Cowan 1Morgan CowanMs. Pangle- 1st Period MWF AP Literature 11 December 2017Independent Novel Study Wide Sargasso Sea is a world renowned novel; Written and published by author Jean Rhys in October of 1966, the book quickly caused a stir in the literature world. In this book, Rhys tells the background story of Antoinette, a character from the book Jean Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte in 1847. Rhys featured a lot of controversial topics such as racism, mental illness, sexual equality, love, and as well as several other topics to help digest Antoinette’s character while also describing the people and the environment around her.
Rhys strategically released the book around the sixties to piggyback off of the horrific racism going on around that time. This book played as a mirror to the world for readers to see and realize the important role that a toxic environment plays in a person’s life. Rhys combined a lot of different techniques to create Antoinette’s unstable world. She placed the setting of the book in a very controversial time and published a book in a controversial time, both dealing with racism. She then used racism to give the character’s Cowan 2personalities and reasonings for their actions. After the issues of the racial issues, Rhys shows the character’s effects of being racial outcast by continuing the storyline of their lives showing their unconscious need for acceptance.
Rhys ties it all together by toppling the racial inequalities with gender inequality. Both Antoinette and her mother followed the same paths of marrying Englishmen and playing their roles as their wives. During the time of the book, women were very dependent on men and didn’t have rights as women. “Part One” of the book is told by Antoinette. It starts with her reflecting her childhood and her relationship with mother. Antoinette’s talks about her mother being shunned by Jamaicans in her town for several reasons, ” because she pretty like pretty self”(1), as Christophine put it.
Antoinette’s mother was lonely and the death of her husband only made her feel more abandoned. Her strange relationship with her daughter was a reflection of her loneliness and her feeling of not being accepted. Antoinette and her mother didn’t spend any time together and her mother often showed disgust when Antoinette tried to embrace her with any type of love. Rhys placed their relationship at the beginning of the book because as a young girl, your relationship with your mother is fundamental.
Antoinette and Anette’s relationship was the stepping stone of Antoinette’s mental state. Aunt Cora, unlike Anette, cared for Antoinette. This was evident when she cared for Antoinette after the fire and also tried to stop her from Rochester; She gave her rings to pond just in case she got into any trouble with him and Cowan 3 needed help. This relationship was important to Antoinette because Aunt Cora gave her the love that her mother couldn’t give her. Christophine was a surrogate mother as well the maid to Antoinette and her family even after the Emancipation Act, freeing slaves. Christophine introduced Antoinette to Obeah (the supernatural) and later on in the book, Antoinette asks her for a love potion for her and Rochester. Christophine rejects at first but eventually gives Antoinette the potion. While there were many women in this book that played a role in Antoinette’s life, there were several men in Antoinette’s life that played in role in her destruction as well.
Starting with her step-father. Mr. Mason didn’t really too much care for Antoinette but he did care about money. Mr. Mason doesn’t understand race, “I don’t understand it” (34), Mr.Mason said when talking to Anette about leaving their estate. Anette’s feels the tension growing with her family and other former black slaves, she begs her husband to live but he dismisses her accusations.
When Mr.Mason dies, he leaves all of his inheritance to Antoinette making Antoinette question how much Mr.Mason cared about her. One of the biggest male roles in Antoinette’s life was her estranged husbands. While Rhys didn’t name her husband in the book, many critics named this character Rochester. Rochester was introduced to Antoinette by her step-brother, Richard Mason, where Richard negotiates a deal for Rochester to marry Antoinette for money. Rochester narrated more than half of the book and Rhys did this to show the power he had in Antoinette’s life. Rochester believed that Antoinette was crazy and didn’t want to marry her.
While in the relationship, Rochester drove Antoinette to madness by stripping her of her identity. “My name is not Bertha; why do you call me Bertha”(135), Antoinette said. Cowan 4Rochester called Antoinette Bertha for unknown reasons but this made Antoinette livid. While Rochester showed great power in this book, Rhys wanted to take away some of his power by notgiving him a name in the book. Rhys played this idea off of Rochester calling Antoinette Bertha even though she knew she hated it.
Not giving Rochester a name, takes away from his identity. Even with no identity, Rochester still controls Antoinette and shows his power by taking her from her inherited estate and moving her to his house and locking her in a room with nothing but a guard to guard the door. There are no arguments that the main focus of the book was Antoinette and Antoinette was a combination of all of these characters. She started out as a young girl looking for love and acceptance wherever she could find it. As a kid, she was alone and outcast in her family and society; she was often called a “white cockroach”.
Her only friend at the time was Tia, her servant’s daughter, who turned on her during the fire at Colubri. Antoinette’s tarnished relationships left Antoinette vulnerable to the world and how they treated her. In Jane Eyre, Antoinette is known as the madwoman but here, Rhys gives us her story allowing us to understand what made Antoinette the way she is. Her marriage with Rochester is what drove her over the edge; seeking his love and likeness, Antoinette knew this was her last hope for acceptance. As she settles at Granbois, she feels as if she can love her husband but fears that I can be taken away; as evident when her husband cheats on her.
