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A 2 pages term paper on Wide Sargasso Sea

     Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea is in part a supplement to Bronte's Jane Eyre in which the reader is presented with a part of the story- the relationship between bertha and Rochester- that Bronte left out. Rhys foregrounds problems of race, gender and colonialism that 19th century novelists glossed over or suppressed.

     As in Jean Rhy’s Wide Sargasso Sea, the colonial ‘other’ character from a canonized Victorian novel becomes the principal figure in a modern 'decolonising' text, and the peripheral reaches of empire become of central importance. Each work establishes much of its story by hinting rather than direct description. For example, by the end of the Rhy’s novel that the narrator had an affair with her cousin Sandier but he appears in less than ten sentences of the book, and they never do anything except talk and kiss (once).

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     Rhy's Rochester wasn't meant to be Bronte's Rochester. Rhys wanted to show where her idea came from, by making it a stem off of Jane Eyre, but it is a work on its own. It's not one of those annoying works that tries to copy the original author's style. Only one of those types of sequels/prequels actually worked well, and that was Mrs. DeWinter, the sequel to Rebecca. It wasn't just a stale trying to imitate the original author type of work. Wide Sargasso Sea also isn't stale because Rhys was not trying to copy Bronte. She had her own distinct style. I think many people would like the book better if they did not link it with Jane Eyre. If you read it as a separate work, then it works very well.

     Bringing the woman in the attic in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre back to life to tell her story must have been quite difficult for Jean Rhys. Yet Rhys's version of the events, which preceded Bronte’s Victorian classic in many ways, surpass the original intended love story. Rhys 's novel is a heartbreaking tale of love and marriage falling short from expectations. The novel is a heartless account of how to break a spirit by stripping it out of love.

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     Antoinette Cosway is a Creole girl born and raised in Jamaica amidst the turmoil of the transition from slavery to emancipation. She grows without friends, sister to an ill baby brother who does not speak nor moves, daughter of a woman isolated by a society who resents her whiteness and her lack of blood purity. Antoinette grows craving her mother's affection. She grows insecure and afraid of the world outside the limits of Colibrí (her mother's estate)… a world that isolates her for she is not white enough nor black enough… a world she fails to understand. So Antoinette educates herself in a convent and makes a haven of it, a sheltered environment in which to thrive and blossom only to be uprooted once more by her stepfather whose idea of security is selling her into marriage to a man who is eager and willing to buy her off and make her money his.

     All she ever wanted was to feel safe. All she ever dreamed of was to be loved, to be caressed. Rochester's ethnocentrism will keep him away from the possibility of ever loving Antoinette. She never feels she has been sold; yet Rochester continuously resents to have been bought. He feels trapped in her intoxicating world of smells, exotic tastes, and vivid colors… rather than discovering her and her surroundings he covers them under his blinded ethnocentrism and prejudice. However, his mistrust and dislike of his surroundings are not enough to refrain his lust. Antoinette will succumb to his desires aided by her tremendous need for love and physical affection only to find herself deserted and chided off as if she were indeed the "white cockroach" everyone always told her she was.

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     Jean Rhy's novel depicts Antoinette's ascend to a false heaven and her descend to spiritual hell. The language is full of sensual imagery, of colorful landscapes, of verbal cruelty. There is a feeling of helplessness as we stand by and watch and read Antoinette's destruction. The novel is divided into three parts. The first and last are narrated by Antoinette Cosway. Rochester narrates the middle section. The reader is enmeshed and mesmerized by what will obviously happen. The reader has gotten to know Antoinette's vulnerability and Rochester's pride. Unavoidable destruction must ensue. Crossing that wide Sargasso Sea and finding redemption through love was never meant to be (Garcia, 2000).

     In Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre the character of Bertha Mason is discussed explicitly only when Rochester, at the alter with Jane, is forced by Bertha's brother to explain how the wedding can proceed when Rochester is already married. Rochester admits to the attempted bigamy and the wedding is called off. Later, Rochester explains to the devastated Jane that his father willed all the family property to his elder brother, that in order to secure the wealth of a large Jamaican plantation for the second son, he blindly married him off to Bertha, and that soon after the wedding Bertha became mad. Rochester pleads that while, legally, he is married to Bertha (who has been living in his attic with an attendant for over ten years), in matters of the heart and in spirit, Jane would be his one and only wife. Jane is initially despondent and leaves him only to return in order to nurse Rochester's wounds when Bertha eventually burns down his house.

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     Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea writes her novel from the point of view of Bertha Mason. In Rhy's telling, Bertha has her heart broken by Rochester's inability to enjoy, understand, or tolerate what he considers Jamaica's and her wildness. While we are never told how, Rochester manages - perhaps by domesticating just enough of Bertha's free Creole spirit - to transport Bertha to England. In Rhy's version, Bertha's insanity can, on the one hand, be traced to the clash of cultures and economies as well as to the colonial culture's need to control, dominate, subjugate, and civilize what it fears. On the other hand, this insanity is a sign of a remaining cultural vitality, which will eventually consume Europe. The significance of this reading of Bertha lies not only in what Rhys remakes of Bronte's characters but also in Rhy's suggestion that, Bronte is unable to avoid the sub-conscious gravitational pull of non-European others. Bronte's ambiguities about the confrontation with the other are, in a different century, exposed and exploited by Rhys and others (Inayatullah, 1995).

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Works Cited

Garcia, Amara Liz.  (2000) False Heavens Reflected in Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea.  Dec.7, 2001

Inayatullah, Naeem.  (1995) Diversity as Degeneration:  Temporal and Spatial Representations of the Other in Early Modern European Social Theory.  Dec.7, 2001

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