Wide Sargasso Sea

A Response to William Harris’s Wide Sargasso Sea Criticism: Carnival of Psyche

August 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Dr. William Harris’s Carnival of Psyche: Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, an analysis of Rhys’s 1966 postmodern “prequel” to Jane Eyre, Harris attempts to evaluate the significance of “intuitive myth” on the novel’s psyche. “Attempt,” however, is the operative word here. Without a thesis or clear argument, Harris’s essay feels more like a meandering, purposeless discussion of his thoughts about Wide Sargasso Sea, which range from its connection to The Invisible Man to the role of structuralism in nihilist philosophy. This would not be such a problem if Harris’s individual points were well-argued, but, unfortunately, they are not. Predicated on very little textual evidence and worsened by convoluted syntax, Harris’s claims amount to little more than opinion and badly-articulated opinion at that. Furthermore, Harris’s central argument — that Jean Rhys’s allusions to myth are intuitive, not intentional — is extremely difficult to prove. And Harris does not rise to his own challenge. He fails to define the difference between intuitive and intentional allusion, offer any coherent evidence to suggest the Jean Rhys’s allusions were intuitive, or explain why it matters whether Rhys intended these allusions or not. Ultimately, Harris’s convoluted style, meandering structure, and lack of textual evidence makes proving an impossible claim even harder.

Harris’s central argument about “intuitive myth” is, for the most part, predicated on one quotations alone, neither of which are particularly well-analyzed or used to prove his point. Harris rests most of his case on Antoinette’s reference to a “tree of life in flames” in her dream, which Harris (indirectly) connects to a South American creation myth. This allusion is not difficult to recognize; Rhy’s description of the burning tree of life is very plausibly a reference to Arawak and Macusi legends of the “The food bearing tree of the world, which is fired by the Caribs at a time of war when the Arawaks seek refuge in its branches. The fire rages and drives Arawaks up into space until they are themselves burnt and converted into sparks which continue to rise into the sky to become the Pleiades.” However, the heart of Harris’s argument — that these myths are intuitive — he never proves. Instead he simply states that they are, using italics for emphasis, saying “Wide Sargasso sea…has a profoundly intuitive spirit” and asserting that the “tree of life myth” (and other myths which he references only in vague, single-word quotations) “are intuitively woven into the tapestry of Wide Sargasso Sea.” Furthermore, in addition to never demonstrating why he believes Rhys’s inclusion of these myths was not “deliberate,” Harris fails to explain why the intuitive vs. deliberate inclusion matters. He mentions briefly that “one cannot avoid the ambiguities that pull at that [allusion to the “sky of fiction” and “tree of life] and suppress it still into the sphere of symbolic widowhood.” This ambiguity may be one implication of intuitive myths, but Harris makes this point so briefly and indirectly that it becomes negligible. Ultimately, Harris’s argument, while interesting, lacks in any real substance.

Harris further obscures his already-lacking argument with convoluted syntax, unclear metaphors, and a meandering structure. Despite promising to “confine himself on this occasion to Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea,” Harris begins his argument with a two-paragraph digression about Invisible Man, which he does connect in any way to Wide Sargasso Sea. When he does get to the novel at hand, he begins by saying, “Wide Sargasso Sea varies the rainbow arc between cultures in foundly intuitive spirit. To appreciate that variation we need to recall the bridge between sky and earth that is implicit in the rainbow arc from Central to South America in Quetzalcoatl and Yurokon. Then we need to revise that arc or bridge into a rather different compression of features.” What, exactly, “the rainbow arch” is or why he expects readers to “recall it,” Harris does not explain. However, he sets up his most important point — the reference to the creation myth — upon this confusing metaphor, making the rest of his argument equally as confusing. After an short but baffling discussion of this “intuitive myth,” drenched in convoluted syntax and unproven statements, Harris segues into an analysis of the relationship between Rochester and Antoinette. This discussion is lengthy and hard-to-follow — focusing on the “psychical and immaterial re-marriage of Rochester and re-dressed Bertha into Antoinette in the ‘sky of fiction” — and, other than the ‘sky of fiction’ reference, is not at all connected to intuitive myths. After some discussion of Obeah, Harris then caps off his argument with the greatest departure from this topic yet: the relationship between structuralism and nihilism. Not only is Wide Sargasso Sea not mentioned once in the last two pages, but the discussion itself feels utterly irrelevant to the larger theme of the essay.

William Harris’s Carnival of Psyche: Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea is an unfortunate example of the way flowery language and a commitment to originality can obscure the true substance of an argument. Densely abstract, Harris’s piece stops being an analysis and starts becoming a piece of work that needs analyzing itself. Filled with unexplained metaphors and run-on-sentences, Harris may spend a paragraph explaining what he means by “inarticulate” but he clearly can’t recognize the trait in his own work.

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Gender Theory’s Prevalence in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea

August 14, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys weaves the tale of a severely-oppressed woman and her trials through life. Several critics have argued for post-enlightenment, post-colonialism, and identity-based themes in Wide Sargasso Sea, claiming these shape the novel and present ideas otherwise dismissed. While the intention of these critics is to broaden readers’ perspectives on the book, one idea is lacking in expansion: gender schema theory – which serves as the key premise for the story. Rhys dominates the novel with gender schema theoretical themes, utilizing Rochester and Antoinette as representatives for their respective sex’s ideals. This critical analysis will expand on the gender schema theoretical concept by presenting complementary ideas – that is, Rochester and Antoinette’s inability to abandon their early-developed gender ideals, the duo’s opposition of said ideals and the resulting predicaments, and each of their attempts to modify each other out of subconscious fear of what they will be reduced to without the other.

Over the decades, critics have hyper-analyzed events in Antoinette’s life and the relationship between her and Rochester. Jennifer Gilchrist, throughout her critical analysis, identifies and elaborates on several subtleties of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, clarifying the novel for her quasi-gender theory/post-Enlightenment perspective. She points out that, despite abolition having risen into effect, slavery was still rather prevalent, but in an unofficial and understated manner — that is, female to male subjugation. Gilchrist further asserts that the minor language gap most readers likely faced (Jamaican patois versus the standard English dialect) was intentional by Rhys, and was employed to place indistinct feelings in the reader (such as a sensation of disconnect from Antoinette) — as well as deliberate miscommunications — that enhanced the story. Finally, Gilchrist transcribes that Wide Sargasso Sea may be read as anti-Bildungsroman, and that Antoinette did not ultimately perceive her identity through the pre-established literal (lineage, etc.) or inner (beliefs and values) methodologies — rather, she experienced several vexatious situations throughout her life that eventually allowed her to ‘find’ herself. These topics, both independently and cooperatively, build Gilchrist’s analysis of Wide Sargasso Sea and supplement Rhys’s original text with further insight.

Throughout Alexandra Neel’s critical essay, she argues that Rhys’s ideologies, writing mechanisms, and plot developments in Wide Sargasso Sea are all indicative of Antoinette’s “emptied-out personhood”, or seeming loss of identity. Neel initially contends that, in Rhys’s novel, Antoinette’s identity loss was partially due to the legal decisions of the era, specifically those regarding emancipation and the ending of slavery within the region. She proceeds to suggest that the Creole women and former slaves are socially — and civilly — deceased, also contributing to Antoinette’s dilemma of selfhood (as her and her mother are Creole). Neel additionally establishes that Rhys shifted the time frame of the novel with the intention of incorporating apprenticeship and, needless to say, personhood into the story. Neel vindicates these literary concepts by referencing legal/historical documents and authorities, as well as providing an in-depth analysis of portions of the novel, which ultimately support her primary argument.

Robert Kendrik opines across his critical analysis of Wide Sargasso Sea that Jean Rhys utilized Edward Rochester, Antoinette’s husband, to illustrate the patriarchal limits of the era. He states that Rochester becomes “violently defensive” as he is submerged in a reality that does not harbor the same boundaries and definitions of masculinity and patriarchal dominance as he is used to. Kendrik proceeds to argue that, while Rochester has married Antoinette with the intention of gaining power, dominance, and an acceptable position (for a male) in English society, he finds his ideals of these things are threatened by said marriage (as well as by the Caribbean and its ideologies). Moreover, Kendrik asserts that Rochester possesses two doubles within the novel, Daniel Cosway and Sandi, and that these doubles further enunciate Rochester’s masculinity complex in a de-emphasized manner. Kendrik corroborates his reasonings by citing text from Wide Sargasso Sea, other authors that maintain similar beliefs, and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

Nese Senel proposes various concepts throughout his critical analysis of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, all of which support his predominant argument of post-colonialism and its allowance for a broader understanding of the novel. Senel commences his analysis by contending that the primary intention of Wide Sargasso Sea is to present an identity for the formerly-repressed Creole peoples, which can be discerned from this post-colonialist perspective. He proceeds to suggest that Antoinette’s insanity is provoked by the triple oppression she undergoes from the patriarchy, white English society and freshly emancipated slaves, and Rochester — all of which were probable for a Creole woman to endure in the West Indies, and especially during the era ensuing colonialism. Senel finalizes his essay by claiming that Rhys, in her storytelling of Antoinette and Rochester, audaciously downgraded the indigenous residents of the region (depicting them as untrustworthy, criminalistic, and abusive) in order to enhance the plot. Senel frequently quotes the text and references Rhys’s literary methodologies to provide substantiation for his reasoning, as well as his fundamental point.

Wide Sargasso Sea is an exploration of gender schema theory, with Antoinette and Rochester each depicting this cognitive theory for their individual sexes.

The plot develops from Antoinette and Rochester’s inability and unwillingness to abandon their early-developed ideals of gender. For instance, Christophine criticizes Rochester for prioritizing money over his wife, saying, “Everybody know that you marry her for her money and you take it all…[Antoinette] don’t care for money—it’s nothing for her…You make love to her till she drunk with it” (92 Rhys). This is a prime example of differing ideals. Rochester, a dominant English male, has learned to value money and power, while Antoinette, a Caribbean woman, cherishes relationships and/or the idea of ‘love’, as suggested by the use of the term “drunk”, which implies an addiction or dependence.

In the beginning of Part II, Rochester’s tendency to compare the Caribbean landscapes to that of England’s is paired with a similar tendency to compare Antoinette to an English girl, as suggested when she offers him mountain water from a leaf, “Looking up smiling, she might have been any pretty English girl and to please her I drank” (42 Rhys). Having grown and established his ideals in England, Rochester mistakenly attempts to apply these ideals to a woman of an entirely different culture. This scene marks the beginning of Rochester’s comparison between Antoinette and what he believes a woman should be, eventually leading to his discontented state and attempts to enforce subjugation.

