Anna’s Exploitation in Voyage in the Dark

August 27, 2019 by Essay Writer

In the novel Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys, we eventually see the character of young Anna Morgan shift from a naive chorus girl to a hardened woman who endures an unending cycle of pain and suffering. At first glance it seems that Anna is exploited by all the men she encounters in England, but a more careful reading shows that women also use and exploit Anna for their own personal gain. Without anyone to look up to or close friends to trust, Anna begins a mental decline through alcohol abuse and cheap sex, which finally brings her to rock bottom with a botched abortion that nearly kills her. It is through Anna’s eyes we can see the gritty truth of the demimonde in England and a life from which, though we would wish otherwise, she will not escape. After the death of her father, Anna is sent as a young girl from the warm, colourful West Indies where she grew up to cold and bleak England, at the demands of her stepmother Hester. Hester doesn’t so much exploit Anna but she leaves the young girl without any opportunity or options. She was Anna’s only connection to childhood and family, but the lack of financial and emotional support has caused Anna to look elsewhere: “You won’t have to give me any more money. I can get all the money I want and so that’s all right. Is everybody happy? Yes, everybody’s happy” (p. 57 and class notes Tolley). Hester virtually abandons Anna after a suspect explanation as to why no more money can be given, even when Anna tries to keep in contact with this woman she has grown up with, Hester cuts the ties; “I wrote once to Hester but she only sent me a postcard in reply, after that I didn’t write again. And she didn’t either.” (p. 63). Consequently Anna begins without much money and takes a modest job as a chorus girl, and this is when she meets Walter, nearly 20 years her senior. Right away she realises that Walter will give her money if she gives him what he wants, but the author includes subtle clues to show that although this may not be the most prudent thing to do Anna accepts this way of being in the world because of the money. One clue can be suggested by the words of Anna’s landlady, “I don’t hold with the way you go on… Crawling up the stairs at three o’clock in the morning. And then today dressed up to the nines… I don’t want no tarts in my house, so now you know.” (p. 26) Even Anna’s fellow chorus girls can recognise the men with the money and subconsciously teaching Anna; “You’ve only got to learn how to swank a bit, then you’re all right, she would say” (p. 9). Walter gives Anna money in amounts she never before had, and she begins to feel secure with it, “It was as if I always had it.” (p. 24), and she had mentioned before that she would do anything for good clothes. Seemingly all she has to do for Walter is love him back, only she doesn’t realise until it’s too late, Walter is only after one kind of love. This is how Anna begins the cycle of exploitation, she likes Walter, he gives her money and makes her feel safe, however she is still too naive and even with other girls counselling her she falls for Walter in a much more romantic sense. She loses her virginity to him as well, which likely lends to the fact of why she is so unmindfully attached to this man. Walter eventually leaves Anna after a weekend in the country likely at the advice of his shady friend Vincent, and this absolutely devastates Anna as she explains; “There was a man I was crazy about. He got sick of me and chucked me. I wish I were dead.” (p. 99) She had relied on Walter not only for financial support but also for emotional support and companionship; he was the only person in England she had felt that she could trust, even though he was using her. After he leaves her Anna feels lost and doesn’t have anyone or anywhere to turn to, as indicated by “I walked straight ahead. I thought, ‘Anywhere will do, so long as it’s somewhere nobody knows” (p. 86). At this point in her life Anna has really experienced her first encounter with men, and she begins the downward spiral in mental and physical health (by over-drinking), the breakup caused a blow to her already fragile self esteem. At this point Anna goes out with a girl called Laurie, whom she believes is her friend, and with two men. Laurie starts to use Anna as someone to help pick up men and Anna goes along because she thinks they are friends. Rhys demonstrates that Laurie is just using Anna when Laurie “dismisses Anna as a child,” throughout pages 106 and 107 (class notes Dale) and does not treat her as an equal friend, she never really cares about Anna’s needs. Realistically Laurie could be a role model, but she only shows Anna that in order to ‘get on’ in the world one has to do what the men want without getting attached, a lesson Anna is already learning. The men they go out with are just as bad. Anna is already emotionally unstable because she has still not recovered from her break up with Walter. Therefore, when she meets Carl from America she is vulnerable and goes along with anything he wants, even after she finds out he is a married man; “Are you married?