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 novel? Please explain. Rachel Cameron, the heroine of A Jest of God,” is not simply an individual literary character but also a psychological portrayal of women in Rachel’s time and inclination. We can easily find someone who has the same problem as Rachel among our friends, or maybe in the early morning when we get up and stand in front of the mirror, we suddenly have an 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 armor of pride that imprisons her within their internal worlds while providing a defense 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 receives a sentimental education through a brief love affair. As a result of learning to empathize with her lover, she learns 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. 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.
The reader is engaged in sympathy with Rachel due to the sadness of the gap between her dream-self, Queen of the Golden City,” and her reality, which is shut in behind her classroom window. She looks out and worries about becoming an eccentric spinster, the stereotyped butt of cruel laughter. However, we are also engaged by the range and quality of Rachel’s imagination. It is this imagination, continuing through the book, that holds our sympathy, interest, and increasing respect. The golden city is initially 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. This new dispensation makes it possible for her to go on living, 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 to the breaking 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.