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Searching for an Idenitity in Wide Sargasso Sea

1896 words (8 pages) Essay in English Literature

08/02/20 English Literature Reference this

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There are many elements that are in the Wide Sargasso Sea.  Women’s rights, racism, slavery, absolute chaos, etc. are some of the few that are present in this novel. What group faced the most grueling challenges though? An ever looming theme that is present in this novel is the search for an identity. Antoinette, being the main character in the novel, searches for her own identity constantly throughout the book. She is the daughter of an ex-slave master and is identified a white creole. A white creole was often not associated with being in the class of person of white or black skin color. This makes the fit unique for Antoinette and the constant search for her identity in this time and place. The white creoles in Wide Sargasso Sea suffered a lot of adversity because they had to see both sides of the racial tensions, without belonging to either one. With the constant mutters of racial slurs from both sides of the spectrum, leaving them isolated from humanity. They have been taken there and are seen as lower status by everyone, seen almost as an outcast. They are not accepted in by either of the white or black communities. The white creoles suffered far more than any other group in the Wide Sargasso Sea because they shared no identity or place with anyone, plaguing them with insecurities, doubts, and a search for their place in society. 

Antoinette’s search for a purpose and identity is one of the most complex issues she faces on her journey in the book. She is struggling to find a safe place, a place she can actually call home. In one quote in the novel, it states that, “I went to parts of Coulibri that I had not seen, where there was no road, no path, no track. And if the razor grass cut my legs and arms I would think, ‘It’s better than people.’ Black ants or red ones, tall nests swarming with white ants, rain that soaked me to the skin – once I saw a snake. All better than people.Better. Better than people.

Watching the red and yellow flowers in the sun thinking of nothing, it was as if a door opened and I was somewhere else, something else. Not myself any longer,” ( Rhys). The estate allows Antoinette to feel free of her problems that she faces. It gives her a chance to forget some of her troubles. The place isn’t a home though, it’s not a safe or secure home that she can identify with. It even comes to a point where she forgets all of her troubles and in the same process forgets what she actually is. It’s almost as if it’s a mirage that is totally blinding her, stripping her of her own identity. Antoinette gets to the point where all the things she’s been called and thrown at all her life, that she almost wants to forget what she is.

Antoinette search for an identity is a major concern she has. She just wants to feel apart of something. One quote that is in the book states, “ We stared at each other, blood on my face, tears on hers. It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking-glass,” (Rhys) This is about Antoinette staring at Tia. Tia is a black woman, what is thought to be the lowest status in this time of history. However, Antoinette actually wants to be exactly in the image of Tia. A black woman, in this time of age, is something that most people could not bare to be because of how unequally they were treated. Antoinette wants this because she just wants to be accepted, because she is neither accepted by the white or black communities. Unlike Tia, she has no identity that she can call as her own.   

Throughout the book, not only is Antoinette to the point where she wants to escape her problems or wants to be someone else, she is degraded the whole time. She is confused and doesn’t know really what she is from the constant berating of what everyone says about the white creoles. One quote in the novel states, “ It was a song about a white cockroach. That’s me. That’s what they call all of us who were here before their own people in Africa sold them to the slave traders. And I’ve heard English women call us white niggers. So between you I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all,”  (Rhys).  No group, nobody, accepts these people. They are constantly looked down upon and called slurs by people even of their own skin tone. They are dehumanized, called as cockroaches, as if they are nothing but a trouble in the world. This further shows that the white creoles in this book suffered the troubles from every race. They had no place to rest to, almost as if everyone was their enemies. Another quote that dehumanized Antoinette stated, “I scarcely recognized her voice. No warmth, no sweetness. The doll had a doll’s voice, a breathless but curiously indifferent voice,” (Rhys). This was from Rochester, an Englishman who had an arranged marriage with Antoinette. He continuously dehumanizes her throughout the whole book. The quote here shows that he thinks of his wife as a doll. In inanimate object that is lifeless and is very dehumanizing to call upon someone.  He sees his own wife as nothing. Rochester is trying to strip her unique identity away.

