Book Review: \'Wild Sargasso Sea\' as a Feminist Text

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Wide Sargasso Sea intertwines womanhood with madness by suggesting a woman's sexuality must be kept under control or else she will be declared mad. The feminine ideal is epitomised in Miss Germaine and Helene de Plana who possess all the virtues of beauty, chastity and most importantly, an even temper. Mother St. Justine's further praises the "poised" and "imperturbable" deportment of the sisters whilst Antoinette is in the convent school as a girl. The nature of all these women is in stark contrast to Antoinette's fire and thus suggesting it is her passionate nature that leads to Antoinette's madness.
However, madness is Antoinette's inheritance despite her countenance. Her mother, Annette, was mad and so was her father as Daniel, his bastard son, recounts. Antoinette's upbringing only serves as a catalyst for her inherited condition; she receives no love from her mother as a child and suffers a lack of racial identity - being white Caribbean with proportions of French - which leads to social ostracisation. She becomes solitary and prone to violent outbursts. The fragmented mind of a madwoman throws the trustworthiness of her narrative in question: there is the possibility that they are alternative or imagined stories.
Significantly, Annette and Antoinette are highly susceptible to madness as they are forced into childlike servitude and feminine docility by dependence on their (white English) husbands. Annette sees her second marriage as an opportunity to regain respect among her peers while Antoinette hopes to no longer be a vulnerable outsider and find peace within her. However, both husbands see marriage as nothing more than a means of gaining wealth through inheritance and betray or abandon their wives which then leads them to their demise.
Rochester's authority – and therefore validity of his account – is further implied by his lack of name. It is clear to the reader the narrator of over a third of the novel is Mr Rochester as Wide Sargasso Sea is famously intertextual with Jane Eyre, but within Wide Sargasso Sea he is only ever referred to as "my husband" or "that man". Furthermore, as a white man his authority permits him to force identities for others as a symbolic act of possession. Rochester renames his wife "Bertha" to distance her from her mad mother, whose full name is Antoinette, later he calls her "Marionetta" as a cruel joke on Antoinette's pliability. He also takes away Antoinette's voice by refusing to listen to her version of events.
Antoinette's only source of identity and power is her knowledge of magic, known as obeah, which the black inhabitants of The Windward Islands use in their syncretic religions. Christine commands communal respect through her expertise in obeah practices, of which Antoinette absorbs the superstitious beliefs that allow her to read signs in nature, such as believing it is bad luck to watch her mother's parrot burn to death. Rochester eventually deprives Antoinette of obeah as well by deciding to take her away from Jamaica. When he makes this decision Rochester thinks, "No more false heavens. No more damned magic."

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