Antoinette, raised in an environment that promotes ease, relaxation and eroticism, has learned to revere the idea of love, portrayed when she desperately goes to Christophine for help with Rochester and says, “‘That is what I wish and that is why I came here. You can make people love…’” (Rhys 67). Additionally, her unsafe and ever-traumatic childhood may have contributed to her desire for safety — particularly, safety provided by a lover. This is specifically mentioned in Part II: “‘You are safe,’ I’d say. She’d liked that — to be told ‘you are safe’” (55 Rhys). So, while Antoinette seeks genuine love and safety, Rochester maintains his English standards for the Caribbean and Antoinette, repeatedly setting himself up for disappointment.

Although at the surface the difficulties between Antoinette and Rochester appear to be power, culture, and perhaps bigotry-based, the real issue lies in their opposition of ideologies. The characters, in fact, do not realize it themselves, and so these problems are never resolved.

Most of the initial opposition between Antoinette and Rochester is understated. At first glance it may appear trivial, but instances of opposition gradually increase in frequency and in strength. For example, one of the first conflicts (although subtle) was when Antoinette showed Rochester to their bedroom at Granbois: “I crowned myself with one of the [frangipani] wreaths and made a face in the glass. ‘I hardly think it suits my handsome face, do you?’…I took the wreath off. It fell on the floor and as I went towards the window I stepped on it” (43 Rhys). Although there is no verbal disagreement here, Rochester’s apparent intolerance toward Caribbean cultures, even with something as simple as a wreath of frangipani, represents a clash of ideals. Despite this, Antoinette makes no indication that this instance bothers her, if she even notices.

Another instance of conflict was when the duo lightly argued over whose environment was less believable and more like a dream: “‘Well,’ I answered annoyed, ‘that is precisely how your beautiful land seems to me, quite unreal and like a dream.’ ‘But how can rivers and mountains and the sea be unreal?’ ‘And how can millions of people, their houses and their streets be unreal?’ ‘More easily,’ she said, ‘…Yes a big city must be like a dream.’ ‘No, this is unreal and like a dream,’ I thought” (Rhys 48). While these two argue over whose homeland is less believable, it is clear to the reader that it is all relative. Rochester and Antoinette do not realize that their home being vastly different from the other’s results in differing opinions, especially concerning such matters.

A major occurrence of opposition is Rochester’s attempt to change (and emotionally damage) Antoinette by forcing an English name upon her. This is evident in Part II, when Antoinette finally questions Rochester about the name, “‘Don’t laugh like that, Bertha.’ ‘My name is not Bertha; why do you call me Bertha?’ ‘Because it is a name I am particularly fond of. I think of you as Bertha’” (Rhys 81). Whether or not Rochester is feigning innocence, Antoinette is evidently unhappy with her unrequested English name, and neither appear aware of the other’s motives or cause for distress.

The characters each also go to extremes to modify the other (Antoinette resorts to obeah so Rochester will love her, and Rochester brings Antoinette to England against her will) out of subconscious fear (as opposed to the apparent frustration) of what they will be reduced to without the other.

Near the end of Part II, Rochester (and perhaps the reader) realizes that Antoinette, who seems so hopelessly dependent on him throughout the novel, did not love him specifically — but rather, just someone. She loved the idea of having someone there. In this realization scene, Rochester comes to this conclusion by battling his inner voice: “‘She love you so much, so much. She thirsty for you…’ Sneer to the last, Devil. Do you think that I don’t know? She thirsts for anyone — not for me…” (99 Rhys). It is easy to conclude that Antoinette merely yearns for the safety that Rochester provides, perhaps for fear that she will wither without such reassurance.

In an effort to alter Rochester and bring him closer to her ideal of a strong, supportive and caring Caribbean man, Antoinette recourses to obeah to force Rochester into loving her, as portrayed in this scene: “‘If the man don’t love you, I can’t make him love you.’ ‘Yes you can, I know you can. That is what I wish and that is why I came here. You can make people love or hate. Or…or die’” (67 Rhys.) Antoinette may fear she is losing Rochester, and attempts to yank him back through unconventional means.

Rochester’s motives are similar to Antoinette’s. He wishes to force her to conform to what he believes a woman — or rather, an English woman — should be. Besides him changing Antoinette’s name to Bertha, a traditional English name, Rochester also forcefully moves Antoinette to England. Near the end of Part II, Rochester thinks, “She said she loves this place. This is the last she’ll see of it. I’ll watch for one tear, one human tear” (99 Rhys). In addition to wishing to cause Antoinette pain, Rochester relocates the two of them to his homeland, England, so that he can re-establish dominance over her.

Ultimately, Rhys’s gender theory-focused writing mechanisms and plotlines allow the reader to comprehend gender schema theory in a broader and more applicable sense. She utilizes Rochester and Antoinette in her novel to portray how this theory applies in a quasi-relatable personalized scenario, albeit in a different era, so that readers can understand the effects and developments that a clash of these ideals can impose on one’s life. The prevalence of this theory within the text may also suggest a cause for social difficulties of the world – specifically sexism, which is also a noteworthy theme in the story. While all literary critics (including myself) can do is make educated guesses at Rhys’s true meaning or intentions of her novel, it is quite possible that Wide Sargasso Sea is intended to open the eyes of the readers – providing the realization that gender schema theory has a larger basis in society than appears at first glance.

Works Cited

Gilchrist, Jennifer. “Women, Slavery, and the Problem of Freedom in Wide Sargasso Sea.” Twentieth Century Literature, 58.3, 2012: 462+. Academic Onefile. Web. 31 Oct. 2017.

Kendrik, Robert. “Edward Rochester and the Margins of Masculinity in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea.” Papers on Language & Literature, vol. 30, no. 3, 1994, p. 235+. Academic OneFile. Accessed 17 Nov. 2017.

Neel, Alexandra. “‘Qui Est La?”’: Negative Personhood in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea.” Mosaic: An Interdisciplinary Critical Journal, 50.2, June 2017: 171+. Academic Onefile. Web. 2 Nov. 2017.

Rhys, Jean, Judith L. Raiskin, and Charlotte Brontë. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999. Print.

Senel, Nese. “A Postcolonial Reading of Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.” Journal of Language and Literature Education, no. 11, 2014, p. 38+. Academic Onefile. 9 Nov.2017.

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To Fight or to Run: The Representation of Aggression Wide Sargasso Sea

July 30, 2019 by Essay Writer

A vast area of the northern Atlantic Ocean houses a breed of seaweed that is addressed by the name sargassam. This portion of the northern Atlantic is known as the Sargasso Sea, notorious among passing sailors onto whose ships it is reputed to enmesh. Upon their meeting, friction is apparent between the surface of a ship’s hull and the skin of a strand of sargassam, as it is between the characters presented in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. The complex post-colonial mentalities of West Indian populations, both native and foreign, and the underlying cultural differences between the two led to this occasional generation of both behavioral and emotional resentment and aggression from both groups. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’s portrayal of the reactions that characters display to aggression from external sources is achieved through her constructive use of dialogue and introspection, in addition to specific behavioral attributes she assigns to her characters.

Introspection can be defined as the “the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes,” the use of which was a fundamental element of the narrative style Rhys adopted for Wide Sargasso Sea. It allowed for the direct depiction of the thoughts and minds of characters, namely Rochester and Antoinette, by providing interchanging narration from their respective perspectives. The inclusion of introspection as a literary element in her narrative style allowed Rhys to present the emotional and mental responses that characters exhibited to various forms of aggression that they confronted. In part one of Wide Sargasso Sea, “The first day [she] had to go to the convent,” Antoinette was targeted by a black girl and a white boy, and their reason to follow her, and subsequently “push [Antoinette] and the books [she] was carrying,” was made clear after the black girl said, “Look the crazy girl, you crazy like your mother.” Accordingly, this particular case of harassment can be traced down to ethnical differences, supplemented by the circulation of stories about the Cosway family that made them prone to alienation by those in their community. Antoinette’s reactions to the physical aggression she confronted were presented in her thoughts; “I collapsed and began to cry (pg. 48),” her mind dictated, an unquestioned admittance to grieving clear evidence of the damage done to her emotional stability. She was reduced to a state through which “[she] could not answer,” after being questioned by Mother St. Justine about her health, which further demonstrated how shock was an outcome of those events. In addition, during a conversation he had with Rochester, Daniel Cosway, the alleged brother of Antoinette, makes a number of remarks, some of which were disguised as personal insults and sexual comments which from a psychological standpoint can be seen as forms of aggressive behavior. He asked Rochester to “Give love to [his] sister- your wife,” instigating anger and frustration in Rochester. Rochester’s reaction to Daniel’s remark was presented through the direct portrayal of his mental processes, which showed that “disgust was rising in [him] like sickness. Disgust and rage.”

Dialogue was an important part of this novel’s narration. Dialogues are a means by which writers allow characters in their texts to vocally express themselves. Jean Rhys’s use of dialogue in this particular novel allowed her characters the ability to present subsequent thoughts and emotions they developed in response to aggression they encountered in a spoken manner. Part two of this novel contains a conversation between Rochester and Antoinette, where Rochester says, “I feel that this place is my enemy and on your side (pg. 117),” in response to claims made by Antoinette, such as her inclination to believe that “[Rochester] has no right to ask questions about [her] mother and then refuse to listen to [her] answer.” Narration from Rochester’s perspective stated that she spoke “fiercely,” suggesting that Antoinette’s conduct must have remained aggressive during this conversation. Hence, the quote by Rochester provided above can be seen as a verbal response to Antoinette’s aggression, depicting how Rochester felt alienated and lost, as if “this place is [his] enemy,” whenever his only true companion in this foreign land turned against him. Soon, Christophine also bombards Rochester, much like Antoinette in the previous example, with claims such as his plot to “break [Antoinette] up,” and reduce her to an insignificant, damaged state by allowing her desires “to make love to [him] till she drunk,” diminish her independence. Unlike his earlier mentioned conversation with Antoinette, Rochester’s lines show no trace of loneliness or vulnerability. In other words, the calm and unworried state of his responses in this dialogue with Christophine suggests that he didn’t care about Christophine opinions on his marriage, and thus remained relatively unaffected by the aggression she presented him with.

