Wednesday, 2 November 2011




  1. In part 1, young Antoinette describes her existence and the way that the stability and familiarity in her life collapses slowly around her. In the way that she begins walking alone after Tia calls her a white nigger and in the way that she tells herself the place is: “all better than people” it can be seen that Antoinette is beginning to develop madness like her mother. She comes under racial attack from the locals, referred to as a ‘white nigger” and a “white cockroach” and although she privately excludes her mother from this branding, the black locals maintain that she is a ‘white cockroach’ also. Her mother Annette, initially supported by a marriage to Mason, seems to be driven into deeper madness through her unflinching concern for her son Pierre and her madness intensifies after his death. Annette seems to develop the basis of her insanity through her social existence among a family despised by the local population. Later in part one, Antoinette seems to have a personal desire to reidentify herself as an English girl, through aspiring to be like the Miller’s daughter in her favourite painting, but the material aspect of the desire to become an English girl is destroyed when their home is set on fire. The desire to become an English girl in Part 1 appears to contrast strongly with Antoinette trying to preserve her non-English identity when Rochester tries to re-name her.
    In part 2, the perspective changes from Antoinette as narrator to Rochester giving his perspective. After Antoinette has an arranged marriage with Rochester, she seems to intensify her connection with Christophene when she reportedly goes and speaks with Christophene in patois. Antoinette seems to undergo a change of personality from Part 1 as she matures and becomes accustomed to being a wife. But she is not entirely comfortable being always happy: “I’m not used to happiness…it makes me afraid”. But this happiness is fleeting, like the flowers on the frangipani tree. In the letter Rochester receives, it warns him of the madness in Antoinette’s family and his personal suspicions seem to crystallise when he reads part of his book on zombies, probably in relation to Antoinette who talks of death after dark. Following this, Antoinette goes to Christophene and fetches the potion with which she tries to drug Rochester. Later, Antoinette is stripped of her identity in being renamed as Bertha by Rochester. Bertha is a very British name whereas Antoinette suggests Martinique and European or French connections (the little French bastard in reference to Rochester’s ward in Jane Eyre. Following the failed attempt to regain Rochester’s love through the potion, Antoinette grows increasingly mad provoking Rochester to take her to England, which she has been hungry for from his tales of it, but he shuts her in the confinement of the third floor of one of his houses under the guard of Grace Poole. Antoinette’s feelings and relationship with her keeper can be seen as summarised in the quotation: “Her name oughtn’t to be Grace”.
    Saffron dragon

  2. According to a malevolent girl in Part One, Antoinette and her mother both ‘have eyes like zombie’. As a reader we have to question whether the girl says this because of the prejudice which surrounds Antoinette’s family, or whether she does see a strange creature within Antoinette. This is a highly Gothic concept- that Antoinette is hiding her true self (a lifeless and inhuman being) which can be only seen through her eyes. If we consider eyes as the window to a person’s soul, then this comment could similarly connate that as a child she is already following her mother’s path to insanity. However, as the boy has ‘eyes of a dead fish,’ our sympathy and trust still lies with Antoinette, so we may not see any truth in what the children say. In Part Two, Antoinette secretly watches her mother and notices she ‘did not look at [the woman and the fat man],’ the careers who were with her. Perhaps her unresponsive zombie-like eyes were an early signal that later, in Part Two she would not even be able to fully return a gaze. Alternatively, Annette is afraid of direct eye contact as she is being ill-treated, like her daughter in Part One. This vulnerability is emphasised through the word ‘limp,’ which connects back to the zombie quote, and furthers the idea that Annette is ill mentally and perhaps physically too. The reader continually comes across connections between mother and daughter, which could foreshadow the Englishman’s worst fear- that his wife ends up like her mother. There are signs from the opening of the novel that the marriage was not meant to last. ‘They thought’ ‘she was far too young for him’ ‘and, worse still, a Martinique girl’. These imposing and prejudiced remarks from society, could be considered omens or bad luck for the newly married couple. In Part Two, Mr Rochester’s mistake in marrying her is made clear. He manipulates her, calling her Bertha, in an attempt to hide from the truth and disassociate her from her mother (they had the same name). It is symbolic that he has married the wrong person, as he cannot alter a person’s nature by changing their name.

