The theme f alienation runs deep at the core of this novel and is presented as overt and covert, physical and emotional, social and existential. The two central protagonists narrate the first two parts of Wide Sargasso Sea, respectively, both of whom experience and deal with alienation differently. However, neither narrator really belongs to their surroundings and this sense of not having a defined identity and not fitting in is key to the theme of alienation.
Part 1 of Wide Sargasso Sea is narrated exclusively by the central protagonist, Antoinette Cosway. In ‘The Paper Tiger Lunatic’ of Jane Eyre, Antoinette is given a voice and a background that will help the reader understand her subsequent decline into madness. Physical, social, and emotional alienation in her childhood is at the root of her later insanity. All three facets of alienation in her childhood are at the root of her later insanity.
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All three facets of alienation are present on the opening page of the novel. Firstly it is clear that the family has been socially ostracized by white Jamaican society. The military metaphor, “they say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks…” suggests that they are living in a society at war with itself. Still, the Cosway family has been alienated from any form of group protection. We learn that the family is alienated because Annette is not Jamaican (and is very attractive, “pretty like pretty self,” and therefore disliked by Jamaican women). Before Emancipation had been Slave Owners. Emancipation brought with it mistrust and bitterness directed from the former slaves to the former slave owners. The former would stand “about in groups to jeer” at Annette.
On the first page of the novel, we also learn that the family is physically isolated from any haven since Emancipation infrastructure has broken down with “road repairing…now a thing of the past”. Their nearest neighbour and Annette’s only friend is introduced in the third paragraph but has killed himself and “was gone for always” by the fourth, thus suggesting Antoinette’s sense of her previous safe world rapidly and inexorably disappearing. Arising rarely comments on her feelings about what is happening to her family, and through the gaps and absences in the narrative, one can read her alienation from self.
Her matter-of-fact acceptance of not being in the “ranks” of the white Jamaicans, Mr. Luttrell’s suicide and that “no one came near [them]” suggest a degree of fatalism and resignation, which culminates on the opening page with Antoinette’s comment that she “got used to a solitary life.” Although not explicitly stated on the opening page, the reader also feels that Antoinette is “solitary” because she is alienated from and rejected by her mother.
Rejection is further imposed on Antoinette both socially and existentially. A sense of being “marooned” (abandoned) arises with the murder of the horse, thus presenting Antoinette as a character who is isolated from society. This sense of isolation is reinforced by the central protagonist’s narrative technique, making her writing disjointed and unclear. Antoinette’s later identity crisis can be predicted from her narrative, which fails to express her feelings.
Antoinette, after this incident, acts as if nothing had happened, believing that “if [she] told no one, it might not be true.” This can be seen as a rather childish form of denial. Her solution to the given problem could be interpreted, to a certain extent, as a form of self-rejection, for she is nor prepared to accept this, which seems to be her destiny. It seems that she is reflected on her mother, who, after this event, changed “suddenly, not gradually,” leaving both of them isolated from the rest of the world. However, they do not act as a protecting group, but rather this separates them even more, consolidating Annette’s rejection of Antoinette “as if she has once and for all decided that [she] was useless to her.”
Furthermore, we are witnesses of how Antoinette is falling out of safety and is therefore afraid. This is communicated by the lively image of the garden “large and beautiful as that garden in the Bible,” for “it has gone wild.” By referring to the wildness of the place, Antoinette depicts it as a place full of shame and tragedy. Plus, the ï¿½fact that she “never went near it” but thought it was “wonderful to see” suggests that she is somewhat scared of the aggressiveness of the world but simultaneously attracted and intrigued by it. This idea of being repulsed by even the plants in the garden reinforces the extremity Antoinette is reaching about becoming alien to all that surrounds her.
Antoinette’s isolation from the world and the acts of rejection she has suffered; provoke a fear of being alone to arise within her. This is demonstrated by her clear preoccupation with losing the only person she had delft who was close to her: Chrisrophine. However, once she is assured that Christophine “wanted to stay,” she feels safer, though she is also negatively affected by her mother saying that they “would have died if she’d (Christophine) turned against them, and that would have been a better fate. To die and be forgotten and at peace”. Annette’s idea is later in the novel repeated by her daughter; this scene could be considered a key scene that had an ultimate effect on Antoinette, confusing her and ergo alienating her from the rest of the world.
The separation of Antoinette from the world is also shown when she shares with us her frustration due to being rejected by “negros” who “called [them] white cockroaches.” But even as she doesn’t show her feelings, she uses many images to communicate to the readers her true feelings. Making this reference to how “they hated [them]” introduces a further step into alienation taken by Antoinette, ultimately making her solitary life refuge for her. Her alienation is again demonstrated by her lack of self-awareness, which indicates her little sense of identity. Antoinette’s fragile identity is exposed to us when Tia speaks through her. Moreover, when Tia tells her that “black nigger better than white nigger”, Antoinette, along with us, experiences another rejection.
