Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) presents some of the complicated issues of postcolonial Caribbean society. Rhys’ protagonist, Antoinette Cosway, a white Creole in Jamaica, suffers racial antagonism, sexual exploitation and male suppression. She is a victim of a system, which not only dispossessed her from her class but also deprived her as an individual of any means of meaningful, independent survival and significance.
Postcolonial Caribbean society is not able to address and enhance the expectations of the colonized people after its emancipation but lingers on and sustains in the older residues of colonial project. Emancipation does not offer a new structure, power relations and hierarchies but leaves the gaps and complications for more dangerous clashes and differences.
Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea is not able to gain her identity and respectable recognition. Antoinette is crushed under her husband’s colonial prejudice and is segregated to the status of the other. I take the liberation of calling Antoinette’s unnamed English husband Rochester from this point forward as this novel has drawn scholarly attention as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Rhys herself says that she wanted to rewrite the story of marginalized Jamaican woman, who is misrepresented and silenced by a western writer. I think it gives me a valid reason to call him Rochester, who is the husband of Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre, and is responsible for this unfortunate woman’s descent to madness and imprisoned life in his attic. My intention is not to narrow down the possible complication and freedom to interpret an unmanned character in Wide Sargasso Sea but to illuminate and extend the idea that Rhys puts forward in complicating Jane Eyre’s silences and hegemonization in a seminal western feminist text. Rhys thinks that Bertha is completely undermined and negated in Bronte’s novel. Bronte’s silences over Bertha’s identity and history enforces Rhys to break the unspoken and deliberately neglected white creole’s identity, and give her a voice that resurrects this supposedly inferior creole and validates her quest for identity and belonging while also challenging the western hegemonic expectations and conditions. Rhys, in an interview with Hannah Carter, reveals:
The mad wife in Jane Eyre has always interested me. I was convinced that Charlotte Bronte must have had something against the West Indies and I was angry about it. Otherwise, why did she take a West Indian for that horrible lunatic, for that really dreadful creature? I hadn’t really formulated the idea of vindicating the madwoman in the novel, but when I was rediscovered I was encouraged to do so. (Jean Rhys, in an interview with Hannah Carter, ‘‘Fated to be Sad’’, Guardian, 8 August 1968, p. 5.)
Bronte’s depiction of a creole as a mad woman imprisoned in the attic, and her dehumanization perhaps infuriate Rhys and enforce her to tell the story of her understanding of the creole in Jamaica. Rhys’ attempt...