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. He looked vexed…. ‘Have you got any kids?’ ‘Yes,’ he said after a while. ‘A little girl” (p. 135). Also Carl gives Anna significantly less money than Walter did, tells her he will be leaving London in a few weeks (p. 135), yet she still continues giving him sexual favours. This illustrates that Anna must be suffering not only emotionally but also from low self esteem. All the while Anna has been going out with Laurie she has been living with the equally unstable Ethel, who exploits Anna for her personal gain of her business. Ethel seems to constantly fluctuate between moods. There are some positive moods where she is affable to Anna such as when they first become roommates; “I’ll bring you something to eat,’ she said… She sat by my side while I ate and began to tell me how respectable she was.” (p. 115). Then there are other times which become more and more common where Ethel’s mood is jaundiced and she is envious of Anna, “You went out with your pals and enjoyed yourself and you didn’t even ask me. Wasn’t I good enough to come?’ ‘But it’s always the same thing. You didn’t even ask me,’ she said. ‘And oh God, what a life I’ve had. Trying to keep up and everybody else trying to push you down and everybody lying and pretending and you knowing it” (p. 125). Ethel is conscious of her own personal failures in life and while she sets up a new business it’s really a massage salon under a false pretence and uses the young unwitting Anna to draw in male customers. Although the text never explicitly states that Ethel’s business is a sort of “glorified brothel” (class notes Seifert), the reader can infer this by a conversation between Laurie and Anna; “One of them did ask me to take him upstairs, but when I said no he went off like a shot’… Laurie laughed. She said, ‘I bet the old girl wasn’t pleased. I bet you that wasn’t her idea at all.” (p. 121). Ethel also continually makes reference that Anna should ‘be nice’ to the clients, it is in this way that assumptions can be made as to the true nature of Ethel’s business. Anna is continually exploited by the parlour business, the clients and even through emotional abuse by the deeply inconsistent character of Ethel. It appears at first that Ethel to could serve as a role model or as an adult Anna could at least trust, however Rhys makes it implicit that Ethel exploits Anna almost more than the men do. The men, especially Walter, at least looked after Anna in that they gave her money and made sure she had clothes, whereas it is the opposite with Ethel, she only takes from Anna. Once it becomes clear that Anna really has become darkly depressed, she seems to be exploited by many faceless men. After manicuring them she would take them upstairs where she is treated like a prostitute. Anna finally hits rock bottom when she realises that she is pregnant, and nothing she tries on her own will change the state she is in. She even laughs when Ethel asks her who the father is, “… won’t he help you out- she said I do not know who he is and started laughing quite brazen…” (p. 142). Anna has a hard life adjusting to London. Being cut off from her family and childhood home was the first thing she had to overcome. After that, there were many people trying to exploit her; without true role models she couldn’t learn how to avoid this and start fresh. She continued in the cycle of exploitation until depression became the norm and she was reduced to a constant feeling of numbness. It’s only at the very end of the novel that Jean Rhys shows the reader a glimmer of hope in Anna’s life; the last lines offer an uplifting sense, “And about starting all over again, all over again…” (p. 159). Works Cited 1. Rhys, Jean. Voyage in the Dark. Penguin Modern Classics, London England. 1934 2. Tolley, Sarah Voyage in the Dark Online posting. 19 January 2010. Accessed February 7th 2010. . Dale, Chelsey Voyage in the Dark. Online posting. 18 January 2010. Accessed February 7th 2010. 4. Seifert, Nadia Voyage in the Dark. Online Posting. 19 January 2010. Accessed February 7th 2010.

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