In addition to the development of thoughts, which can then be vocally expressed, characters can also respond to aggression through body movement that would connote a specific form of emotion or feeling. Rhys’s assignation of specific behavioral attributes to their respective characters allowed for these characters to present their reactions to aggression through the certain physical actions that would connote a certain emotion or feeling. Tightened fists, quivering lips, fluttering eyelids, are all unobtrusive movements that someone can subconsciously execute and subsequently reveal the condition of their emotional and mental state. Antoinette, after her encounter with the girl and the boy that harassed her in part one of the novel, “pulled, and pulled at the bell (pg. 47)” of Mother St. Justine’s room, with her continuous knocking at the door an indicator of the shocked, hurried, and possibly traumatized state that harassment had put her in. Now, in addition to the purposeful action of pulling at Mother St. Justine’s bell, there were other minor physical behavioral attributes that her body was engaged in, such as her constant crying, the severity of which Rhys presented by writing that Antoinette “[cried] as fast as [Mother St. Justine] sponged [her] face.” The assignation of this temporary attribute to Antoinette’s character in this scenario is evidently trying to depict the burden and stress she was under because of her heritage, in addition to the damage done to her emotional wellbeing by the girl and boy she encountered.

When dealing with aggression in others, it is important to understand what kind of behavior or person makes you feel aggressive, how you should react to that aggression, and how you can control it. The story of Wide Sargasso Sea was built on conflicting cultures, during a time that facilitated aggression from within all classes of society. Aggression, the presentation of which and confrontation with, was inevitable given the chemistry of the characters included in the text, and hence formed an important subject matter of the novel.

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Reactions to aggression in Jean Rhy’s Wide Sargasso Sea

July 12, 2019 by Essay Writer

A vast area of the northern Atlantic Ocean houses a breed of seaweed that is addressed by the name sargassam. This portion of the northern Atlantic is known as the Sargasso Sea, notorious among passing sailors onto whose ships it is reputed to enmesh. Upon their meeting, friction is apparent between the surface of a ship’s hull and the skin of a strand of sargassam, as it is between the characters presented in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. The complex post-colonial mentalities of West Indian populations, both native and foreign, and the underlying cultural differences between the two led to the cultivation and display of behavioral and emotional resentment and aggression within this heterogeneous populace. In Wide Sargasso Sea,Jean Rhys’s portrayal of the reactions that characters display to aggression from external sources is achieved through her constructive use of dialogue and introspection, in consonance with the specific and deliberate behavioral attributes she assigns to these characters.

Introspection can be defined as the “the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes,” the use of which was a fundamental element of the narrative style Rhys employed for this literary text. It allowed for an illustration of the thoughts and experiences of two particular characters, namely Rochester and Antoinette, by providing interchanging narration from their respective perspectives. The inclusion of introspection as a literary element in her narrative style allowed Rhys to present the emotional and mental responses that characters the exhibited to various forms of aggression that they confronted. In part one of Wide Sargasso Sea, “The first day [she] had to go to the convent,” Antoinette was targeted by a black girl and a white boy, and their reason to follow her, and subsequently “push [Antoinette] and the books [she] was carrying,” was made clear after the black girl said, “look the crazy girl, you crazy like your mother.” Accordingly, this particular case of harassment can be traced down to ethnical differences, supplemented by the circulation of stories about the Cosway family that made them prone to alienation by those in their community. Antoinette’s reactions to the physical aggression she confronted was displayed by equipping her character with the ability to narrate this experience in the form of an introspective monologue; “I collapsed and began to cry (pg. 48),” her mind dictated, an unquestioned admittance to grieving clear evidence of the damage done to her emotional stability. She was reduced to a state through which “[she] could not answer,” after being questioned by Mother St. Justine about her health, which further reflected the state of that this development put her in. Rochester, on the other hand, experienced a more subtle form of aggression; Daniel Cosway made numerous remarks disguised as personal insults, and with sexual connotations, during a conversation with Rochester, which from a psychological standpoint can argued to be a form of aggressive behavior. He asked Rochester to “Give love to [his] sister- your wife,” which was met with anger and frustration in Rochester; Rochester’s reaction to Daniel’s remark was presented through the direct portrayal of his mental processes, which showed that “disgust was rising in [him] like sickness. Disgust and rage.”

Jean Rhys’s use of dialogue in this text allowed characters the ability to vocalize the thoughts and emotions they developed in response to aggression they encountered. Part two of the novel contains a conversation between Rochester and Antoinette, where Rochester says, “I feel that this place is my enemy and on your side (pg. 117),” in response to claims made by Antoinette, such as her inclination to believe that “[Rochester] has no right to ask questions about [her] mother and then refuse to listen to [her] answer.” Narration from Rochester’s perspective stated that she spoke “fiercely,” suggesting that Antoinette’s conduct must have remained aggressive during this conversation. Hence, the quote by Rochester provided above can be seen as a verbal response to Antoinette’s aggression, depicting how Rochester felt alienated and lost, as if “this place is [his] enemy,” whenever his only true companion in this foreign land turned against him. Soon, Christophine also bombards Rochester, much like Antoinette in the previous example, with claims such as his plot to “break [Antoinette] up,” and reduce her to an insignificant, damaged state by allowing her desires “to make love to [him] till she drunk,” diminish her independence. Unlike his earlier mentioned conversation with Antoinette, Rochester’s lines show no trace of loneliness or vulnerability. In other words, the calm and unworried state of his responses in this dialogue with Christophine suggests that he didn’t care about Christophine opinions on his marriage, and thus remained relatively unaffected by the aggression she presented him with.

In addition to the development of thoughts, which can then be vocally expressed, characters can also respond to aggression through body movement that would connote a specific form of emotion or feeling. Rhys’s assignation of specific behavioral attributes to their respective characters allowed for these characters to present their reactions to aggression through the certain physical actions that would connote a certain emotion or feeling. Tightened fists, quivering lips, fluttering eyelids, are all unobtrusive movements that someone can subconsciously execute and subsequently reveal the condition of their emotional and mental state. Antoinette, after her encounter with the girl and the boy that harassed her in part one of the novel, “pulled, and pulled at the bell (pg. 47)” of Mother St. Justine’s room, with her continuous knocking at the door an indicator of the shocked, hurried, and possibly traumatized state that harassment had put her in. Now, in addition to the purposeful action of pulling at Mother St. Justine’s bell, there were other minor physical behavioral attributes that her body was engaged in, such as her constant crying, the severity of which Rhys presented by writing that Antoinette “[cried] as fast as [Mother St. Justine] sponged [her] face.” The assignation of this temporary attribute to Antoinette’s character in this scenario is evidently trying to depict the burden and stress she was under because of her heritage, in addition to the damage done to her emotional wellbeing by the girl and boy she encountered.

When dealing with aggression in others, it is important to understand what kind of behavior or person makes you feel aggressive, how you should react to that aggression, and how you can control it. The story of Wide Sargasso Sea was built on conflicting cultures, during a time that cultivated class division. Aggression, the presentation of which and confrontation with, was inevitable given the chemistry of the characters included in the text, and hence formed an integral aspect of the text’s exploration of the human psyche.

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Destabilizing the Binary System Through Intertextual Symbolism

June 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

Jean Rhys’ novel Wide Sargasso Sea develops an intertextual relationship with Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre by inventing a backstory that can explain the tragic fate of Bertha Mason – the most marginalized character. The oppressive binary system created by the white colonials are not made apparent enough in Jane Eyre. To expose the interlocking systems of oppression that underlie Bronte’s text, Rhys incorporates prominent symbols found in Jane Eyre such as fire and the colour red and cultivates their meaning in her own novel. By cultivating symbols in Jane Eyre, readers are implored to delve further into why Rhys has chosen to extend Bronte’s use of symbols in her meta-text. She enriches those symbols in Wide Sargasso Sea to accomplish a certain goal: bring light to the existence and the effects of the oppressive binary system found in Jane Eyre in order to deconstruct the intelligibility of the binary system as a whole.

While Bronte in Jane Eyre uses symbols to show her protagonist overcoming difficulties and to racially categorize people, Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea incorporates those same symbols to undermine the intelligibility of the binary system by highlighting its limitations, thus warning readers of the dangers of accepting the dominant binary system set in place by those in power. It is important to understand the notion of binaries and its effects first to see why Rhys might have made them an object of focus through the adopted symbols. Flynn and Leonard in Necessary Fictions claims that binaries convey a hierarchal relation between two terms, and that no person, place, or thing in this world is beyond this ideology (Flynn and Leonard Ch. 4). Since binaries are made by those in power, they act as a vehicle for hegemonic discourse by carrying norms, values, and hierarchies established by those in power (Ch. 4). In addition, binaries influence how subjects see themselves and who they think they are in relation to what is considered right or wrong (Ch. 4). Bertha/Antoinette in the two novels is confined by binaries that carry norms and values counter-intuitive to her culture at home. Due to the conflicts between the ridged European-based binaries and the multi-faceted cultures of the Caribbean, Bertha/Antionette suffer internal conflicts which make it difficult for her to subjugate herself in relation to what is right or wrong.

Oppressive binaries are in both Jane Eyre and in Wide Sargasso Sea, but in the former it is covert, and in the latter, it is prominent. In Jane Eyre, Bertha is utterly oppressed by the binary system, but the novel is worded to make it appear as if it is necessary for her to be locked away in secrecy. The first clear description of Bertha depicted her as a savage animal: “it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal” (Bronte 338). Bertha’s spectators could not tell whether she is a “beast or [a] human being . . . at first sight” (338). All they could tell is that the figure is “covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face” (338). Furthermore, in a conversation Jane had with the locals, he tells her that Bertha “[is] kept in very close confinement” and “people even for some years [are] not absolutely certain of her existence” (491). Looking strictly at the words used, there is no suggestion or thought that this beast of a human has been coerced to become like this. Instead, it is made to seem like Bertha set fire to the hall because she is a “lunatic” and not because she was systematically oppressed by the binary system (492). Jane, the narrator whom the readers view the world through, is blind to the consequences of silencing and imprisoning another individual. Bertha is oppressed because she does not co-exist well with the binary system England enforces.

