-so before I go to bed. …I will ask myself if I am going
mad, but if I do, I won’t know it.
God’s mercy on reluctant jesters. God’s grace on fools. God’s pity on
God (p. 202).
At the end of the novel, Rachel recognizes the irony of her condition but
she also asserts that the jest of god which had given her a tumor instead
of the desperately wanted child has been a "beau geste" resulting in the
birth of a new spirit, the New Testament dispensation of Christ’s grace,
"God’s mercy on God". It is very clear, that a step-by-step journey
into the self.