Post-Colonial British Imperialism Aspects In The Book Wide Sargasso Sea

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Jane Rhys wrote the post-colonial novel Wide Sargasso Sea, as a revision of the classic Victorian novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The different eras of the two novels raised many critical questions regards the effect of colonialism on Wide Sargasso Sea. In her article ‘Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism,’ Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, claims that Jane Rhys’s novel did not only support imperialism ideologies but justified women’s oppression too. This essay will analyze the points Spivak raises in her critical essay as her views on imperialism and feminism in the novel Wide Sargasso Sea.

The article opens with a reminder that literature in the nineteenth century in Britain should only be read within an imperialism context, ‘It should not be possible to read nineteenth-century British literature without remembering that imperialism.'(p. 243) Spivak notes that the colonizers classified the natives as ‘Third World’ and put them on hold. In the novel, Rochester is the representative of the colonizers, as Spivak states, he forces his imperialist privileges especially on ‘Third World’ female characters in the novel in many shapes. Rochester renames Antoinette as Bertha. He takes advantage of her on many levels, he used her physically, financially, emotionally, and even psychologically when he permitted himself to lock ‘Bertha’ in the attic at Thornfield until she committed suicide. His deeds are similar to slave-owners; he controls her and treats her inhumanely. This was his way as a colonizer to assert his control. Wide Sargasso Sea sympathizes with Rochester and Rhys give him excuses for his actions, especially with women. This sympathy for Rochester can be a mirror of her sympathy for the imperialism of the colonizers. ‘Rhys makes it clear that [Rochester] is a victim of the patriarchal inheritance law of entailment rather than of a father’s natural preference for the first’ (p. 251) she is giving him the right to be an oppression colonizer by claiming that he himself was a victim of his father’s oppressiveness. Therefore, his becoming a ‘criminal’ is justified in the eyes of Rhys. Furthermore, the novel devotes a full chapter for Rochester to narrate, which can be viewed as a way of giving the colonizers a voice, and as an accusation of sympathizing with them.

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Another female character that Spivak mentions as an example of what imperialism has done to women is the nursemaid Christophine. She is considered a strong character, who understood Rochester’s intentions of the marriage and tried to stand in his face. Her words were ‘alert[ing]’ (p. 253) he felt afraid and threatened her to refer to the forces of Law and Order. This scene represents a ‘Third World’ oppression by the colonizers, his threats and attempts to shut her voice up succeeded, with the help of Rhys who made Christophine disappear from the novel, and no longer stand in the face of imperialism. Moreover, Rochester felt surprised by the fact that Antoinette kisses Christophine and hugs her; he told her that he ‘would not do that if [he] was in her place'(p. 130). This suggests hate feelings and contempt for natives by the imperialists from the beginning of the novel.

As a part of the imperialism oppression ideology, Antoinette could not be herself nor the ‘other,’ this is a form of women’s oppressiveness. Women ‘in age of imperialism’ were limited for ‘childbearing and soul making.’ In her search for identity, young Antoinette dressed like her Tia, become a part of the nation. The scene of Tia’s act of throwing a stone at her and hit her, can be translated as an attempt of the novel to set bounders for ‘Third World’ women. Moreover, when Antoinette was in the attic she felt cold, Rhys connected this coldness of the attic to the ‘coldness’ of England, and it seems that Antoinette’s act of burning of the house is no longer an act of a madness, but an attempt to individualize herself and the warmth of the fire alludes to her ethnic identity.

Like Antoinette who is in-between two cultures, and two identities, the title of the novel ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ also stretches between the West Indies and the Atlantic Ocean (Wikipedia). It separates and at the same time connecting Europe and the Caribbean I think this was an attempt by the writer to demonstrate her desire to stay on liminal space, not force the British identity nor the Caribbean one. Though I am convinced that Rhys did not intend from the beginning to show her colonial identity, I still agree with Spivak’s argument.

Works Cited

  1. Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea. New York & London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982 (first pub. in 1966).
  2. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. ‘Three women’s texts and a critique of imperialism.’ Critical inquiry 12.1 (1985): 243-259.
  3. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Wide Sargasso Sea.

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Post-Colonial British Imperialism Aspects In The Book Wide Sargasso Sea. (2021, September 30). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/post-colonial-british-imperialism-aspects-in-the-book-wide-sargasso-sea/
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