Rhys exposes the historically and racially biased binaries in the world of Jane Eyre by creating a meta-text with Antoinette/Bertha caught in-between dueling epistemologies, highlighting the prejudices that create those oppressive binaries. Conforming to those oppressive binaries can lead to the degradation of a person. Coco the parrot in Wide Sargasso Sea symbolizes the dangers of binaries. Coco can act as a stand-in for Bertha in Jane Eyre. The parrot had his wings clipped by Mr. Mason and became ill-tempered afterwards as he displayed aggressive behaviour towards other people (Rhys 21). As Antionette’s house was burning down, she saw that “everybody was looking up and pointing at Coco on the glacis railings with his feathers alight. He made an effort to fly down but his clipped wings failed him, and he fell screeching. He was all on fire” (22). Coco directly correlates with Bertha, who in Jane Eyre is described as a “big woman, and had long black hair: [they] could see it streaming against the flames as she stood” on the top of Thornfield Hall (Bronte 493). The people of Thornfield saw a man approach her, but she yelled and jumped off the house, “and the next minute she lay smashed on the pavement” (493).

In Jane Eyre, the death of Bertha is unsympathetic as she is simply seen as the escaped lunatic wife. Coco the parrot embodies Bertha’s situation. The systematical oppression using binaries leaves little room for a person like Bertha to prosper. As mentioned above, she does not co-exist well with the binary system the Europeans created since she is a marginalized character; someone who is not exactly fully integrated nor rejected in society due to her culture and race. Rochester clearly values certain traits over others. Being white, passive, and docile is preferred over being colored, assertive, and flamboyant. These named traits are binaries of one another, and having non-preferred traits consequently leads to the loss of respect and privilege. Thus, Coco the parrot falls down helpless and on fire because he was stripped away of the necessities to survive in the world, similar to how Bertha falls to her death in society due to her loss of autonomy and sanity.

After delineating the existence and the effects of the oppressive binary system in Jane Eyre, I will now compare how symbols are used by both Bronte and Rhys. Fire in Jane Eyre symbolizes sexual passion and destruction, both of which Jane must persevere through. Fire’s symbolic meaning can be found in the various instances when a fire starts in Thornfield Hall. A sexual connotation is produced by the first fire Bertha starts: “tongues of flame [that] darted round the bed” (Bronte 174). This use of fire symbolizes the sexual passion that used to envelop the relationship between Rochester and Bertha. Readers can see that the sexual relationship between them was hot, passionate, and centered around the bedroom. Jane must overcome and remove this sexual passion before she can become the sole desire of Rochester. She figuratively overcomes this fiery passion by dousing the flames with a bucket of water (174). Fire also symbolizes destruction in Jane Eyre. The second fire Bertha sets “broke out at the dead of night, and before the engines arrived from Millcote, the building was one mass of flame” (491). It made Thornfield Hall quite a ruin (491). Luckily Jane was away at the time because Bertha “made her way to the chamber that had been the [Jane’s] . . . and she kindled the bed there,” thereby avoiding the dangers that fire brought altogether (492). Fire brings only destruction to Thornfield hall and to Bertha herself. Rochester becomes crippled from the incident and loses most of his fortune and property. This change in fate makes Jane wealthier than Rochester. After Jane overcomes the trouble fire has caused, can she then live happily with Rochester. Those instances of fire are used in direct opposition to Jane. Fire is related to Hell, and that is what stands between Jane from being with Rochester. The removal of fire results in the removal of obstacles for Jane, allowing her to succeed in the end. She informs readers that she has “now been married ten years” and knows “what it is to live entirely for and with what [she] love[s] best on earth” (519). She also thinks of herself as “supremely blest” because her husband’s life is fully hers as she is his and that “no woman was ever nearer to her mate than [she is] . . . [as they] are precisely suited in character” (519). The death of Bertha and Thornfield Hall marks the turning point for Jane because the obstacles between her and a happy life are removed. Thus, the symbolic meaning of fire in Jane Eyre – sexual passion and destruction – is used to oppose Jane, and only when all the fires have been subdued may Jane proceed uncontested.

On the other hand, fire in Wide Sargasso Sea is reworked to symbolize both destruction, and redemption of individuality. Fire thus develops a double entendre which consequently defies the logic of the colonial’s binary system. Fire can symbolize destruction – like in Jane Eyre – as seen when hate for Antoinette’s family grew in Coulibri. This hate compelled the other denizens to set fire to her home. The house burned like tinder and there was nothing her family could do to stop their home from being completely engulfed in flames (Rhys 20). The fire claimed more than just her home, as it claimed the life of her brother and the sanity of her mother: “she was part of Coulibri, that had gone, so she had gone, I was certain of it” (25). However, unlike the static symbolic meaning of fire in Jane Eyre, fire develops a new meaning throughout Rhys’ novel. Fire also holds a certain protective and redeeming feeling for Antoinette. In her vision of setting Thornfield Hall on fire, she sees “a wall of fire protecting [her]” from a ghost-like Jane (122). After she wakes up, she learns at last “why [she] was brought here and what [she has] to do” (122). Her candle flame almost flickered out, but she shields it with her hand and it burns brightly once again, lighting up the dark passage (123). In this instance, fire provides Antoinette a second chance at obtaining her own identity, while also providing her direction. She feels both the destructive nature of fire, and the redemption aspect of it. Hence, the symbolic meanings of fire in Rhys’ novel resists the systematic classification of symbols as fire itself can represent both heaven and hell.

Moreover, the use of the color red as a symbol in Wide Sargasso Sea also deconstructs the system of binaries by suggesting that not everything can be clearly categorized into one or the other as established by those in charge. However, in Bronte’s novel, the color red is used by Rochester as an index for his binary conception of race, which consequently makes Bertha appear as a grotesque monster, placing her on one end of the binary. Any skin color or skin tone other than white is placed on one side of the binary spectrum with white on the other. Antoinette is a Creole, which in her case means a person who descended from the Europeans and has settled in the West Indies. She is neither wholly from either Europe or the West Indies – culturally speaking – as she is openly rejected by both cultures. Rochester values and prefers people like Jane who are racially and culturally white over other people who are not. This is proved when Rochester says to Jane that if she were mad like Bertha, he would still love her regardless (Bronte 347). In Rochester’s mind, Bertha is simply seen as the other colored people and not someone from home, which is why even if Jane became mad just like Bertha is perceived to be, he would still love her. In addition to the color red being used as an index for Rochester’s binary conception of race, it is also used to symbolize hell-like attributes. The notion of heaven and hell are binaries that categorize Jane on the former end, and pitting Bertha in the latter end of the binary. The following example demonstrates how English society in Jane Eyre uses the binary system to oppressively categorize and define people: Rochester compares Bertha to Jane, asking his companions to “look at the difference [and] compare [Jane’s] clear eyes with the red balls yonder – [her] face with [Bertha’s] mask – [her] form with that bulk” (Bronte 339). He continues to comment on how Jane “stands so grave and quiet at the mouth of hell, looking collectedly at the gambols of a demon” (339). Rochester’s comparison uses the color red to symbolize hell, which “establish[es] an organizing contrast between the two mutually exclusive terms” (Flynn and Leonard Ch. 4). By creating contrast, each term obtains “its full meaning in human culture and language” (Ch. 4). The color red in the culture and language that the colonials use defines Bertha/Antionette by categorizing her as demonic, and un-earthly. In the English language, the historical use for anyone who is not racially white would be considered a person of color. Thus, the color red in Jane Eyre is used as symbol to define Bertha’s race, and to refer to hell-like attributes. When the two meanings for the symbol are combined, it subsequently leads to a negative portrayal of a non-white race.

In response to Jane Eyre’s use of the color red, Wide Sargasso Sea undergoes the process of reclamation for the color red to decenter its symbolic intelligibility as an index for binary conceptions of race while also destabilizing the certainty of the binary system. The symbolic use of the color red aims to resist the black and white categorization of people and ideologies that the colonials use and value so much. As mentioned earlier, the binary system carries hegemonic discourse, and with common discourse comes power. Power and control over people comes from being able to classify and assign values to the binaries – the same way scientists devise methods and systems to classify every living species to every type of element on this planet. When something proves to be an exception to their systematic rules, the system loses its intelligibility and must be fixed using exceptions to their methodological rules they created. Similarly, Antoinette is an exception to the rules the binary system created. As Antoinette stood on the roof, she “turned around and saw the sky. It was red and all [her] life was in it” (Rhys 123). Analyzing the words picked by Rhys, she described the entire sky as the color red with Antoinette’s entire life or essence in the color. There is nothing part of that sky or her life that obeys the strict binary classification system as the color red is neither black nor white. It follows that her life resists the classification of binaries which sees everything as either one or the other, leaving no in-between space. The redness of the sky and her life creates a middle-ground between the two binaries, giving space to people who – like her – belong in a binary-less world. The red sky contained things from her childhood: all the colors she has seen, places she has been to, and the tree of life in flames (123). In other words, her childhood was full of people of various cultures. The colonial binary system cannot fully appreciate the variety of cultures that exist in the world, which is why it hastily categorizes every other non-white culture as colored. Doing so keeps the binary system alive and retains power in those who use the binary system in an oppressive manner. Although, as explained above, this way of categorizing people is faulty as it does not do justice to the amount of other people of different backgrounds that also exist. Antoinette challenges the binary system and makes a statement regarding her individuality by firmly engraving her existence – “Antoinette Mason, née Cosway, Mount Calvary Convent, Spanish Town, Jamaica, 1839” – outside of their binary system in “fire red” (29). Hence, the color red that Antoinette describes defies the simple classification system of binaries by emphasizing the disregarded but unique cultures and races that the colonials have simply categorized together.

Thus, the shared intertextual symbols between Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea can make readers aware of the oppressive binaries present in texts and in the real world by considering how much of the discourse is influenced in favour of one of the two binaries. In addition, Rhys’ adaptation of fire and the color red as symbols also deconstructs the intelligibility of the binary system by highlighting its limitations. Only by being aware of how binaries can be oppressive to some, can one begin to challenge the system of binaries created by those in power. Bronte’s novel is founded upon interlocking systems of oppression that are subtle but impactful, while Rhys’ novel seems to want to burn the binary system to the ground and replace it with a different system that values both the racialized and the privileged instead.

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Narrative Voice in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea

June 17, 2019 by Essay Writer

In a first-person narrative reflecting on the past, like Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre or Jean Rhys’ expansion thereof, Wide Sargasso Sea, the presentation of the memories which constitute the story immensely affects the thematic impact of the work by reflecting the narrator’s feelings about their experiences. In the aforementioned novels, both narrators’ memories are colored by their own impressions of particular times in their lives; thus, the tone that each speaker uses reflects their circumstances at the time, and their respective fates as a whole. Specifically, it reflects Jane’s eventual happiness with Rochester, Antoinette’s perpetual isolation, and Rochester’s entrapment in his marriage.

