Jean Rhys? ?I Used To Live Here Once? Essay, Research Paper
August 1, 2000
An Interpretation of Jean Rhys ?I Used to Live Here Once?
Jean Rhys? ?I Used to Live Here Once? is a very well written and thought through short story. Rhy is very descriptive about all of the surroundings in the story. She makes sure to leave out no details regardless if the reader realizes it or not. That is why I say Jean Rhys? ?I Used to Live Here Once? is not about where ?she? use to live, it is about a woman remembering the first time she knew that she was dead.
The story begins with her standing on the bank, staring and ?remembering? each ?stepping stone? (Rhys 358). Everything was just as she remembered at the river. As well as it should have been, for that is where she died, and her spirit has remained until she decided to go home. The last stone she remembered is a very important element of the story. She remembers that, ?The next wasn?t so safe for when the river was full the water flowed over it and even when it showed dry it was slippery. But after that it was easy and soon she was standing on the other side? (358). The importance is that the unsafe rock was what caused her death. She slipped on it and fell into the river and lay dead beneath the water for many years. Now her spirit has returned and she is trying to go home. She knows that it ?was? easy after this stone, because she had done this several times before (358).
When she saw the road, she immediately realized that it was wider than before. At this point everything around her was familiar but damaged. The road was wider, but it was poorly done. The trees were still there, but they were lying on the ground. The bushes were still there, but they ?looked trampled? (358). Although everything was not exactly as she remembered, she remembered everything. The discrepancies did not bother her at all. As she walked down that poorly widened road, she felt ?extraordinarily happy? (358).
In the third paragraph I realized that the narrator is the same girl in the story. The second sentence says, ?The only thing was that the sky had a glassy look that she didn?t remember? (358). Rhy reiterates the importance of the ?glassy sky?, by saying that ?glassy? ?was the only word she could think of? (358). The sky is ?glassy? now because she is dead and that is why she did not remember it. The narrator is on the other side of that ?glassy sky? telling the story of ?the first time she knew? (359).
As she walked along she noticed that the road leading to her house had been poorly widened too. The narrator states that as she approached the old stones that allowed a walkway to the house ?her heart began to beat? (359). As if to say she felt a little life in her or that her heart was not beating before. She noticed that a lot of her surroundings were not as she remembered. The pine tree was no longer there, nor was the summerhouse. However, exactly as she remembered, the clove tree remained. She noticed that the house had been added to and painted over with white. Then she noticed something rather odd. There was an automobile in front of the house (359).
Along with the automobile there was a little boy and girl. She yelled, ?hello? to them but got no response (359). The children acted as if they did not even hear her. In the sixth paragraph Rhy brings up the temperature out side. She wants the reader to be aware that it is in fact hot. This is important because as she was very near the children she greeted them again, but still no response. She got even closer to the children, within arms reach. Without thought she stretches out her arms wanting to feel them, and again says ?hello? then ?I used to live here once? (359). This is where the temperature has relevance. The boy then turns around, staring directly into her eyes, yet straight through her. Then the boy said, ?Hasn?t it gone cold all of a sudden. D?you notice? Let?s go in? (359). And the girl replied, ?Yes let?s? (359). It was important for Rhy to mention the temperature because of what the boy said. It ?went cold all of a sudden? (359), because ?she? was eye to eye with the boy and he sensed her spirit. That is why the children never responded.
In the last paragraph the narrator states, ?That this was the first time she knew? (359). That indeed was the ?first time that she (narrator) knew? that she was dead.
I feel the moral of this story is that we have to live each day as if it were our last. For tomorrow is not promised to any one. And that the decisions we make are life-long and it is not possible to go back and re-live or change the past. Therefore since tomorrow is not promised and we can not go back to yesterday, we must live each day to the fullest with no regrets.
Rhys, Jean. ? I Used to Live Here Once.? Current Issues and Enduring Questions. Eds. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau. Boston: Bedford / St. Martin?s, 1999. 358-59