In this section I will be analysing Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, It is a prequel to English novelist Charlotte Brontë’s most prominent novel, Jane Eyre. This extract takes place in the latter half of the postcolonial novel, part three in section seven. In this essay, I am going to make a contextual linguistic analysis of Wide Sargasso Sea. In conclusion, I will compare the novel to its predecessor, Jane Eyre.
This extract is the third and final of Antoinette’s dream sequences. Antoinette has a believes that a female ghost resides in the Thornfield is a parallel of Jane Eyre, where she thinks that there is a ghost present.
‘The tree of life in flames’ the burning tree is a call back to part one section 2, this is the garden of Coulibri. This is also an allusion to the garden of Eden in the bible, which symbolises the access into eternal life. Also known as the fall over humankind this may echo Antoinette’s inevitable fate. The allusion can also extend to the book of exodus in the Bible, one of the most shocking books Bible, where God is in the form of a burning tree informing the protagonist Moses. Furthermore, fire is a powerful symbol throughout the novel. Fire is the ultimate damaging and redeeming force in Wide Sargasso Sea. The fire which takes place at Coulibri is an act of retribution and rebelliousness on the part of the neighbouring black community, but it destroys the life that Antoinette has known since she was a child. Both Coco the parrot and the moths that fly into the flames of candles throughout Antoinette’s and the husband’s honeymoon foreshadow Antoinette’s scorching suicide, through which she finally gains freedom at the end of the novel.
Antoinette’s first dream is as Coulibri, then at the Mount Calvary Convent and finally at Thornfield Hall. These different locations can be seen as a descending tri-colon, each location is more restricted in size. Thornfield hall in particular, is imprisonment for Antoinette. Moreover, it is her last act of rebellion while she burns down the house. This completes the plot in Jane Eyre, however in this way her fate is left ambiguous and open to interpretation.
Contextually, Rhys, like many other authors in the twentieth century, she drew concepts from Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud. These being dreams are expressions of psychological states. This technique is used to explore the inner minds of Antoinette and Rochester. Antoinette’s destruction can be viewed in two ways. A racial lens or a feminist one. It may be seen as a metaphor for the Caribbean’s revenge on their colonial masters. Or is may be seen as a revolt against a corrupt patriarchal system.
Jean Rhys displays a plethora of nature in this extract. With nouns such as: orchids, jasmine, bamboos, tree, ferns, stephanotis, This flowery image of foliage is very reminiscent of romantic writing. Specifically, the diversity and abundance in plant life depict the wealth of Thornfield Hall. It also portrays how slave masters have stolen from exotic countries.
The Thornfield Hall contains a stark contrast to other locations in the novel. The hall is described as having a ‘red carpet’ and the ‘sky so red’. This connotes images of hell and chaos. The symbol of hair is significant in this novel and Jane Eyre alike as well. In this extract, Rhys uses a simile to describe Antoinette’s hair.
‘The wind caught my hair and streamed out like wings’
The plural wings have connotations of a bird or an angel specifically when applied to humans in which this case it is. This creates a juxtaposition of an angel in a hellish environment. Jean Rhys employs hair in a contentious way. She displays the different dimensions of a traditionally female ideal of beauty and connects it to carnal desire, and in this case madness. Hair serves as its own mindset and cultural expectation on the female gender.
A large amount of the novel is written with a dreamlike quality and style. Rochester explains to Antoinette that Granbois appears to be ‘quite unreal and like a dream’ and after he spends time in the Caribbean, even the parts he narrates take on a dreamlike quality. In the dead of night after receiving a letter from Daniel Cosway that warns of Antoinette’s madness, Rochester goes for a walk in the forest. His description of walking is fluid and primitive and reminiscent of Antoinette’s forest dreams. ‘I began to walk very quickly, then stopped because the light was different. A green light. I had reached the forest and you cannot mistake the forest. It is hostile. The path was overgrown but it was possible to follow it’ (104).
By the time Antoinette has the third segment of her dream, Antoinette has transformed into Bertha Mason, a delusional woman whose only moments of clarity are inspired by flashes of rage. Locked in an attic of Thornfield, Antoinette has lost the ability to distinguish between memory and dream, and thus she removes all barriers between waking and sleeping in Wide Sargasso Sea.
Antoinette’s anguish at the corruption of her identity is also present in the final scene of her dream. The image of Coco the parrot jumping from a burning Coulibri parallel that of Antoinette jumping from a burning Thornfield. It suggests that Antoinette feels anguish at Rochester for subjugating her as her stepfather, another Englishman, subjugated Coco by clipping his wings. Her view of Rochester’s calls to ‘Bertha,’ an identity he imposed upon Antoinette, suggest Rochester’s role in this loss. While the doll’s house is an image of Antoinette’s childhood, it also suggests another identity Rochester creates for her; that of Marionette, a doll he can play with.
This ferocious dream does not only take place in Wide Sargasso Sea, but also in Jane Eyre, when Bertha Mason jumps to her death after burning Thornfield Hall to the ground. Antoinette stays innocent in Jean Rhys’s novel. Even though she gets to have her violent revenge in Jane Eyre, she only dreams of revenge in the prequel neo-Victorian novel, Wide Sargasso Sea.