Both novels begin when the narrator is a child trapped in an unaccepting, isolating environment. As children, they both naturally have an imperfect grasp on their surroundings. Both accounts give a somewhat disjointed, distorted narrative, which the reader understands is not entirely trustworthy; however, it is important to distinguish that Antoinette’s narration is far more so than Jane’s. Her narrative skips suddenly from one event to another, and from specific instances to generalizations of her life and descriptions of the scenery whenever it is relevant. As she ages into adolescence, this effect becomes less severe, but it remains still. Conversely, Jane’s presentation of events is more organized, and flows between events without much obtrusive interruption in the atmosphere.

This disparity reflects both Antoinette’s less “civilized” upbringing in the Caribbean and her foreboding fate of a descent into madness like her predecessors. As Rhys makes her protagonist’s roots evident, she shows how Antoinette’s exposure to a nature-surrounded upbringing by former slaves gives her a more natural, disjointed sense of time than the rigid, linear sort which those like Rochester and Jane learn in England. Thus, Antoinette’s sense of time seems disorderly in the eyes of a modern Western reader. Combined with the knowledge later revealed regarding the Cosway family history and possible prior knowledge of her fate from Jane Eyre, this cements the reader’s sense that Antoinette is fated for madness. In contrast, Jane’s narration is more organized and linear, reflecting, in addition to her strict and well-educated upbringing, the fact that she never strays too far from stability; even Lowood, where she is isolated and miserable, eventually proves to be a place where she can prosper as a student and as a teacher. Fittingly, Jane does finally find happiness with Mr. Rochester. Rochester’s narration in Wide Sargasso Sea, too, is more linear than that of his first wife; his narration flows between events with less breaking in the narrative — naturally, seeing as he is the most educated narrator of all these three.

The language which the respective narrators use sets a tone immediately in each distinct section of their life. In Jane Eyre, these treatments emphasize the effect each experience has on Jane. For example, she arrives at her cousins’ home in a blizzard, trudging through deep snow, and remains snowed in for some time. This circumstance creates the perception that she is trapped there. Notably, the novel begins rather somberly, reflecting Jane’s mistreatment and isolation in Gateshead and at Lowood Institute. After Jane matures and is able to leave these oppressive institutions to become a governess, however, the change of pace stimulates her yearn for adventure and she is able to experience more things in a more vibrant light. In contrast, in Wide Sargasso Sea, this same effect establishes a consistent overtone of isolation for both Antoinette, on account of her family history, and for Rochester, on account of his foreign origin. In the first section of Antoinette’s narration, a sense of being lost is tangible; in the third, where she is locked up in Rochester’s attic, the prevailing feeling is one of helplessness and hopelessness. When Rochester narrates, he automatically sets an impression of uncertainty about the nature of his marriage and his new surroundings. His view of his life is overwhelmingly pessimistic and defeated; after all, his account begins with the phrase “so it was all over,” (59), automatically emphasizing an ending and creating a pessimistic tone. Although Rochester presents this ending as something which may have happened “for better or for worse,” he soon makes it evident to the reader that his move and his marriage bring him misery.

The narrators’ selective memories also have a hand in affecting the tone. Jane notably tends to remark on the weather before recounting a major event, particularly an unfortunate one. The weather conditions she mentions also reflect her general feeling about an era; while recounting her stay at the oppressive Lowood Institute, she often remarks the cold and unpleasant weather, but she consistently notes excellent weather while with Rochester at the festive, open Thornfield Hall, especially when their relationship is on an upturn. She even talks about “twilight and snowflakes” (113) when she is unable to see Rochester, indicating that, after their meeting, his presence is integral to her happiness. Selective memories such as these affect the general atmosphere of a scene and therefore express to the reader Jane’s overall emotional state. Rochester, too, uses this technique to set a tone in his own account; at the beginning of his narrative, the first time we see him and Antoinette together from his perspective, he remarks “sad leaning cocoanut [sic] palms,” a “shingly beach,” and an uneven collection of huts in a village macabrely called “Massacre.” In opening his section of the narrative with these details, he establishes a sad, dull tone which reflects his feelings about the island and about his marriage. Later, he mentions the fast-dying pale flowers outside his window (79) before he states his first major criticisms of his bride; she is inconsistent — i.e. showing the earliest signs of her insanity — and has unwelcome unfeminine traits. Antoinette’s narration is also marked by selective omission, although it is never quite clear whether she does this out of a desire to hide her past or out of a simple inability to remember her past coherently. Regardless, her failure to mention details such as her family’s history of mental illness and her former relationship with her cousin Sandi make it evident that she is not a reliable or wholly truthful narrator.

The choices Rhys makes regarding narrative voice serve to establish an overarching feeling of unhappiness for her two protagonists, in creating tone which conveys isolation and restraint. In contrast, the tone Charlotte Brontë sets through Jane Eyre’s narration stays emotionally vibrant, even as her life strays far from perfection. Together, these narrative voices emphasize the eventual destiny in these novels; Antoinette dies in isolation, while Rochester, after his dull marriage to her, finds mutual love and happiness with Jane.

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Eyre on the Side of Caution: Two Literary Heroines Face Life’s Challenges

May 17, 2019 by Essay Writer

In life, different variables affect an individual’s growth. These variables can include any aspect of a person’s life, ranging from family influence to personal passions. In the novels Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, the authors use certain themes to shape the lives of their female protagonists. Charlotte Bronte’s wide scope of Jane Eyre’s life journey creates a comprehensive emotional picture of Jane’s spiritual growth. Likewise, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys expounds on a mysterious character from Jane Eyre, Antoinette Cosway, Mr. Rochester’s wife. As Jane and Antoinette mature, friendship, education, spirituality, and romantic love affect their growth and outlook on life.

As a child, Jane’s friendships help her remain optimistic and ambitious as she faces countless challenges. At Gateshead Hall, Jane identifies the maid, Bessie, as her only friend amidst her malicious family members. Although Bessie cannot defend Jane from this injustice, she shows Jane patience and love. Bessie’s friendship teaches Jane to value friends as a source of hope. This mindset sticks with Jane as she journeys on to Lowood, Thornfield Hall, Moor House, and, lastly, Ferndean. At the beginning of her time at Lowood, Jane finds solidarity in a fellow student, Helen Burns. Because of a practically loveless childhood, Jane expresses to Helen a fear of being ostracized yet again. Her fears swell when Mr. Brocklehurst warns all of Lowood’s teachers and pupils to beware of Jane, relaying the lies Jane’s aunt told him. In response to Jane’s insecurity, Helen says, “‘If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends’” (Bronte 94). Helen explains how self-confidence is the key to facing adversity, for in truth, God’s judgment is the only opinion that matters. Jane accepts Helen’s optimistic outlook on life. In fact, her newfound value for personal integrity helps her accrue the respect of Mr. Rochester in later chapters.

Unlike Jane, Antoinette’s relationships in Wide Sargasso Sea bring cynicism and little happiness into her life. At the novel’s opening, Antoinette lives as a social pariah in Coulibri Estate. Growing up in isolation, Antoinette befriends a young black girl, Tia. From Tia, Antoinette learns about the gossip surrounding her family. Tia talks outwardly about the murmurs of the nearby Spanish Town: “She [Tia] hear all we poor like beggar…Real white people, they got gold money. They didn’t look at us, nobody see them come near us. Old time white people nothing but white nigger now, and black nigger better than white nigger” (Rhys 22). In an unfriendly manner, Tia deprecates Antoinette’s worth. Although Antoinette is kept sheltered from the outside world, she still suffers emotionally from the prejudices of her neighbors. Not even her first friend will spare her from the embarrassment. This initial exposure to her poor social status shapes Antoinette’s view of herself and her family. Quality of life continues to deteriorate for her when her house is burned down and her mother dies after—allegedly—losing her sanity. Such a tumultuous background contributes to her low self-esteem and distrust of others.

In the face of adversity, Jane and Antoinette willingly accept education as a way to escape from their disappointing lives. In Antoinette’s situation, her escape to the convent protects her from her family’s tragic descent into mayhem. Antoinette describes her convent school as “a place of sunshine and of death where very early in the morning the clap of a wooden signal woke the nine of us who slept in the long dormitory” (Rhys 51). In this quotation, Antoinette expresses her gratitude for the seclusion of the convent. Surprisingly, she remains grateful in spite of the disconcerting presence of death. Antoinette’s willingness to overlook the convent’s less appealing aspects proves how thankful she is to simply be away from her former life as a social outcast.

Similar to Antoinette, Jane initially sees the Lowood Institution as an escape from her punitive aunt. However, the theme of education bears a stronger significance in Jane’s growth than in Antoinette’s. ane’s education opens up opportunities for her throughout Jane Eyre and recurs often as an important subject matter, but in Wide Sargasso Sea, education is mentioned once, briefly. Despite this disparity, both characters shared the same romanticized view of religious schools. To Jane, “it implied a long journey, an entire separation from Gateshead, an entrance into a new life” (Bronte 28). Jane hopes she can start a new life at Lowood. During Jane’s tenure at Lowood, Christian education is characterized as an ascetic lifestyle. A prime example of this mindset is when Mr. Brocklehurst, Lowood’s benefactor, berates a teacher for serving the girls bread and cheese outside of their normal meal time, an action prompted by the serving of burnt porridge for breakfast. Mr. Brocklehurst preaches to her:

“You are aware that my plan in bringing up these girls is, not to accustom them to habits of luxury and indulgence, but to render them hardy, patient, self-denying…Oh, madam, when you put bread and cheese, instead of burnt porridge, into these children’s mouths, you may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!” (Bronte 84)

In his spiel, Mr. Brocklehurst describes the Christian educational experience as abstemious. Christian students, according to his piety, must be self-reliant and independent of excess commodities. He believes conveniences made for the girls—in this case, an edible meal—distracts them from this principle, depriving their souls. Through Mr. Brocklehurst’s callous character, Bronte establishes a negative representation of education in Jane Eyre’s exposition. However, as the novel progresses and Jane matures, education becomes a useful tool. After Mr. Brocklehurst was replaced, Jane grows to appreciate her studies more, becoming an excellent student and an exemplary teacher. Her tenacious passion for learning enables her to reap opportunities voraciously. Furthermore, her education continues to benefit her in her life after Lowood. Her brilliant abilities procure her a job as Adele’s nanny at Gateshead Hall, for one. Secondly, her perspicacity enraptures Mr. Rochester, a man of high standards and taste. Lastly, her background helps her find a job as a teacher in Morton and win the respect of St. John Rivers, a stoic preacher.

