Wide Sargasso Sea is a novel by Dominican British author Jean Rhys. It is a story of Antoinette Cosway and her descent into madness at the hands of the cold-hearted and money-hungry Mr. Rochester. It was first published in 1966 and the novel is divided into three parts. Adapted from Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea in an attempt to explain Brote’s character, Berth Mason, the violently insane wife of Edward Rochester who was isolated from the rest of the world and locked in a third-floor room. In this novel, Rhys illustrates the emotional trauma, Sexual repression, and social isolation that Antoinette faces at the hand of Rochester resulting in the loss of herself and her sanity.
About Jean Rhys
Jean Rhys was a British writer born and raised on the Caribbean island of Dominica. She is best known for her last novel ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ considered a prequel and post-colonial response to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Among her world-famous works included – The Left Bank and Other Stories, Quartet, Voyage in The Dark, Good Morning, Midnight, Tiger Are Better Looking, and Wide Sargasso sea.
Character Sketch Of Wide Sargasso Sea
The daughter of former slave owners in Jamaica. She is a lonely young girl who grows up with no friends and a mother who giver her very little Affection. Her husband moves her to England and locks her in the attic until she becomes delusional. She is based on the Character Bertha Mason from Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre.
Antoinette Cosway Mason
Antoinette beautiful young mother. She is the second wife of both Alexander Cosway and Mr. Mason. She is the subject of the town’s gossip and feels abandoned and persecuted by everyone except those close to her.
Antoinette’s physically and mentally disabled little brother.
The English Gentleman (Rochester)
Antoinette’s English husband narrated part two of the story. He is pressured into marrying Antoinette by Richard, her stepbrother, though he knows nothing of her or her family. He soon regrets agreeing to marry Antoinette. He has an affair with one of the servants.
Daniel Boyd / Cosway
A spiteful, angry man, Daniel Boyd is one of Alexander Cosway’s illegitimate children by one of his slaves.
Another one of Alexander Cosway’s bastard children. He defends Antoinette when she is harassed on her way to school. Daniel also suggests that Antoinette and Sandi were sexually involved when they were younger.
Aunt Cora, Christophine Dubois, Richard Mason, and Grace Poole are other characters In this novel.
A wealthy English man who takes Annette as his second wife.
Post Colonialism In Wide Sargasso Sea
Post Colonialism means a piece of literature reflecting on the effects of Colonialism. It is the period when the wrath of Colonialism came to an end in most of the colonized countries. It was during that time when many works started getting published by decolonized writers, stating the bittersweet memories of their experiences from the colonial regime. Those piece of literature published after colonial rule is referred to as post-colonial literature. However, in the world of post-colonial literature, the name of British woman writer Jean Rhyn is printed in gold.
Wide Sargasso Sea is considered as Rhys’s masterpiece contribution to the era of Postcolonial literature. It deals with colonial issues such as identity and social ranking due to colonial hierarchal structures and for that reason, post-colonial criticism is a suitable approach to the novel. As a work of post-colonial fiction, it captures the pathos of a society undergoing deep and bitter change. Rhys chooses to relate the essence of this conflict through the relationship of White Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway and her English suitor Edward Rochester.
At the Starting of the novel, the Jamaican slaves are portrayed as enraged beings, upset for any reason. Three are traits of hybridity linked to slavery in the novel. For example – Christophine tends to stand apart from the other Jamaican servants because she is initially from the French Caribbean island of Martinique. Therefore, there is a large population who belong to mixed races because white slave owners in the Caribbean and other parts of the colonized countries were infamous for sexually abusing and impregnating female slaves. Sandi and Daniel Cosway, two of Alexander Cosway’s illegitimate children are also examples of hybridity in the colonized communities.
In the Colonial era, it was common for white rulers to sexually abuse female slaves as there was little to no say for the enslaved. White people looked at the slaves as objects of pleasure, and entertainment and as beings who were only born to serve them. The white exploited their slaves in every possible way.
In the 19th century when Colonialism was intact, along with slavery and other issues gender issues were nothing new. Rhys also explores women’s subjugation to male authority in Wide Sargasso Sea. In the novel female characters are intruded as feeble beings who are dependent on men for legal, sexual, and financial security.
The men in the novel “Wide Sargasso Sea” can be categorized as ultimate opportunists who use their wives as a key to access wealth. Both Annette and Antoinette are dependent on men near them like children depending on their parents for things.
