Rhys in Wide Sargasso sea illustrates how Antoinette’s identity is so completely weaken through the patriarchal oppression that when she looks into the mirror she does not recognize her own reflection. It was then I saw her the ghost ,the woman with streaming hair. she was surrounded by a gift frame but I knew her(pg.154). Antoinette does not realize that what she sees is a reflection of her broken selfhood. Her self hood has under gone an irretrievable split. With her heart and spirit broken she began to exhibit signs of an emotionally weak, confused and unbalanced woman. Rhys gives voice to madwoman who has been othered by imperialistic and patriarchal oppression. Her madness is shown through out the novel to be a reaction to oppression.
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Antoinette is imprisoned by the patriarchal rules of her marriage, which eventually leads to madness. Antoinette’s marriage is the culmination of this enforced literal oppression. Rhys illustrates the injustice of Rochester’s assumption that mother’s madness must inevitably passed on to the daughter. Rhys shows that Rochester’s cruelty towards Antoinette is due to a projection onto her of his hate for his father, and the marriage arrangement which he has been pushed into. His anger is the anger of the oppressed. Like Antoinette, he is a victim of imperialistic and patriarchal oppression.
I agree with Teresa F.O’Connor’s arguments about Mr. Rochester’s cruel treatment of Antoinette. She argues that her cruelties derive from his own rejection by his father and Antoinette becomes his scape-goat for the hate he feels towards him(162). Although, Mr. Rochester’s cruelties derive from his hatred of his father, but his cruelties are still approved of by the patriarchal society. He is allowed to treat his wife disrespectfully because of the patriarchal norms. Thus, Mr. Rochester with his patriarchal oppression, is the reason for their failed marriage. Teresa F. O’ Connor says that, Mr. Rochester acts as the colonizing English aggressive, controlling, urban, and a warrior that captures wealth, property and people(170).
Antoinette’s attempt to make her husband love her by seducing him into having sexual inter-course with her is ineffective. Rochester reflects in the text; I woke in the dark after dreaming that i was buried alive, and when I was awake the feeling of suffocation persisted(Rhys 87). The suffocation he feels derives from finding himself in the power of his wife and not the other way around. He then demonstrates his sexual power over her by denying her a physical relationship with him, yet sleeping with the black servant, Amelia, he derives her further away from her identity. Mr. Rochester’s infidelity is a way for her to demonstrate his patriarchal power over Antoinette and show her that she can not control him.
Rochester tries to assign animality to his wife. He describes Antoinette degradingly by trying to destroy her human identity and make her more animal like. When Antoinette comes out of her room and rages about her husband’s infidelity with Amelia, he diminishes Antoinette’s human features in order to explain her madness, Her hair hung uncombed and dull into her eyes which were inflamed and staring, her face was very flushed and looked swollen.(Rhys93)
Alienation is the major reason for Antoinette’s psychological break down. Mr. Rochester alienates her by eliminating her identity and forcing a new one upon her. For in Wide Sargasso sea Rochester’s rejection of Antoinette is the final straw in her isolated, painful, emotionally deprived life which cause her to adopt an exact mirroring of mother’s expression which allows Rochester to label her Bertha, the stereotype of madness created by patriarchal society. The moment he turns Antoinette into Bertha and then to Marionette is emblematic.
Rochester can be seen here as an agressive tyrant, when he deprives Antoinette from her identity. Rhys writes him directly into the role of colonize at the point where he changes Antoinette’s name to Bertha. She becomes like a mirror, first wiped, clean of her own selfhood into which he then project his self-hatred, which he finally breaks up as she might a doll, chanting to her, the lulling and demeaning refrain, “Marionette, Antoinette”, in attempt to get rid of his own guilt. He begins to call her Bertha, signaling the beginning of his separating himself from her (ironically he likes to call her Bertha because it is a name dear to him).
Rochester renames Antoinette; he controls her body now, but not her spirit. Antoinette is only a puppet, a doll for him, “the doll had a doll’s voice, a breathless but curiously indifferent voice”(Rhys155). This also indicates that men reduce women to objects in order to control them, but inside the doll, underneath, the disguise, there is still the woman, who has feelings and emotions and who would rather give up her body then her spirit. We can see in part three of Wide Sargasso sea, Antoinette attaches values to names, Names matter, like when he woud’nt call me Antoinette, and I saw Antoinette drifting out of the window with her scents, her pretty clothes and her looking glass(Rhys 117). Names matter because they are part of a person’s identity and through a person’s name he or she can be identified in a community. Mr. Rochester also shows his colonial power when he eliminates his wife’s identity, as a colonizer he tries to force a British identity upon her.
The patriarchal Mr. Rochester’s obsession to dominate and control his wife makes him alienate Antoinette from her own identity. He tries to eliminate Antoinette’s identity and turns her into a Victorian Englishwoman.
Though Antoinette seems to perceive her fate as inevitable, she gives in and dies emotionally. She never becomes Bertha, at least not the perfect angel that Rochester wants to be. She says Bertha is not my name; you are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. Renaming Antoinette is one way in which Rochester exerts his masculine power over his wife. He tries to create a woman whom he can control, dominate and possess. But Antoinette only seems to submit to it. Her struggle is on the inside, and instead of becoming the English girl, Rochester wishes her to be, she becomes someone else, someone much like her mother was.
