The Conflation Of Literary Forms In Wide Sargasso Sea And Baddawwi

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

The conflation of literary forms despite criticisms provide dense dimension to a novel and speaks to the fluidity of post-modern novelists and their contextual circumstance. Recognised by Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse are the emergence of the novel as ‘another kind of writing, as a diary, a journalistic account…a travel narrative.’ Born out of the seventeenth and eighteenth century this examination of the novel form further revealed its inextricable links with notion that genre has more than a theoretical reality. Genre however is arguably a negotiation of prescribed conventions that changes according to writers intent and the readers expectations, thus genre conventions are not prescriptive but fluid. Generating the capacity to amalgamate literary genre is Jean Rhys’ 20th century prequel to the infamous Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea. Examined for its rich interaction with Gothic convention or that of postcolonial deliberation, established is Rhys’ ability to allow these conventions to speak of intersectional issues its Creole protagonist encounters. Alternatively, Lelia Abdelrazq’s graphic narrative, Baddawwi relies on the collaboration of linguistics and illustrations to illuminate her conceptual story-telling. Standing as two paradigms of the mailability of the novel form and that of genre these authors can be compared to Maurice Blanchots notes on Hermann Broch: “Like many others authors of our era, he experienced that impetuous impulse of literature that no longer tolerates the distinction of genres and wants to shatter the limits.” 

Engaging with gothic conventions Wide Sargasso Sea surpasses the genres obvious attributes of wild visions and super natural trepidations instead finding weight in the fragility of the human psyche when subject to claustrophobic spiritual conditions. The novel noted as awaiting its ‘proper literary context’, can be analysed for its overtly gothic tendencies, compared to works such as Lewis’s The Monk and Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho Anthony Luengo claims that Wide Sargasso Sea supersedes these gothic classics and is in fact a far more compelling and striking Gothic novel. Investigating this assertion, Rhys use of gothic customs are clear, however not in the typical sense. Rhys surpasses Gothic conventions, dismantling tropes of flickering candles, creaking doors or mysterious portraits maintaining fascinations with the ghost as a ‘mental phenomenon’ which can be located in Antoinette’s psyche. The action is instead produced through prophecies, dreams and incarceration. In addition, the evocation of landscape and atmospheric elements further projects racial tensions and moulds the genre into a Caribbean dimension. The panoramic scope can be recognised for its binary function: firstly, it serves as an inversion of European Gothic tradition replacing mountains and castles with tropical lushness that captures dense heat, beaming colours, eerie roads and the ruins of slavery. Secondly, Wide Sargasso Sea sceneries and action are frequently explored in hallucinatory imagery. Rhys aware that the core of Gothic genre exceeds the conservatively scary, her inquisition of the human mind exercised in Antoinette. Further, the text burgeons in gothic fictions attraction to the colonial world as source of the paranormal and mysterious, colonial dimension tempting “a new sort of darkness — of race, landscape, erotic desire and despair”.

Alternatively, Abdelrazq’s graphic narrative works with the intricacy of image, craftwork and historical inquisition reducing the novel form to puncture the complexities of the refugee crisis. The literary form emerging out of the 18th century received perilous criticism with suggestions that it would threaten ‘the abilities of youth to distinguish between reality and artificiality’. In reference to Hillary Chutes validation of this narrative genre is its plausible ability to amalgamate imagery and prose to penetrate barriers of the ‘un-representable’, and further communicate contemporary discourses. Further she states, “Against a valorisation of absence and aporia, graphic narrative asserts the value of presence, however complex and contingent.” Simply, Baddawwi’s power lies precisely in its use of genre. The seemingly “thin” use of language and elementariness of the illustrations holds heavy historical, figurative and ideological information. The story orbits her father Ahmad’s reality, a Palestinian refugee, a small boy thrust in front of the audience draw as a monochromatic figure with messy hair and a stripy t-shirt. This pictorial form depiction of her father’s life assist’s Abdelrazaq’s representation of historical violence often ignored in dominant narratives. Her use of minimal origin thus does not reduce the sensitivity of the subject matter but induces an inexhaustible source of visual possibility or what Chute calls the “risk of representation,” using image and language to show us, the readers, something unsayable. The graphic narrative extends itself further as an homage to her ancestries with embellishments of tatreez on the page, this craftwork contextualises her ‘on the coast of the eastern Mediterranean, but her choice of genre speaks to the rise of Western women cartoonists engaged in life writing.’

Addressing Rhys’s historical acquisition Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell has suggested that Wide Sargasso Sea might be a “response to the nationalistic mood [in the West Indies] of the late ‘50’s and ‘60’s,” which could have led Rhys to wish “to assume her place in West Indian literature”. However, ever present is the wavering ‘between nationalisms; it exists as a response to the loss, rather than the recovery of a “place-to-be-from,” enacting a struggle over identity which is a peculiarly modern rereading of West Indian History.’Scoping the genre of ‘historical fiction’ Rhys limits chronological intricacies, personages or events that cement the reader within the historical circumstances only presenting a brief mention of the Emancipation Act ‘that in 1833 decreed the eventual freedom of the slaves in all of the British colonies and the racial conflicts and social and economic turmoil that surrounded it.’This colonial interjection lays as a foundation for the racial issues the novel will pursue however as argued by Gayatri Spivak, Rhys gambles with authorial perspective splitting storytelling between not just Antoinette, the white slave-owner’s daughter, but Rochester, a white Englishman. By setting the majority of her novel in the Caribbean, Rhys makes Modernist style speak to the many important social and political issues of the time.