This rejection ends in a problematic confusion of identities. In this novel, dresses are powerful symbols of identity, so an exchange between Tia and Antoinette depicts how Antoinette loses grip of her identity. From this point on, her narrative becomes fatalistic. Dreams also play a vital role within this novel. In the first dream, Antoinette narrates how “someone who hated [her] was with [her], out of sight,” suggesting that she is to some degree paranoid due to her feeling alone and fragile. This reinforces the idea that she is surrounded by a harmful world that will bring her no good. Due to this image created of her adjacent world, our protagonist feels even more scared, and therefore she desperately seeks refuge, which she finds in the garden.
The garden is described as “better than people.” Her comfort here is clearly expressed by saying, “I am safe… I am safe from strangers”. The fire at Coulubri is significant, for it adds and completes Antoinette’s alienation. The fact that the inhabitants of Coulubri attacked her family indicates that she is not accepted or wanted in this society. This makes her feel a stronger rejection from humans, explaining her search for refuge and making us understand that she has not only been affected socially but physiologically as well. This harm will prologue until the end of the novel, where it seems she reclaims herself after an amount of extreme suffering.
By the end of part one, before she was withdrawn against her will from the other shelter ( place of safety), which was that convent, it seems Antoinette feels the need to attach herself to the last essence of her being by writing her “name in fire red.” The dream supports this afterward, which clearly shows her as being oppressed by a patriarchal society. It seems almost as if she is being forced to change by “walking with difficulty.” This could also foreshadow Rochester later trying to change her, destroying the only identity she had left. The second part of the novel is narrated by an almost equally alienated character: Rochester. However, he is alienated differently compared to Antoinette.
He shows a degree of doubt that will later become alienation since his first sentence: “So it was all over, the advance and retreat, the doubts and hesitations. Everything finished; for better or for worse”. This military metaphor has a sense of resignation that will continue throughout the next pages. Rochester’s narrative differs from Antoinette’s because he is not alienated from the world (the way she is); he is alienated from the second part’s setting. It can be argued that he reaches this degree of alienation through the mistrust and rejection he feels towards his wife.
Throughout this part of the novel, Antoinette is portrayed as passionate and energetic, just as the place surrounding them, creating a parallelism between her and this place. This parallelism, in turn, enlarges Rochester’s feeling of being repulsed by Groanbois. A tone of resignation and ignorance can be extracted from his way of talking. It is as if he doesn’t even begin to understand this place, and he, therefore, rejects it. As expected, Rochester seems to an extent afraid of this place due to his ignorance towards it. This fear later gives way to his will to control and dominate it. This is similarly reflected by how he tries to control Antoinette and is confused by her passionate personality, which he fails to understand.
“The woman is a stranger; her pleading expression annoys me.” This quote clearly depicts his way of thinking. Everything seems “strange” to him, and therefore it “annoys” him. However, his alienation is better shown by his description of Granbois and his continuous attempt to compare it with England. He widely expresses how he feels threatened by this place, “not only wild but menacing.” Before comparing Granbois with England, he highlights that everything in this place seems extreme. Rochester feels “everything is too much,” which communicates to the reader a sense of claustrophobia and further alienation felt by Rochester. Moreover, his comparison of Granbois with England could be interpreted as a way he uses to comfort himself in this strange place with a woman who has “long, sad, dark, alien eyes”.
In this search for comfort, Rochester himself becomes extreme when comparing England; this is clearly shown when he describes the place where he will stay for his honeymoon as “an imitation of an English summer house”. Rochester also relates his alienation with his relationship with his wife, creating a disassociation between her and her surroundings. He describes how “every moment he made was an effort of will, and sometimes he wondered that no one notices this.” This sense of rejecting her wife is consolidated by Daniel Cosway’s letter addressed to him as “urgent” and portraying Antoinette as a madwoman who would eradicate him. This new vision Rochester develops towards his wife is increased by the “names he calls her,” such as Bertha and Marionette.
This finalizes by destroying all the sense of identity that Antoinette had left, pushing her into madness. It could be argued that Antoinette’s decline into madness was the product of both her and her husband’s feel of alienation. Considering all of the above arguments, it can be deduced that alienation is a key motif of “Wide Sargasso Sea.” It is presented in many ways, and it could be regarded as an excuse for the decline into madness that both protagonists suffer. However, Antoinette’s alienation is expanded to a wider extent than that of Rochester; this could be because she is the one who is considered mad and without any “reason.” The alienation these characters suffer enables us to feel sympathy towards them, creating a sense of consideration for them, which is key for understanding the novel.