In the end of the part two when Mr. Rochester and Antoinette are about o leave for England, Mr. Rochester notices that she has lost her vitality and acts completely passive. She was so shocked to see Rochester’s behavior towards her that she becomes like Zombie, having no soul. Teresa F.O’Connor’s says that, the mad females in Wide Sargasso Sea turn their madness inwards (197). This is what happens to Antoinette, the destruction and alienation of her identity leads to her madness. Thus Mr. Rochester considers her to be mad. He wants to destroy her even more by eliminating every autonomous part of her, he wants complete control over her body and mind. By destroying her last spark of life, he turns Antoinette into an aphasic object. Being turned into someone else and loosing the only place where she has felt happiness and safety, gives her nothing to identify with.
But I love this place and you have made it into a place I hate. I used to think that if everything else went out of my life I would still have this, and now you have spoilt it. It’s just some where else where I have been unhappyâ€¦. (Rhys95)
Thus, Mr. Rochester has power, through his patriarchal position in their marriage, the power to destroy both Antoinette’s identity of soul and identity of place. Rhys allows Antoinette to rise above her situation by seeking final revenge on Rochester and gaining back her independence, her sanity and her life. Rhys shows from the beginning of Antoinette’s marriage, her defensive behavior. When her husband tries to teach her about the life style he finds correct, she argues against him in order to maintain her own ideals and values. She also fights to keep her husband when she finds out about his infidelity, she asks Christophine to help her with Obeah (Voodoo) in order to maker her husband love her.
Christophine who is the figure of female independence in all forms (sexually, economically and politically) suggests to Antoinette what to do and how to solve their problems with her husband. Christophine advices Antoinette to be strong and independent like her self. She says,
A man don’t treat you good, pick up your skirt and walk out. In the end he comes to find how you do without him, he sees you fat and happy, he wants you back. Men are like that (pg69).
What is certain is that Christophine considers her self free to contrast Rochester’s behavior to accuse him of reducing Antoinette to a doll. She is so self-confident to answer him directly, coldly and going beyond his pretension of patriarchal power, this is a free country and I am a free woman. Christophine says to Rochester, she tells me in the middle of this you start calling her names Marionette some what so.
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Here Rhys illustrate that sexual and emotional oppression seems to be the key idea in patriarchal tyranny, for Antoinette lets her self to be victimized by the enemy, the man she was trick into marrying. In the end, however, after Rochester has drained her of all emotions, she manages to break free from the sufferings by making her last act of self-determination. With this last step, Rhys turns her mad woman into a symbol of female liberation. Antoinette finally regains her activity in the third part of the novel, and takes responsibility for her own life. In this way, she takes her destiny in her own hands.
Teresa F. O’Connor disagrees with other critics about the third part of Wide Sargasso Sea, where Antoinette appears to burn down her husband’s house in England and commit suicide. She does not believe that Antoinette’s act of burning down the house is an act of rebellion and resistance. She believes it to be a passive act since Antoinette is unaware that her act is rebellious (168). I disagree with Teresa that the apparent act of burning down Mr. Rochester’s house is a passive act. Antoinette does not really burn down in her dream, she ha a premonition in her dream that she sets his house on fire and commits suicide by jumping from the building. When she wakes up she is convinced of what she has to do. Now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to do. This statement is made by a woman perfectly awake with a clear mind. Antoinette’s act of burning down his house is an active choice which brings her back from her apathy. This is an act of revenge that restores her agency that her husband had tried to eliminate.
In the light of Cixous’s theory, I support my statement that Antoinette’s madness is a rebellion against the patriarchal repression and before her suicide; she destroys the prison that has held her captive by burning the house, an old dignified English Mansion representing the patriarchal tradition.
Antoinette’s rebellion against her patriarchal husband can be related to the incident when her childhood home, Coulibri, was burnt down. Despite her husband’s effort to destroy her identity and take away her sanity, he can never control her completely. She still has her own will left, which is displayed in her final act of revenge and rebellion against her oppressive husband. She sets her self free from patriarchal oppression and takes command over her own situation by deciding her own course of life or, as in this case, death.
Therefore, in part three Rhys with the use of color red shows how Antoinette destroys the dominant discourse of the patriarchal society. Red is metaphorically associated with passion and it is also associated with Antoinette and with her red-soiled through out the Wide Sargasso Sea. It is repeatedly repressed by her husband as he prefers her white dress which is the symbol of innocence and purity. He rejects the flame red dress with which she identifies her self as intemperate and unchaste. This tendency to suppress the color red is reversed in the third part of the novel. As Antoinette takes her red dress that has a meaning from the cupboard in the red curtained room in which she has asked Grace Poole to light a fire and is reminded of the color of fire and sunset in her home town. Every thing associated with red is repeated again and again in the novel to show the destruction of patriarchal order. The red is the color of flames which Antoinette dreams she sets fire to Thorn field, thus symbolically destroying the patriarchal order that is upheld by discourse.
She decides to leave the oppressive world behind her by choosing death instead of an imprisoned life, although the choice of death in order to be free may seem as a poor alternative. It does show, though, Antoinette’s determination not to be governed and have someone else decide her destiny, by committing suicide she takes her destiny in her own hands.
There must have been a draught for the flame, flickered and I thought it was out. But I shielded it with my hand and it burned up against to light me along the dark passage.
Thus, Rhys represents her protagonist with a ray of light o guide her hopes. For Antoinette at least the darkness of ignorance, despair and death are finally illuminated by the light of self-knowledge and revolt.
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