Through the utilisation of language Rhys to illuminate the paradigms of its setting, capturing the Creole, black and European identity; and the race relationships of the novel. Structured around standard British English and the Jamaican varieties of English, language pronounces itself as a puncture to the racial implications of novel. Emblematised in Rochester is the magnification of European discourse, his refusal of Creole clearly stated in Rhys descriptions, “her coffee is delicious but her language is horrible”, “I can’t say I like her language” which is juxtaposed by creole expressions such as “I too old now” and “she pretty like pretty self”. Rhys’s postcolonial tendencies thus situate the novel in an imperialist setting examining West discourse and ideology. Notable is the victimisation of Rhys’s protagonist in an imperialist society, the imposition and brutalisation of colonisation is realised here, as Antoinette remains in racial limbo, not black or white and thus at the mercy societal and racial prejudice. This racial discrimination seamlessly relocates the texts within a post-colonial context. The novel addresses racial implications within two significant narratives and larger two oppositions, Antoinette’s and Rochester’s. The immigrant woman compromised by social and economic forces and Rochester, a metropolitan man and representation of refusal to acknowledge to these categories instead interprets racial difference in moral and sexual terms, specifically in terms of miscegenation and “contamination.” Thus, Antoinette’s discourse constantly suggests an interchangeability of racial positions, manifested most obviously in the play on such terms as “white nigger” and “black Englishman”: in a crucial scene, when in a moment of childhood conflict Antoinette calls her black playmate tia a “cheating nigger,” Tia’s response is: 

“She hear we all poor like beggar… plenty white people in Jamaica. 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.” 

The distinct use of language and character inflection illuminates the film of racism that covered the era. Thus, we can locate Antoinette’s victimisation on account of the racial discrimination she faces; her social inferiority as a mixed-race woman means her fate is already decided. Silvia Cappello discusses the emergence of these former colonies as a result of ‘emerging cultural self-esteem’ that then communicates itself in new literatures. Wide Sargasso Sea in this sense reveals itself as a ‘product of the modern postcolonialism and the ue of language she does represents her extraordinary ability to subvert the ideologies of the West, deconstructing the European discourse and monocentrisim.’

The graphic narrative can be described as obtaining the role of narration, specifically in reference to illustrations making the ‘question of style legible, so it is form that also always refuses a problematic transparency, through the explicit awareness of its own surfaces.’Based on this understanding it is the layers of ‘narrative language’that Abdelrazaq utilises to represent the brutality of warfare and the extremities of sufferings her collection of characters endure. Abdelrazq depiction of scenery is developed through the comics form combination of visual and narrative mediums. This gives her narrative the ‘unique ability to diagnose, and on occasion to resist, the structural and social violence embedded in the infrastructural layout of cities. This is particularly the case in those cities that are home to large and yet still marginalised populations, including asylum-seekers and refugees.’It is important to note, Abdelrazaq as a citizen of American, never having lived in Beirut herself echoes that of post-memory thus her stylistic forms can be read for an American audience, her intent to provide an understanding of her subjective history. This may raise issues of representational rights however the audience is aware of Abdelrazaq’s geographic orientation, stripping nothing from the comic’s political significance. The narrative is illustrated through monochromatic tonal effects, blacks and white are fixed against each other concentrating the Beirut’s metropolitan and the Baddawi refugee camp. Aesthetically calling to the photographic medium, her frames are limited by the standardised pages however mimic aspects of Beirut during the Civil war. These images are fixed on the municipal, the urban exteriors of a dilapidated city punctured by bullet holes and torn by the devastation of difference. This focus on the urban is premediated in attempts to reflect the dismissal of the resilient refugees. Found early in the novel is a ‘splash-page map’ that echoes tattered Beirut, corrupt by division Abdelrazaq centres the comic’s protagonist, Ahmad, amongst segregated zones. The construction of frames along with text generates a reflection of the city’s inhabitants and further dramatizes issues of urbanity, the segregation of boundaries symbolising that of sectarian division. 

The mailability of the novel can be accurately summarised as “the perfect creole”, in analysis of the constructions of genre strategically applied to the mentioned texts evident are echoes of other literary categories. Wide Sargasso Sea wrestles with its literary context with valuable considerations of the gothic and postcolonial however dressed in feminist undertones and modernist nuances. To consider it solely under one literary form would dismiss the novel as a revisionist piece. Baddawi on the contrary utilises a contemporary form to speak to a contemporary audience of in attempts to recover the historical narrative of the Palestinian refugee. Her unique application of the comic style, traditional applique and visual narrative pushes sensitive subject matter foregrounding suffering of marginalised groups.


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