Fire Causes Mental Illness In Jane Eyre And Wide Sargasso Sea

1715 words - 7 pages

Almost anyone that has had the misfortune of enduring an early childhood traumatic experience will readily admit that it has had lasting effects on his life. A traumatic occurrence at an early time in one's life will not only change the person's way of thinking, but it will also alter the relationships that this person has with certain people, places, or things. Normally comfortable settings will suddenly become extremely uncomfortable. People that the child was once at great ease with unexpectedly are transformed into completely different people in the child's eyes. For an adult, traumatic experiences are easier to handle, at least in my opinion. But for a child, going through a tragic event could completely destroy the type of character that a child has been molded into. A prime example of a traumatic early childhood experience is a fire, especially when the fire occurs in the child's home. When she was a child, Antoinette Mason of Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea endured a residential fire at Coulibri. This fire was the chief cause behind the development of Antoinette's mental illness later in life.

Everyone knows that the potential exists for a residential fire, but no one thinks it will ever happen to them. Helaine Greenberg points out that "Residential fires are an epidemic in the United States. Each year more than 500,000 residential fires result in approximately 5,000 deaths and 21,000 injuries" (Greenberg 1). Obviously, residential fires occur a lot more frequently than one may think. As the cliché states, the proof is in the pudding. Statistics do not lie. Many more residential fires occur than most may believe. Based on Helaine Greenberg's statistics, roughly 71 people are killed or injured by residential fires every single day. If that does not instill fear into one's heart, I do not know what will. With 71 people being affected by fires at home everyday, it is easy to see that Antoinette Mason's fate was not that unlikely.

A more specific method of explaining Antoinette Mason's condition is to discuss the mental state known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Naomi Breslau states that one of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is "a numbing of affect and avoidance of thoughts, acts, and situations that represent the trauma" (Breslau 924). In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette clearly shows this type of symptom. In her last dream described by Rhys, Antoinette sees "the pool at Coulibri" (Rhys 112). This obviously shows that Antoinette can only deal with her past at Coulibri in her dreams, and not in reality. When Antoinette is walking down the hallway at Thornfied, she says "Now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to do" (Rhys 112). At this particular point in the novel, it is clearly evident that Antoinette is simply recreating the tragic event that she was forced to endure during her childhood at Coulibri. The fact that she has a mental illness basically allows her to start the...

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