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Essay: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

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  • Published: 8 October 2015*
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  • Words: 1,134 (approx)
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In Jean Rhys’ novel Wide Sargasso Sea, the protagonist Antoinette is a sensitive and lonely young Creole girl with neither her mother’s love nor her peer’s companionship. Throughout the novel Antoinette attempts for love and a sense of belonging ends in tragedy as a result of Antoinette’s lack of a female role model she needed to show her how to actually love a man. Therefore, Antoinette did not know how to create a maintainable adult love because the only love she ever experienced was as a child when she still thought her mother loved her.
As a child Antoinette, is deprived of parental love. Mr. Cosway, Antoinette’s biological father reportedly ‘drunk himself to death’ (Rhys 29), leaving Annette, Antoinette’s mother to care for her, Annette does not show much motherly affect to her either. A mother and a daughter are supposed to have a special bond. A mother is supposed to be an unconditional source of love for a daughter. However, Antoinette’s mother does create this motherly bond but not with Antoinette only with Antoinette’s ailing brother, Pierre. Choosing to spend little time nurturing Antoinette by favoring Pierre. Annette treats Antoinette as a problem she cannot get rid of. Annette most of the time does not acknowledge her daughter, thus residing outside of the natural mother-daughter bond. Annette’s bond with Pierre is seen several times throughout the first section of Wide Sargasso Sea, thus showing her knowledge of the difference between the bonding of parent to child. Antoinette wakes from a bad dream and when she wakes her mother is watching her. This moment should be heartwarming and a moment that Annette shows how much she cares for her daughter but that expression of motherly love does not occur for Antoinette. Annette only says, ‘You were making such a noise. I must go to Pierre, you’ve frightened him’ (Rhys 27). This is a moment where a daughter really needs her mother’s comforting words and to feel loved and protected, but instead she get chastised for waking her brother. Antoinette adores her mother. She admires her mother’s beauty and yearns for her love. Antoinette describers an interaction between herself and her mother and how this one in particular had affected Antoinette. ‘I hated [my mother’s] frown and once I touched her forehead trying to smooth it. But she pushed me away, roughly but calmly, coldly, without a word, as if she had decided once and for all that I was useless to her. She wanted to sit with Pierre or walk where she pleased without being pestered she wanted peace and quiet. I was old enough to look after myself. ‘Oh let me alone’ she would say, ‘let me along,’ and after I knew that she talked aloud to herself and I was a little afraid of her’ (Rhys 20). This interaction is a pivotal moment in Antoinette and her mother’s relationship. This becomes the moment that Antoinette no longer even attempts to identify a bond with her biological mother. Antoinette might be able to emotionally cut herself free from her mother but she can never completely remove her mother, because Antoinette knows that she is a reflection of her. Antoinette is constantly reminded that she is doomed to follow in her mother’s crazy footsteps, ‘Look the crazy girl, you crazy like your mother,’ (Rhys 49). This label of her family being crazy eventually destroys the only happiness Antoinette has in her life, her marriage.
Antoinette’s marriage to Rochester is the beginning of the parallel of her mother’s life she is destined to live. Rochester: decides to rename his wife, calling her ‘Bertha’ in an attempt to distance her from her lunatic mother, whose full name was Antoinette. Later, he takes away Antoinette’s voice along with her name, refusing to listen to her side of the story. He ultimately refashions Antoinette into a raving madwoman and treats her as a ghost. Having totally rejected his creole wife and her native customs. Antoinette has been scorned by love and now Rochester is repeating this painful cycle again. Rochester has laughed at her, cheated on her, degraded her, and psychologically tortured her all through the device of love. When Antoinette finally opens herself up enough to trust in Rochester and to love him wholly he stabs her right in the heart. She asks him ‘Don’t you love me at all’ and he replies, ‘No, I do not’ Not at this moment’ of which makes Antoinette finally mentally snap (Rhys 148). She reenacts a moment with Rochester that is similar to the way her mother acted after the fire at Coulibri. After Rochester tells her he does not love her she throws a bottle against the wall and screams ‘Just you touch me once. You’ll soon see if I’m dam’ coward like you’ (Rhys 148). When Antoinette’s mother Annette’s heart becomes broken after the fire and she screams at her husband ‘Don’t touch me. I’ll kill you if you touch me. Coward. Hypocrite. I’ll kill you,’ (Rhys 47). Antoinette is recalling the painful incident from her childhood and finds herself reenacting it years later when put in a similar situation. When Antoinette becomes silent she becomes a shell of her former self just as when her mother gets locked away. Rochester notices that Antoinette became ‘A ghost in the grey daylight. Nothing left but hopelessness.. Mad eyes. A mad girl’ (Rhys 170). He thinks he has finally broken her from being ‘crazy’. ‘Very soon Antoinette will join all the others who know the secret and will not tell it. Or cannot. Or try and fail because they do not know enough. They can be recognized. White faces, dazed eyes, aimless gestures, high-pitched laughter. The way they walk and talk and scream or try to kill (themselves or you) if you laugh back at them. Yes, they’ve got to be watched. For the time comes when they try to kill, then disappear. She’s one of them. I too can wait- for the day when she is only a memory to be avoided, locked away, and like all memories a legend. Or a lie’ (Rhys 172). He is forcing her into becoming her mother. When he makes Antoinette into a proper English lady and takes the island out of her he has finally created his ‘Marionette’ or his perfect doll to play with (Rhys 154). Antoinette is once again reliving her mother’s life.
Antoinette is a sympathetic character with all of her problems stemming back to her mother. The mother to nurture her, teach her, and unconditionally love her was absent and just abandoned Antoinette. The husband that was supposed to love her just used her for her money to become rich.

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