In contrast to the theme of education, spirituality plays contradicting roles in the two heroines’ lives. In Wide Sargasso Sea, religion has a sinister presence, appearing in tandem with negative events in Antoinette’s life. Religion is specifically associated with betrayal. For instance, a Biblical allusion occurs when Antoinette turns to Christophine, begging for a love potion. After she receives the potion, Antoinette leaves Christophine’s quarters and notices that “nearby a cock crew and I [Antoinette] thought, ‘That is for betrayal, but who is the traitor?’” (Rhys 107). This biblical allusion of the rooster’s crow refers to two of Jesus’ disloyal disciples, Judas and Peter. As Jesus predicted in the Last Supper, Judas led the Romans to him in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Peter denied his allegiance to Jesus three times before a rooster crowed. Antoinette recalls the significance of the rooster’s crow and contemplates who the traitor would be in her situation. Clearly from Mr. Rochester’s point of view, Antoinette acts as the traitor since the potion gives him the sensation of drowning in his sleep. This allusion recurs a few pages later when Mr. Rochester is conspiring to rid himself of Antoinette. He writes a letter to his father explaining his decision to return to England. As he writes this letter, he hears that “a cock crowed persistently outside” (Rhys 147). Unlike Antoinette, Mr. Rochester does not heed the rooster’s warning. Ironically, he does not acknowledge the Biblical significance of the rooster’s crow, even though he claims to be a practicing Christian.

Jane Eyre poses a different development of spirituality. At the start of Jane Eyre, Bronte introduces Mr. Brocklehurst, the benefactor of Lowood Institution. Even though he claims to be a humble Christian who only needs the bare necessities, he lives extravagantly and pampers his family with indulgences. Through this character, Bronte presents spirituality as a form of hypocrisy. Nevertheless, Bronte explores a more positive outlook on spirituality through the words of Helen Burns, Jane’s childhood friend. Unlike Mr. Brocklehurst, Helen uses Christianity to engender an unconditional love in herself for all people, no matter how they treat her. At Lowood, Helen is frequently singled out by her teacher and is punished for the slightest infractions. Jane observes as Helen accepts this maltreatment with grace. Astounded, Jane confronts Helen, curious to know why Helen refuses to denounce her punisher. In responses, Helen relays Bible verse about loving everyone, even criminals. She says, “‘I can so clearly distinguish between the criminal and his crime; I can sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last: with this creed revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low: I live in calm, looking to the end’” (Bronte 77). Helen’s religion gives her an inner peace and the ability to forgive easily, anger slowly, and love wholly. Her calm disposition remains steadfast even when she falls ill with typhus. Thanks to Helen’s influence, Jane develops a deeper connection with the purpose of Christianity, to love and be humble. Her friendship with Helen helps her grow to forgive her aunt and cousins for mistreating her. Helen showed her how to soften her heart. Another facet of spirituality concerns the inner spirit of Jane herself. Quite a few times, Mr. Rochester calls her an angel. Throughout her journey, Jane nourishes her own spirit while remaining aware of her religious upbringing.

Lastly, the theme of romantic love strongly motivates Jane, but the lack of romantic love ruins Antoinette. At the end of Jane Eyre¸ Jane finally returns to her love, Mr. Rochester, now crippled after his mansion’s burning, and marries him. She lives on happily knowing “what it is like to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth…No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I” (Bronte 656). Jane proudly professes her love for Mr. Rochester and claims she is the most attentive and devoted lover of all. Her fidelity shows as she continues to care for him at Ferndean. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette expresses her unbridled animosity towards Mr. Rochester after bearing witness to his sexual affair with a servant. She tells him, “I hate you and before I die I will show you how much I hate you” (Bronte 134). Antoinette promises to make Mr. Rochester rue the day of their meeting. She will fulfill this vow eventually by burning his house to the ground. Out of all the past parallels, these heroines resemble each other strongest in their passion, even though Antoinette’s is one of hatred.

Charlotte Bronte and Jean Rhys depict full-bodied characters in their epic novels. As they push their heroines through perilous struggles, they deftly capture Jane’s and Antoinette’s emotional growth. Friendship, education, spirituality, and romantic love help and hinder the women, but no matter their effect, these themes contribute emotive volume to the novel. Bronte uses these components to motivate Jane and to propel her from one step of her journey to the next. In a different manner, Rhys uses them to discourage Antoinette, driving her to madness. Without such elaborate themes, nothing could have moved Jane and Antoinette to reach their emotional climaxes.

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Impact of “Epistemic Violence” of Imperialism in Wide Sargasso Sea

May 6, 2019 by Essay Writer

Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea is regarded as a striking Caribbean novel, lying between the world of capitalism and post-Emancipation West Indies. However, many critics frequently tend to overlook the marginality of women in the post-colonial era because white Anglo-American feminists often stress on the rights or liberty of white women, while post-colonial critics are prone to focus on those of men in the post-colonial realms. The post-colonial feminist critic, Gayatri C. Spivak, therefore, provide a theoretical model from feminist angle for post-colonialism studies. According to Spivak, epistemic violence denotes that colonizers try to reject or reshape the local culture of colonies through the imperial discourse of science, universal truth and religious redemption. Thus, to view Wide Sargasso Sea from Spivk’s perspective, and to read this book as a text that restores the voices victimized by historical silences, readers can perceive that the tragedy of the protagonist, Antoinette, actually roots in the impact of “epistemic violence” of imperialism, which can be seen in three elements: Antoinette’s vacuum world, binary constructions between Antoinette and Rochester, and applying of mirror metaphor.

Speaking as if Antoinette was in a vacuum world, where she speaks no one for no reason, she struggles to confirm her racial thinking and self-identification under the influence of epistemic violence. The first section of the story abounds in scenes to display that for the racial thinking. Antoinette partly replicates her mother’s, not surprisingly to the point that the black and colored people like Christophine can reassure her. Like her mother said that had it not been for Christophine, they would all be dead and “that would have been a better fate than being abandoned, lied about, helpless” (Rhys 27). However, Mardorossian points out that “Antoinette is not aware of the subtext of these comments; she does not pick up on the trope of the gossipy and idle black to which her mother is referring” (1074). Otherwise, she would not bother to console her mother by saying that Godfrey and Sass stayed. For her self-identification, Antoinette ever said in the story: “They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks. The Jamaican ladies never approved of my mother, ‘because she pretty like pretty self’ Christophine said” (Rhys 18). Readers can perceive that Antoinette draws voice from a cross-cultural matrix as a cultural other and a unified outsider. Also, in Winterhalter’s words, “she defines herself in relation to the language of ‘the white folks’ by citing the authority of their folk wisdom”; and “establishes her distinct Creole heritage by placing herself outside the white colonials, for ‘we were not in their ranks’; then “incorporates the insights of the island Blacks by quoting Christophine’s analysis of the motives for her cultural rejection” (218). Albeit in this vacuum world that “there is no fictional listener to Antoinette’s voice, no ‘you’, no ‘reader’, no addressee to mediate between the nineteenth-century colonial ‘I’ and the twentieth-century postcolonial reader”, quite the contrary, “the omission of a ‘you’ and of a context—a reason for speaking—may increase the illusion of Antoinette as a reliable, truthful witness, informing the reader of ‘the other side’ of Bronte’s version” (Neck-Yoder 185), and then exactly reflect the impact of epistemic violence on Antoinette.

Through binary constructions of the two protagonists, Antoinette and Rochester, and showing the affliction and oppression of Antoinette, Jean Rhys actually treats Rochester also as a victim of epistemic violence with narrating the entire half part of the novel. On the one hand, Rochester marries Antoinette solely for her fortune to help him gain proper position in society; after their marrying, he struggles to make Antoinette conform to his own desires by guiding that how she should speak or wear; he even violently renames her Bertha after their estrangement and his knowing her mother was a crazy woman. Antoinette gradually is aware of “the constructedness of notions of the real”, and “she is mainly shown trying to live up to her husband’s pre-established views and submitting to his unshakeable belief in the naturalness of his socially sanctioned ways of knowing” (Mardorossian 1076) by saying “You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. I know, that’s obeah too” (Rhys 147). However, Antoinette still tries to win him back. She tells him the truth about her mother and tells him her past stories, and wears the white dress he liked. Not surprisingly she fails. Because Rochester has confirmed that she is abnormal and probably has inherited her mother’s madness. Also, she is incapable of cognizing that Rochester views her attire as female sexual wantonness and “prostitution”, and indeed, Rochester only regard her as a sexual partner instead of a real, respected wife. On the other hand, in Rochester’s situation, he is forced to buy an heiress in colonies by the patriarchal inheritance law of entailment because he is not the firstborn. Then to consider his behavior to Antoinette, Spivak reveals that “so intimate a thing as personal and human identity might be determined by the politics of imperialism” (240). She meanwhile points out that Rhys utilizes “the thematics of Oedipus”, which is “the normative male subject” and “divided between the female and the male protagonist, feminism and a critique of imperialism become complicit” (241) to link Rochester and his patrimony. Seeing Rochester from Spivak’s perspective, readers can figure out that Rhys indeed provides the evidence by showing the scenario of letters to his father, which can be regard as part of explanation of the tragedy of this book: Dear Father. The thirty pounds have been paid to me without question or condition. No provision made for her […] I will never be a disgrace to you or to my dear brother the son you love. No begging letters, no mean requests. None of the furtive shabby manoeuvres of a younger son. I have sold my soul or you have sold it, and after all is it such a bad bargain? The girl is thought to be beautiful, she is beautiful. (59) Dear father, we have arrived from Jamaica after an uncomfortable few days. This little estate in the in the Windward Islands is part of the family property and Antoinette is much attached to it. […] All is well and has gone according to your plans and wishes. I dealt of course with Richard Mason […] He seemed to become attached to me and trusted me completely. This place is very beautiful but my illness has left me too exhausted to appreciate it fully. I will write again in a few days’ time. And so on. (63) From the two versions of letters above, Rochester changes his descriptions of surrounding things, even potential feelings about everything he undergoes. However, readers know neither the name of the character that is corresponding to Rochester, nor the destination the letter eventually reaches. Rochester actually traps into the barriers of Patronymic and under the great effect of discourse of imperial epistemic violence. Again, in Spivak’s words, “his writing of the final version of the letter to his father is supervised, in fact, by an image of the loss of the patronymic”, and “Rhys’ version of the Oedipal exchange is ironic, not a closed circle” (241).