There are few things that the creoles can identify with. One source states that , “ . In Louisiana and even in the United States in general, there are few markers of linguistic, racial, and social classification with such a history of contestation as “Creole,” ( Gipson).  The creole race is marked with uncertainty and uniqueness that is transparent to their identity that is shaped. The whole race is searching for an identity to fit the likes of others. It is so unique that they aren’t put in any such group which is unfair to themselves. To this day they still do not know what they can be classified as. Another source states that , “ Even though it must be acknowledged that inasmuch as the West Indian concept of race is a fluid category such that a “white” creole may choose to designate himself as politically “black” if he so chooses (a proposition that sounds particularly absurd in the American or European context), yet it is only through the juxtaposition with his European heritage that the white creole achieves this fluid status,” (Edmondson). This is the situations that are happening right now. Now imagine in the 1830s, in a time of slavery, racism, sexism, etc for these people. They truly don’t have an identity that is accepted by society.

The white creoles are a group that isn’t identified as any group, but should be identified as their own unique one. One source states more background on what they faced as a creole, stating that, “ she struggled with an outsider status, a state she most frankly professes in her biography Smile Please (1979): “I would never belong anywhere, and I knew it, and all my life would be the same, trying to belong and failing…. I am a stranger and I always will be, and after all I didn’t really care,” (Yan). Rhys (the author of the novel) realized that being this unique identity, they would always be a stranger to people. Not fitting in, not belonging anywhere. She realized that she had to eventually just accept the struggles of what she was. At one rare instance in the book, Antoinette actually is accepting of her identity. She states that, “I will write my name in fire red, Antoinette Mason, née Cosway, Mount Calvary Convent, Spanish Town, Jamaica, 1839,” (Rhys). Antoinette here explains what she is, using both of her last names to indicate her identity and where she came from. Here is the one of the instances where she is accepting of her identity and not searching to be something that she isn’t. It is hard to blame Antoinette for the rejection of what she is though. Everything that had been thrown at her made her want to just escape and be something else. This is what almost anyone in the shoes of a white creole may want to do. Run away and never look back. Antoinette rare instance of proclaiming her identity doesn’t end on that note however. In one quote, it states that, “ There is no looking-glass here and I don’t know what I am like now… The girl I saw was myself not quite myself. Long ago when I was a child and very lonely I tried to kiss her. But the glass was between us – hard, cold, and misted over with my breath. Now they have taken everything away. What am I doing in this place and who am I?” (Rhys). Being locked up, one of Rochester’s strategies to skew her of her identity, has made Antoinette turn almost mad. She alineates herself from her image and doesn’t know what to even call herself. Her loss of self awareness and proclamation of what she is fractured. All because people didn’t accept her, she couldn’t accept herself. 

The many elements that are compromised in the Wide Sargasso Sea is plentiful. Many characters are faced with prejudice, sexism, racism, oppression, madness, etc. The group that suffered the most is quite easy to point out to. Many black people in this time period were treated horrendously, but at least they had someone they could identify with. The white creoles were treated just as bad and had no support from white or black people. They had nobody to lean on and were constantly dehumanized throughout the novel. No person should try being something they are not, they should embrace the identity that they are born with. The white creoles endured far more distress than any other group in the Wide Sargasso Sea because they shared no identity or place with anyone, tormenting them with insecurities, doubts, and who they were in the troubling thing we call society. 

Works Cited

  • Edmondson, Belinda. “Race, privilege, and the politics of (re)writing history: an analysis of the novels of Michelle Cliff.” Callaloo, vol. 16, no. 1, 1993, p. 180+. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A13834414/AONE?u=mcc_chandler&sid=AONE&xid=cf8f3a94. Accessed 3 May 2019.
  • Gipson, Jennifer. “‘A strange, ventriloquous voice’: Louisiana Creole, whiteness, and the racial politics of writing orality.” Journal of American Folklore, vol. 129, no. 514, 2016, p. 459+. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A469848490/AONE?u=mcc_chandler&sid=AONE&xid=0f42bc40. Accessed 3 May 2019.
  • Yan, Lin. “Identity, Place and Non-belonging in Jean Rhys’s Fiction.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies, vol. 8, no. 10, 2018, p. 1278+. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A561289246/AONE?u=mcc_chandler&sid=AONE&xid=dbaeb9fa. Accessed 3 May 2019.
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