  3. Part 1 of WSS characterises Antoinette as an outsider, who aspires to change in order to gain her mothers approval “When I grow up I want my hair like yours”. This shows that she is not content with herself in many respects and is determined to get to a state where she is no longer isolated. Sadly, this does not happen and in Part 2 she is made to feel even more isolated, ironically by a change “you must be Bertha.” This complete ownership of Antoinette evokes sympathy for her - which is Rhys’ purpose – the typically English name is also an isolation from her own culture as well as from her husband.

  4. In part 1 of Wide Sargasso Sea Antoinette narrates from the perspective of her as a child. She focuses on her childhood in Coulibri after the death of her father. During this time she experiences the racial tension and hostility that black Jamaicans have towards White Jamaicans – or ‘cockroaches’ as is commonly used. In fact, the novel begins with the warning that ‘when trouble comes, close ranks.’ And this is exactly what Antoinette does. She becomes isolated and lonely – following in the path of her mother who ‘grew thin and silent’. Antoinette as a narrator is very passive. She shows little control over the situations that her and her family encounter and instead she chooses to merely observe them.
    In contrast to this, Rochester narrates part 2 of the novel with a lot more control. He knows exactly why he is in Jamaica and the reasons for marrying Antoinette, unlike Antoinette who was very unsure of the marriage. In part 2 he puts across his perspective of the events leading up to locking Antoinette in the attic. Through his narration we can see that his actions can be somewhat explained by the feelings of confusion and alienation that he experiences when coming to Jamaica.

  5. Antoinette and Rochester's descriptions both focus on the appearances of the women of the story, for instance Antoinette – even though it is during the fire – focuses on her mother who 'was dressed, but had not put up her hair and one of her plaits was loose' and her Aunt Cora who was 'wearing a black silk dress, her ringlets were carefully arranged'. She also seems to expect the women to be well dressed – the fact one of her mother's 'plaits were loose' being unusual – which could show the expectations of the period in which the book was set, the fact women were meant to look their best at all times and this something Antoinette, as a child, doesn't seem to question. This lack of questioning of her situation is one way in which the narrative appears childlike, for instance in the way others treat her and instead of confronting them she hides and begins to think of 'tall nests swarming with white ants, rain that soaked me to the skin – once I saw a snake. All better than people. Better. Better, better than people.' The repetition of 'better' is almost as if she is trying to persuade herself, the break up of 'Better. Better, better' is also slightly off-putting to read, perhaps indicating the start of her descent into madness. This reinforces the idea of both her and her mother's insanity being caused, or at least increased, by their unhappy situations – the mother changing after the bad news about Pierre for instance – this making the story even more poignantly sad for the reader as with better circumstances Antoinette may have been able to escape insanity. As well as this, the narrative appears childlike in the way she attempts to fit the scenario to her own limited knowledge and understanding, for instance in the way she compares a noise to 'as though a chair had fallen over', or in the way she attempts to ignore a situation – in her childlike way thinking if she doesn't deal with it it won't have happened, such as when the horse died and she 'ran away and did not speak of it for I thought if I told no one it might not be true' and in the way she 'lay there' in bed before being forced to get up due to the growing urgency of the situation with the unidentifiable noise. By contrast to the details of people's appearances, she isn't very perceptive to their character or emotions, such as with her friendship with Tia or her repetition of 'said' when describing people speaking. This is very different to Rochester who, as well as focusing on the women's appearances, also shows his perceptiveness of their character, for instance with describing Amélia as 'a lovely little creature but sly, spiteful, malignant perhaps'. He also describes their speech in more detail, 'said anxiously', his ability to gauge people showing his increase in experience of the world in comparison to Antoinette, this perhaps making us more protective of Antoinette, especially in the way she is portrayed as weak 'she spoke hesitatingly as if she expected me to refuse, so it was easy to do.'