If in the case of Rochester and his patrimony, which Rhys links with the thematics of Oedipus, then, for Antoinette, Rhys utilizes the thematics of Narcissus. When it comes to Narcissus, there are often many images of mirror metaphor. For instance, Tia, a Jamaican black servant girl, who is Antoinette’s childhood playmate: We had eaten the same food, slept side by side, bathed in the same river. As I ran, I thought, I will live with Tia and I will be like her […] When I was close I saw the jagged stone in her hand but I did not see her throw it […] We stared at each other, blood on my face, tears on hers. It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking glass. (Rhys 38) Antoinette wants to maintain their friendship and see Tia as an indispensable part of her life, while Tia doesn’t think so. Because the Jamaican slaves has been set free and they are enjoying delight with liberty. Although Tia bursts into tears when she sees Antoinette’s bleeding face, she still throws that stone. This seemingly simple behavior exactly indicates Tia is more sensitive to the “adversarial relationship” between local Jamaican people and British colonizers, which is a metaphor of the relationship between Tia and Antoinette. As a white Creole girl, Antoinette suffers an affliction of marginalization, standing between the British colonizers (imperialism) and black aborigines; while as an independent individual, she can do nothing but part ways with Tia. In ancient Greek mythology, Narcissus’ madness is revealed when he realize his Other (his reflection from the water) as his self. Similarly in the very end of Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, before Antoinette burning herself, there is also a mirror metaphor which showing the Narcissism and lead Antoinette to death, because Antoinette finds herself has become an “Other” in the mirror: “I went into the hall again with the tall candle in my hand. It was then that I saw her—the ghost. The woman with streaming hair. She was surrounded by a gilt frame but I knew her” (Rhys 154). Antoinette gets stuck into the fictive England of her vision, hence herself also becomes a fictive Other to play her role, set fire and burn herself, contributing to make Jane Eyre the feminist individualist heroine in British literature. Just like Spivak says: “I must read this as an allegory of the general epistemic violence of imperialism, the construction of a self-immolating colonial subject for the glorification of the social mission of the colonizer” (240).

All in all, Wide Sargasso Sea portrays the white Creole, Antoinette’s dramatic yet tragic life and “interculturation” between white and black Creoles, as well as her relationship with her husband which displays the other side of Bronte’s Bertha and Rochester. Through viewing the three aspects from Antoinette’s vacuum world, binary constructions between Antoinette and Rochester, and applying of mirror metaphor above, readers can finally realize the strong effect of imperial epistemic violence in this novel. By creating a series of scenes of marginal women in the story and a sense of “recursive margins in the reader”, Wide Sargasso Sea shows the shifting of viewing feminist criticism of post-colonial literature, which focuses on the “silence women” in the third world: “the approach that extolled the unified and autonomous subject Jane […] has given way to a model that scrutinizes the potential negations and devaluations which such a definition of identity may involve” (Mardorossian 89) Then, readers try to figure out the reason for the silences and the method of resuscitating the voice of these “silence women” who are under the influence of epistemic violence. In this case, Spivak asserts that the epistemic violence of imperialism “imposes on the subaltern Western assumptions of embodied subjectivity and fails to acknowledge that the other has always already been constructed according to the colonizer’s self-image and can therefore not simply be given his/her voice back” (Mardorossian 1071). Thus, as with the development of civilization and democracy, no matter at present or in the following future, the voice of “silence women” in the third world need to be heard; meanwhile, the world should pay more attention to avoiding the remnant effects of imperial epistemic violence.

Works Cited

Mardorossian, Carine Melkom. “Double [de]colonization and the Feminist Criticism of ‘wide Sargasso Sea’”. College Literature 26.2 (1999): 79–95. Jstor. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.

—. “Shutting up the Subaltern: Silences, Stereotypes, and Double-entendre in Jean Rhys’s ‘wide Sargasso Sea’”. Callaloo 22.4 (1999): 1071–1090. Jstor. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: Norton. 1982. Print.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Three Imperial Text and a Critique of Imperialism.” Race, Writing, Difference. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 235-261. 1985. Print.

Van Neck-Yoder, Hilda. “Colonial Desires, Silence, and Metonymy: ‘all Things Considered’ in Wide Sargasso Sea”. Texas Studies in Literature and Language 40.2 (1998): 184–208. Jstor. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.

Winterhalter, Teresa. “Narrative Technique and the Rage for Order in ‘wide Sargasso Sea’”. Narrative 2.3 (1994): 214–229. Jstor. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.

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Contrasting Representations of Female Characters in Wide Sargasso Sea

April 15, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys uses her female characters predominately in a feminist style. The narrative itself is a rewriting of the literary history of Jane Eyre with a focus on the marginalised Bertha Mason both as a woman, a creole and in her financial status. While some female characters advocate modifying the inherited language of male oppressors, like Christophine does through her defiance against Rochester, others are subjugated by the arrival of male colonisers. These topics are explored through a range of events, symbols and metaphors.

Annette can be seen as a presentation of a female who is both assertive towards and oppressed by her male superiors. Olaussen makes the argument that in Annette’s adoption of feminine qualities ‘such as beauty, fragility, dependency and passivity make it impossible for her to change actively their situation.’ This sense of helplessness, in support of Olaussen’s status, is established at the start of the novel through Annette’s repetition of the verb ‘marooned’ after her horse is poisoned. The verb, used in its past tense form, gives a sense of total isolation and marginalisation from society but also a helplessness in Annette’s status with an inability to change their economic or social standing. Although, the readers narrator (Antoinette) states that ‘she had hope every time she passed a looking glass.’ As looking glasses are often used as symbols of identity, it may be implied that Annette’s sense of self is shaped by her physical appearances. In the context of Victorian society, there was an expectation for women to adopt qualities of attractiveness while remaining sexually reserved. Sarah Strickney- Ellis stated that women have a ‘high and holy duty’ to look after the ‘minor morals of life’, referring to the need for women to suppress their base desires. In this sense, Annette’s suppression of her base desires and true identity makes her helpless against her male superiors as her false fragility make her vulnerable. In addition, as appearances are ephemeral, it may be suggested that Antoinette’s sense of self is also non-permanent and therefore prefiguring her descent into madness. On the other hand, after the arrival of the ‘new’ colonisers, Antoinette states that ‘my mother married Mr Mason’. The use of syntax here places Annette as the subject of the sentence, which indicates that she is given status and power through her married state. However, later in Part 1, the parrot Coco may be seen as a symbol of Annette’s oppression. The parrot, as an exotic creature, may become emblematic of Annette’s entrapment since Mason’s arrival. Antoinette says that ‘after Mr Mason clipped this wings he grew very bad tempered.’ The clipping of rate wings by Mason may be symbolic of colonists entrapping of the native community, which in this instance is Antoinette both as a creole and as a woman. On the other hand, the ‘bad tempered’ nature of the parrot may reflect the social unrest caused by the arrival of the colonists and the violent nature of the colonised people. In this sense, it mirrors the aggressive behaviour of Annette towards Mason. In light of this, Olaussen’s statement is supported by Annette’s feminine weakness results in her deterioration both mentally and physically.

Under a different interpretation, Smith states that ‘Rochester’s attempts to own Antoinette and force her to conform make [her] seem insane.’ Through this statement, we can view the characterisation of Antoinette and the presentation of her marriage to be evidence of male subjugation by Rochester. Primarily, in the context of a Victorian law, prior to the Married Women’s Property Act 1870, Rochester has the rights to all of Antoinette’s property and wealth as well as her, making her entirely dependent on him. This dependency can be seen through the portrayal of Antoinette. In Antoinette’s second dream at the Convent, when she is led into the woods by a stranger, she states ‘I make no effort to save myself.’ This dream foreshadows the arrival of Rochester and her failure in asserting herself. Similarly, at the start of their sexual relationship, Rochester states that she had ‘poor weapons, and they had not served her well’. He draws on the semantic field of military jargon, a technique which is used repeatedly through the novel, to express his need to dominate Antoinette, viewing her as a conquest. Ultimately, he does achieve this objective, using the adjective ‘poor’ to give Antoinette a sense of vulnerability and weakness in regards to his advances. In line with Smith’s views, Rochester continues to attempt to ‘own’ his wife through changing her name to ‘Bertha’. Names are often used to symbolically show the power of language in relation to identity, hence Rochester’s attempts to alter this in order to change Antoinette’s sense of selfhood. Antoinette hates the name but demurely accepts it, showing that her role is transforming into her mothers, a powerless and manhandled woman. While this subtle change in her name seems insignificant, at the end of Part 2, there is the use of the simile ‘like a doll’ to depict Antoinette which shows the full extent of Rochester’s domination. By this point in the novel, Antoinette has become completely dependent on Rochester, shown by her likeness to an inanimate object. Although it may be argued that he’s been objectifying her all along, it’s debatable as to whether Rochester has complete domination of Antoinette, or whether Antoinette’s doll-like exterior is only a sham, a mask to conceal her rebellious impulses. In either sense, Antoinette’s sense of selfhood is altered to the point of corruption and is therefore characterised to be helpless and vulnerable. In this sense, Smith’s argument is validated in Antoinette’s ending sense.

Contrastingly to these predominately vulnerable female characters, Christophine offers an ‘important function’ within the novel as ‘powerful protector’ in the eyes of Olaussen. The first introduction of her powerful status is given when Antoinette says ‘the talk about Christophine and obeah changed it’ indicating that it is Christophine as an obeah practitioner that gives her status as a healer and witch. In the context of the time (circa 1840), the colonisers outlawed and punished the practice of obeah primarily because it gave the slave community a channel of communication. In light of this, Christophine is given her status through the power of her magic combined with an aspect of slave resistance. In her relations with Rochester, it is clear that Christophine is the dominant of the two. When they first meet, they stare at each other for a prolonged period of time and Rochester states that ‘I looked away first and she smiled.’ In an animalistic sense, they are attempting to establish dominance over one another, which Christophine does rather than Rochester. This may be due to Rochester’s inherent sense of superiority and his dismissal of the black, lower classes however Christophine’s primary dominance is contrary to the patriarchal society in which the characters are subject to. Furthermore, Christophine’s advice offers insight into her values of independence. She tells Antoinette that ‘women must have punks to live in this wicked world’ which captures her view on feminine power. Spunks, meaning guts and courage both indicates a need for feminine strength as well as providing an example of colloquialism. This may be seen as confronting the stereotypical feminine language by using language dominated by masculine concepts and values, reflecting a feminist technique in presenting strong female characters. In addition to this, Rochester describes that she has a ‘judges voice’ which gives Christophine power of judgement over Rochester’s actions, elevating her status and allowing her to condemn over Rochester. On the other hand, by the end of the same confrontation, Christophine is forced to back down after being threatened with the law by Rochester. The final image Rhys presents of Christophine is that ‘she walked away without looking back.’ This image of finality is ambiguous as it can be interpreted in two main ways. Firstly it may be seen as a final assertion of her victory after having the last word in the conflict or it can be seen as a defeat from Christophine’s perspective as Rochester’s threats have left her unable to compete with him. Under this interpretation, Christophine ultimately fails in her role as ‘powerful protector’ as she too is subjugated by the colonising Rochester.