Slavery In the Wide Sargasso Sea
Slavery is a significant aspect of this novel. The story is set in Jamaica during the late 1830s and the 1840s. At this time in history, Jamaica was ruled by England. However, Slavery tends to be a pertinent issue for many countries around the globe. It had been there for centuries but was at a higher degree during the time of Colonialism. People of Inferior races were deemed as slaves and were beaten up for issues that were not necessarily of concern at many times. In the novel there, is a constant rift between the Creoles and the Jamaicans. The Black people continue to serve the Creoles even after the passing of the Emancipation Act in 1833.
Part one of the novel sheds light on the ex-slaves who had worked on the sugarcane plantations of the rich Creoles. Although the Emancipation Act freed the slaves the servants were still ill-treated by their white employers.
Character Of Rochester
Antoinette’s English husband who though never named in the novel. He narrates the longest part of the novel and from his story, it quickly becomes clear that he is based on the hero of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Rochester, the youngest son of a wealthy Englishman travels to Jamaica for financial independence, as his older brother will inherit his father’s estate. He is pressured into marrying Antoinette, although he has only just met her and knows nothing of her family.
Rochester marries Antoinette for a large sum of money but never connects with him. Soon after the wedding, he decides that he has made a terrible mistake, as he comes to believe that he has been tricked into marrying a girl with bad blood in her veins. He is controlling and unfaithful, believing his wife is conspiring against him. He renames Antoinette Bertha in an attempt to dominate her. After witnessing Antoinette’s mental collapse he takes her to English and locks her in the attic of his mansion.
Analysis of The Novel
The novel is broken up into three parts, the first details Antoinette’s Childhood in Jamaica, the second is about her unhappy marriage to an English gentleman and the decline of her mental state, and the third focuses on her imprisonment in Mr. Rochester’s attic in England.
The Novel begins in early 19th-century Jamaica. A young white girl named Antoinette, the daughter of former slave owners, lives on Coulibri Estate, her family’s Rudown plantation with her mother, her sickly younger brother, Pierre. Moneyless due to the Emancipation Act of 1833 which freed the slaves, her father dead and her mother’s mental health steadily declined. Antoinette’s only friend is a young girl named Tia, the daughter of one of the servants, who one day turns against Antoinette unexpectedly.
One day a group of well-dressed visitors comes to Coulibri. Among them is a wealthy Englishman named Mr. Mason. After a brief courtship, Annette and Mr. Mason are married. Mr. mason restores Coulibri to its former glory and brings in new servants. During a protest their house is set on fire. After the fire Antoinette becomes dangerously ill for weeks.
Six weeks later Antoinette wakes up and learns that she has been ill since the incident. Cora, tells her that Pierre died and her mother had gone mad following the trauma of that night, so Mr. Mason sent her to the country to recover. Christophine takes Antoinette to visit her mother, but her mother violently flings her away.
For the next several years, Antoinette lives at the convent school. Mr. Mason visits Antoinette occasionally but always brings her gifts. During this time Antoinette’s mother dies. When Antoinette is seventeen, Mr. Mason decides he will marry her to an English gentleman.
Part two is narrated by Antoinette’s new husband. It begins with their arrival at Granbois, a small estate on one of the Windward Islands owned by Antoinette’s mother where they intend to spend a few weeks for their honeymoon Rochester, who is unnamed in the beginning and only agrees to it because Mr. Mason’s son, Richar Mason offered him 30,000 pounds.
Soon after Rochester feels uncomfortable with his wife. Antoinette begins to sense that Christophine for help. Christophine tells Antoinette to leave the man, but she refuses. That night, Antoinette returns home and tells her husband about her past. They talk late into the night and when he wakes, he believes he was poisoned. He runs out of the house and into the woods. He sleeps in the wood for several hours and when he wakes again, he returns to Granbois where Amelie, One of the servants, brings him wine and food. He sleeps with Amelie while Antoinette sits in the next room, able to hear everything.
The next morning, Antoinette goes to Christophine’s home. When she returns, she is drunk. When Antoinette calls for more to drink, her husband refuses to give her the bottle. After this Rochester decides to return to England and take Antoinette with him.
In the third and Final Part, Antoinette is the narrator. In England, she lives locked in the attic under the care of a servant named Grace Poole. Now violent and deranged, Antoinette has lost all sense of time. When her stepbrother Richard comes to see her, she attacks him with recurring dreams of flames burning down the house, and the novel ends as she escapes her prison, holding a candle.
Thus, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea depicts many post-colonial yet modern issues that many can relate to. She penned the novel by reconciling the plot with her own experiences. Issues such as slavery male dominance and displacement are still part of our world but at different levels.