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Wide Sargasso Sea of Jean Rhys is a re-writing of Jane Eyre which amplifies the character of Bertha Mason and shows a more plausible relationship between Rochester and her. It is not set in the metropolis of the colonial empire but one of its colonial empires in the Caribbean. Dominica has witnessed a history of fierce colonization by Spain, England and France which killed almost the entire original people of the region viz. The Caribs and the Ciboneys. The colonizers brought African slaves to work in the flourishing sugar plantations. As a result of the combination of so many cultures we have people with Creole characteristics seen in its food, language and religion. The abolishment of slavery in 1834 meant that the black people who formed the majority would be freed and the power of the white minorities to oppress the blacks would slowly cease.
It is at this uneasy time just after the emancipation of the slaves that we are introduced to Antoinette`s family fallen on hard times in the aftermath of the shifting racial relationships between the white Creoles and the slaves. In the opening lines of the text, we are immediately made aware of the position of creoles in Caribbean society. "They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks. The Jamaican ladies had never approved of my mother, 'because she pretty like pretty self' Christophine said." The lines show that Antoinette and her Creole family are not included with the white people who fought together against the economic disaster after the slaves were freed. Moreover Annette's ostracism by the black ladies in the third sentence of the quote sets the tone for the way creoles will be treated by the black natives throughout the book.
We are introduced to the Coulibri Estate, "gone to bush" representing the downfall of the colonial empire with the imagery of the biblical fall. The whites in the community carry fear and apprehension as if anticipating the racial violence from the black people. Antoinette feels as estranged as her widowed mother as both of them encounter the hostility of the black people as when a little girl abuses Antoinette being a 'white cockroach' wanted by nobody in the island. Antoinette strongly identifies with Tia because both are in racial groupings that are considered inferior to the dominant white, European colonial class. However when Antoinette reflects that, 'fires always lit....' for Tia she is unconsciously aware of Tia being different from her, more drawn to the natural world. The writer is also playing with racial stereotype that sees blacks as being primitive and closer to nature. Tia later says, "Old time white people nothing but white nigger now, and black nigger better than white nigger." This utterance summarizes how without 'gold money' the white people are no longer respected by the black community.
Mr. Mason now represents the image of a typical colonizer full of prejudices against the blacks. He misjudges the black people as harmless and 'too damn lazy to be dangerous'. Mason believes that because the black people had been at one time purchased, they were his possessions. After Antoinette`s mother`s marriage to a proper English gentleman, we see the Coulibri restored to its former glory. Yet Antoinette and her mother are instinctively aware of the rising hostility of the black servants. Antoinette is greatly influenced by Cristophine`s lore and the older women`s Obeah sensibilities as when she yearns for the "protective stick". Her integration with the black community is seen in the way she is obsessed with superstitions about seeing killed parrots and sleeping under the moon.
Meanwhile the black people even though without compensation after being freed are not entirely helpless. When they come together and burn Coulibri Estate to the ground, it is not only an expression of the power of the black community but also of the upturned racial structure of the island. After the fire, the narrative becomes increasingly fragmented as against the orderly, linear western concept of timekeeping. Antoinette`s remembrance now is rather by thought associations which is integrated by images, scents and sounds.
Rochester in part two is cold factual narrator who tries to justify why his marriage with Antoinette fails. He searches for traces of England in the strange world around him. Initially we see him using the 'travelling metaphor' comparing the tropical raindrops to 'hail on the leaves of the tree' and the pale flowers to 'snow on the rough grass'. His insecurity and fear is reflected in his imagery of the vastness and shapelessness of the marginalized land. This according to Boehmer is a device whereby the discomfort experienced by the colonizer was projected onto the native people and landscape."Everything is too much...Too much blue..." Being in a remote place away from the centre his privileges as a white Englishman diminishes. We find him antagonized by the landscape that he later associates with his wife and her Creole background. When he and Antoinette discuss about which land is more real he says that the West Indies is 'quite unreal and like a dream' showing how the colonizer tries to negate 'the unreadability of the Other'. Daniel Cosway represents the racially split counterpart to Antoinette`s culturally split identity with a white father and a black mother. His letter is filled self-aggrandizing racist comments about Creoles and himself making Rochester cling to the worst suggestion in the message confirming his suspicion about the degeneration and madness in the family of his wife.
Cristophine is the most powerful subversive voice in the novel who is completely comfortable with her racial identity. She is a benevolent force in Antoinette offering her motherly security and advice. She is identified with Obeah supernatural powers feared by her people. Obeah religion is juxtaposed with Christianity in the novel possibly to demystify the magic aspect of it and to show how it is culture specific of the black people`s identity and history. Cristophine marginalizes England in her discussion with Antoinette by doubting its presence. 'If there is this place at all, i never see it...'. She, along with all the other black people ,are not at all intimidated by the colonial presence which is evident in the direct and bold confrontation they have with the whites. Cristophine later on reduces Cristophine to mimicry of her words as is evident when her words echo in his head. This is a reversal of the normal colonizer/colonized roles put forward by Fanon which regards colonized as a mere parrot imitating the master`s discourse. As with Antoinette`s visit to Cristophine,Rochester`s visit to Daniel also show the reversal of the racial power structure as the white Creole and English colonizer seek help from the supposedly marginalized people.