Overall, Rhys’s blend of dependent and independent characters allows for a contrasting depiction of a women’s role within the society she constructs. However, ultimately most of the female roles at the forefront of the novel are dominated by the colonisers, making the true independence of the characters questionable.

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Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre: Challenging the Canon

April 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

Wide Sargasso Sea uses the erasure of Antoinette’s story from Jane Eyre to challenge a canon which is misrepresentative of British colonialism. However, Wide Sargasso Sea “does not adopt the adversarial strategy of dehumanizing Rochester” (Thieme 78). Rather, Rochester is also presented as a victim and in contrast to Jane Eyre’s authorial commentary, Wide Sargasso Sea presents both sides of the cultural divide. Through dividing the narrative between Antoinette and Rochester’s perspectives, Wide Sargasso Sea becomes a narrative about narrative and how a single perspective narrative precludes another. The misappropriation of the cultural other in Jane Eyre becomes a metaphor for the preclusion of alternative narratives from the traditional canon. Yet, Wide Sargasso Sea is dependent on Jane Eyre as an intertextual referent, simultaneously challenging and reinforcing its canonical status.

The concept of a canon of English Literature began in British ruled India as a form of colonial oppression. The 1835 English Education Act introduced the academic discipline of English Literature to India as a “civilising force” (Eaglestone 11). Through works such as Mathew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy and Francis Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of English Verse, the “study of English Literature was brought back to Britain to ‘re-civilise the native savages’” (Eaglestone 12). At the time of the publication of Wide Sargasso Sea in 1966, the concept of canon formation had been refined by F.R. Leavis. In The Great Tradition, he developed Arnold and Palgrave’s concept into an “authoritative list”, with a “civilising mission” designed to “cultivate a sense of national community” (Eaglestone 15, 55). However, his definition of the canon, which Robert Eaglestone notes as “perhaps the most significant influence on how English Literature was understood in the twentieth century”, also relied upon a “personal sensibility to make judgements they claim to be objective” (14, 55). Leavis’s account was built on the presupposition of British cultural superiority and forced people into a fixed pattern of values of “civilised Englishness” (Eaglestone 17). The exclusion of texts which did not reaffirm the narrow assumptions of value esulted in a monocultural perspective of British heritage which refuses to confront colonialism.

Jane Eyre reflects the hegemonic monoculturalism of canon formation in the early twentieth century. Bertha’s otherness is described as stereotypically bestial: “whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight tell: it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal […] a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face” (321). Her blackness is made explicit in Jane’s description of her having a “discoloured face” with “fearful blackened inflation of the lineaments” (311). Rochester also labels Bertha’s mother as a “madwoman and a drunkard”, associating her with “two of the most common stereotypes associated with blacks in the nineteenth century” (322, Meyer 253). The oppression of Bertha is “necessary for the emergence of the central and coherent unified female subject, Jane” (Childs 145). Bertha represents all that Jane is not, “Jane […] is poor, plain, little, pale, neat and quiet, while Bertha is rich, large, florid, sensual, and extravagant” (Gilbert 361). However, Jane and Bertha also share similarities and the imprisonment of Bertha recalls “that “bad animal” who was ten-year-old Jane, imprisoned in the red-room, howling and mad” (Gilbert 361). The similarities emphasise how Jane’s fate could become Bertha’s if she was to give in to desire and become Rochester’s mistress. The figurative use of Bertha to provide Jane with “an example of how not to act” presents the racialised other as incompatible with the egalitarian world-view Jane embodies (Gilbert 361). The misappropriation of Bertha is synonymous with the “unquestioned idiom of imperialist presuppositions” and justifies the civilising mission of St. John Rivers to bring “knowledge into the realms of ignorance” (Spivak 249, Brontë 376). The narrative events of Jane Eyre mirror the basis of canon formation, that “if you don’t ‘genetically’ share the idea of the canon […] you can neither properly appreciate not write great books” (Eaglestone 54). Bertha’s incarceration in the attic and the exclusion from the narrative demonstrates that the cultural other has no place in the dictated narrative of colonized canonical literature.

Wide Sargasso Sea challenges the limits of a monocultural canon by freeing Bertha from the attic, allowing her to become the protagonist of her own narrative. Bertha is reimagined as Antoinette to compose a “moral corrective for Charlotte Brontë’s silencing of Rochester’s first wife in Jane Eyre” (Arizti 39). A central component of the narrative is the figurative use of obeah and the fear of zombification. Obeah is described as a “black magic” that takes control of other peoples’ lives, transforming them into “a dead person who seems to be alive or a living person who is dead” (Rhys 66). Antoinette alludes to her fear of zombification when she tells Rochester “There are always two deaths, the real one and the one people know about” (81). Rochester exploits Antoinette’s fear and his insistence on calling Antoinette Betha “is an apt image of his violation of her identity”, “Bertha, is not my name” Antoinette protests, “You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. I know, that’s obeah too” (Thieme 78, Rhys 95). Through Rochester’s renaming of Antoinette, obeah is presented “as a discursive construct deployed by the colonizer as much as by the colonized” (Mardorossian 1079). However, Wide Sargasso Sea is not a complete counter-discourse to Jane Eyre and Rochester is also presented as a victim; the “impecunious younger son, who has been tricked into an arranged marriage” (Thieme 78). As Christophine notes “The man not a bad man […] but he hear so many stories he don’t know what to believe” (71). Instead, the theme of obeah is centered and Rochester’s use of obeah becomes a metaphor for how the colonizer uses narrative to silence the cultural other. Therefore, Wide Sargasso Sea is not just writing back “to an English canonical text, but to the whole of the discursive field within which such a text operated and continues to operate in post-colonial worlds” (Thieme 80). In doing so, it challenges the canonical assumption of a shared white heritage which Jane Eyre projects.

As a postcolonial work, the novel challenges imperialism, but “although the novel is oppositional in its response to Jane Eyre, it is more comfortable with other British intertexts that may not have been deemed canonical during Rhys’s earlier career, but had come to be regarded as such by the time she came to write the final version” (Thieme 80). The stream-of-consciousness narrative demonstrates an “affiliative response” to European modernist writers such as James Joyce and from this perspective Wide Sargasso Sea “is a late modernist text that is more concerned with providing multiple perspectives on the interior lives of its characters than […] postcolonial identity politics” (Thieme 80-81). Furthermore, although Bertha’s blackness is emphasized in Jane Eyre, Antoinette is the descendant of white plantation owners, removed from racial oppression. The narrative exposes the “limits of its own discourse in Christophine” who “cannot be contained by a novel which rewrites a canonical English text with the European novelistic tradition in the interest of the white Creole rather than the native” (Spivak 252-253). Christophine is a “commodified person” and although her perspective is critical of Rochester’s colonial rhetoric, the narrative does not “romanticize individual heroics on the part of the oppressed” and she “is driven out of the story, with neither narrative nor characterological explanation or justice” (Spivak 253). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak concludes that “No perspective critical of imperialism can turn the Other into a self, because the project of imperialism has always already historically refracted what might have been the absolutely Other into a domesticated Other that consolidates the imperialists self” (253). Although Spivak’s analysis of Christophine forces the reader to question Antoinette’s position as a figure of anti-colonial resistance, I would argue Wide Sargasso Sea does not consolidate the imperialism of Jane Eyre. The allegorical purpose of the narrative is not to be a postcolonial counter-discourse in the traditional sense, but to encourage the reader to question the nature of perspective narratives and how the telling of one story can so often preclude the telling of another. In this reading, the challenge is not to the canonical status of Jane Eyre but to the ethics of canon formation.

Wide Sargasso Sea cannot challenge the canonical position of Jane Eyre without simultaneously reinforcing it and “The Brontë novels became more visible […] in an academic environment that emphasized the text as a contested site, and reading as necessarily partial and ideologically fraught” (Lodge 191). However, Wide Sargasso Sea erodes the “monocultural optic of its canonical pre-text” and it becomes impossible to read both texts “without remembering that imperialism, understood as England’s social mission, was a crucial part of the cultural representation of England” in the nineteenth-century (Thieme 84, Spivak 243). The intertextual relationship between the two texts comes to reflect the multitude of conflicting narratives brought together in a postcolonial Britain, where a hegemonic monoculturalism is no longer viable.

Works cited:

Arizti, Bárbara. “The Future That Has Happened: Narrative Freedom and Déjà vu in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea.” A Breath of Fresh Eyre: Intertextual and Intermedial Reworkings of Jane Eyre, edited by Margarete Rubik and Elke Mettinger-Schartmann, Rodopi, 2007, pp. 39-48.

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Penguin, 1984.

Childs, Peter, editor. Post-Colonial Theory and English Literature: A Reader, Edinburgh UP, 1999.

Eaglestone, Robert. Doing English. Routledge, 2009. Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Yale UP, 2000.

Lodge, Sara. “Brontë scholarship and criticism, c. 1970-2000.” The Brontës in Context, edited by Marianne Thormählen, Cambridge UP, 2012, pp. 191-198.

Mardorossian, Carine M. “Shutting up the Subaltern: Silences, Stereotypes, and Double-Entendre in Jean Rhys’s ‘Wide Sargasso Sea.’” Callaloo, vol. 22, no. 4, 1999, pp. 1071–1090. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3299872. Accessed 28 April 2018.

Meyer, Susan. “Colonialism and Figurative Strategy of Jane Eyre.” Victorian Studies, vol. 33, no. 2, 1990, pp. 247-268, EBSCOhost, .ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=30h&AN=6879781&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 26 April 2018.

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. Penguin, 2001.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 12, no. 1, 1985, pp. 243-261. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1343469. Accessed 26 April 2018.

Thieme, John. Postcolonial Con-Texts: Writing Back to the Canon. A&C Black, 2002.

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