Her unstable emotions and her husband treating her as if she was mad, drives her mad. Rhsy gives us all of her previous relationships to give reasoning for Antoinette’s behavior with her husband. Cowan 5 This novel is set in Jamaica six years after the Emancipation Act, which freed all slaves. The Emancipation Act not only created hate between ex-slave owners and white but alsocreoles. Antoinette and her family was creole which gives meaning behind the name, “white nigger”. All though Christophine stayed loyal to Antoinette and her family even after the Emancipation, many blacks looked for revenge on whites.
“They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks” opens the book setting the tone the racial tensions and Antoinette’s feeling of abandonment. Even later on in the book, Antoinette’s husband treated her as a stereotypical mad creole woman.While everyone knows of the history of whites and blacks, Rhys makes a bigger point by switching the role of blacks and whites. In the novel, a lot of the violence from the racist acts were made blacks, not whites.
Seeing that this book was published in the 60’s, during the time of civil rights, Rhys makes readers look at all of the racial violence from different perspectives; which she also does by creating different point of views told by different characters. Antoinette was mainly raised by her surrogate mother Christophine, who taught her about African culture but she was also sent away to covenant school to be taught about the English culture so Antoinette’s character didn’t quite understand racism.”old time white people nothing but white nigger now, and black nigger better than white nigger” Tia said, shows the confusion of racism.
Rhys uses race as an important way for how the characters in the book see themselves in society. Cowan 6Identity in Wide Sargasso Sea, was in key factor in character development. Your identity is makes you you and the better answer to Antoinette’s identity was whether or not she had one at all.
As I mentioned earlier, Antoinette grew up in an environment where none of her was accepted; She was a creole white girl who had a ex-slave owner has her father. This was the start of Antoinette’s identity crisis. Antoinette, like her mother, wants acceptance from whites in order for her to find her identity. This was evident in her arranged marriage to her husband, a white Englishman.
She begins to conform to the English ways, depending on the man. Antoinette loved her husband even though she could clearly see he didn’t love her, “he is my husband after all” (66). Antoinette wanted nothing more than to be accepted,”So between you I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why I was ever born at all”(61), Antoinette asked her husband. Antoinette, like her mother, wants acceptance from whites in order for her to find her identity. There was even a scene in the book where Antoinette wanted to be Tia. “We stared at each other, blood on my face, tears on hers, It was as I was looking at myself. Like in a looking glass.
“(29), Antoinette says after Tia hits her with a rock. Antoinette stares at here hopelessly wishing to be Tia because Tia had an identity; she knew where she belonged. All throughout the book Antoinette has had the build up anger for never being accepted anywhere but specifically in this scene, she showed anger at the thought of not knowing her identity or where she belongs. Rhys creates the relatable struggle of identity to make it relatable for those struggling with lost of identity. Cowan 7There were several complex themes that took place in the book but the most common seen was Alienation, which means to be isolated from a group. I’ve broken down Antoinette’s alienation throughout the paper, but there were several characters who were thought of as alienated.
The Cosway family as a whole were alienated mainly because of where they are from but also because of their money. Christophine, their maid, was also a victim of alienation because she was from Martinique; as well as Anette. Alienation is what drove Anette to marry wealth Mason, which could be seen as the reason for their tragic abandonment of Coulibri and the lost of her son.
Daniel Cosway, the alleged son of Alexander Cosway, was practically erased from their minds; He didn’t want to be seen as meaningless anymore. The root of trouble in the book.It is very hard to identify the climax of the book due to the fact that the entire book is a sad story. There were several traumatic events that took place in this book and instead of there being one climax, there are several climaxes for every period in Antoinette’s life. The first traumatic event was the burning of Colubri. It wasn’t the burning of the house that necessarily affected Antoinette, but the betrayal of her only friend, Tia.The was arguably one of the biggest realizations for Antoinette that she wasn’t accepted anywhere. The next climactic scene in the book was the marriage of Antoinette to her husband.
The marriage itself wasn’t necessarily the climax, but it was the trouble the marriage brought. Antoinette hopelessly loved her husband and he didn’t love her. She asks Christophine for a love potion because she practices obeah, supernatural magic. Christophine refuses at first insisting that something bad will happen if she Cowan 8gives it to Antoinette, but in the end gives her an ultimatum; “If you talk to him first I do what you ask.” (116).
The aftermath of Antoinette and the love potion are the biggest climaxes in the book. The potion meant for her husband to love her, backfires and her husbands sleeps with their servant, Amelie, causing Antoinette to violently lash and threatens her husband’s life. Her husband then leaves Jamaica with Antoinette, licking her away in an attic in his house. The end of the book marks the most mysterious climax, Antoinette holding a candle as she walks down the stairs of her husband’s house.
These were all very climactic and all were life changers for Antoinette, hence there being more than one climax. Besides the deep context of Rhys’s work, she used very articulate emotion-laden words to draw the characters thoughts throughout the book. Every word in the book, was carefully thought of to help draw the emotion of the characters in the book. Rhys painted pictures of the characters image, thoughts and environment, through her emotion filled words. For example, words like tragedy (17), white nigger (24), chastity (13), as well as others.
Rhys allows us get a deeper look into to Antoinette by her emotional, descriptive words. Wide Sargasso Sea, was a book that question the character of Antoinette but also took a small look into Rhys’s life as she struggled with her identity as a creole women. It challenged readers to look at racism as the opposite of what they know questioning what they know to be normal. Rhys pushed the envelope and talked about challenging topics people find it Cowan 9hard to discuss.