In conclusion, the predecessor, Jane Eyre makes use of dreams as the windows to consciousness and deep foreshadowing. In rewriting Jane Eyre, Jean Rhys preserves these characteristics and goes further by making the whole text of Wide Sargasso Sea a somewhat dream. In Jane Eyre, the difference in the realm of dreams and being awake is as strong as Jane’s disposition. in Wide Sargasso Sea it is as feeble as Antoinette’s.
In this section, I will be analysing Sea Violet by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) written in the year 1916. This titular poem belongs to an anthology titled Sea Garden. I will also compare this poem to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Eagle. Written in 1851. In conclusion, I will discuss how both affect the reader and how their different styles do so.
I have decided to use both poems to discuss how they innovate stylistically. In H.D’s collection, she innovates stylistically through her themes and figurative language. She portrays themes of femininity, conformity and gender. These themes both have parallels connected to women and flowers alike. Sea Garden is innovative as it turns the feminisation of plant life into a socio-political declaration.
Sea Violet establishes empowerment for women, through the first stanza with weak adjectives such as fragile and torn to the last stanza with bright and powerful words such as: light, star and fire. This progression begins from weakness and ends with a newfound strength.
‘but who would change for these’ (line 10)
H.D explains how the greater blue violets flutter along the hill while the white violet is still ‘scented on its stalk’ it depicts that inner beauty is more durable and rare than outer beauty. Throughout history the colour purple symbolised innocence and the sea symbolises freedom. Put together they portray how with innocence comes freedom because there a fewer preconceived notions to keep you repressed.
This poem is filled with a lexis of colour: white, violet, blue. These colours are traditionally seen as gentle and pure. They capture the essence of the poem. Whereas The Eagle contains bold and dynamic, Sea Violet is vulnerable, with fricative adjectives such as: fragile, frail, flutter. These fricatives can create an airy effect. Similar to Sea Violet, The Eagle by Alfred Lord Tennyson is filled with figurative language and a deeper meaning, despite being a short poem. Tennyson describes the Eagle in the air as:
‘Close to the sun’ (line 2)
Tennyson uses the device of hyperbole to exaggerate that the eagle is ‘sitting on top of the world’. Exploring endeavours that mankind has not.
Tennyson also employs figurative language in his first line:
‘He clasps the crag with crooked hands’ (line 1).
This use of alliteration focuses the reader’s attention specifically on the eagle’s actions. The ‘c’ consonant creates the crackling sound evokes sensory language. This generates a deep national geographic sensation of watching wildlife. These constant ‘c’ words generate a precise melody. Because of this, the reader’s are more likely to annunciate the words slowly and understand it in more depth.
Moreover, the Eagle is described as having ‘hands’. The choice of the eagle holding on with hands creates a stylistic similarity to human beings. Personification is used here to make the eagle seem more than just a simple-minded bird. This may stem from romanticism, it focused on freedom instead of formalism, individuality instead of conformality and imagination instead of reality. Romantic poets, like Tennyson, believed that nature was beautiful, and humans are the centre of nature. The romantics believed that humans should get in touch with their inner soul by appreciating the simple beauty of nature. Tennyson’s The Eagle clearly portrays an enthesis on the appreciation of nature.
Another stylistic choice in The Eagle is its narrative form. It seems like it begins in media res, it is not the traditional way a poem or narrative would generally start. The effect of this is that the reader is dropped right into the action. This stylistic choice is innovative as it skews the readers expectation and intrigues them to find out more.
The poem ends with the lines:
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls. (lines 5 and 6)
These final stanzas are compelling, it is ambiguous why the Eagle takes his dive, is he descending on his prey or is he enjoying the bright blue skies? This sense of ambiguity creates freedom for the Eagle to do whatever he pleases. The effect of using a simile in the final line creates a bold image to leave the reader with, in a sense it makes the poem memorable, the speed of the eagles descent being described as a ‘thunderbolt’ is an exhilarating image to leave the reader with.
Both poems feature romantic language, particularly Tennyson, they both have a lexis of nature, in Sea violet, there is: wind, sand-bank, sand-hill, hill and fire. In The Eagle, there is: sun, world, sea mountain and thunderbolt. The effect of these words is that they help set the tone and mood in the atmosphere. Sea Violet contains more calmer words and is a calm poem. On the other hand, The Eagle contains more passionate words and that is a more dynamic and lively poem.
Another comparison with the poems are masculinity and femininity. The Eagle is typically masculine with the titular character being male, and the only colour referred to in this poem is azure. A bright blue typically associated with men and masculinity. Whereas in Sea Violet, the colour violet is referred to multiple times. Traditionally associated with femininity and grace.
To conclude, H.D is trying to tell us that inner beauty and purity should be valued higher than outer beauty and tangible. She examines strength and the power it holds. The underlying is that there is more to a woman than what meets the eye. In The Eagle, however the appreciation for nature is much more simplistic, nonetheless very figurative. Sea Violet is deeper and complex which sets it apart with multifaceted meanings.
- Ferguson, Margaret, Kendall, Tim and Salter, Mary Jo, eds, The Norton anthology of poetry, New York, Ny: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018