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Fire´S Symbolism In Wide Sargasso Sea By Jean Rhys

1244 words - 5 pages

Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel Jane Eyre depicts the passionate love Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester have for each other, and as Bertha Mason stands in the way of the happiness of Brontë's heroine, the reader sees Mason as little more than a villainous demon and a raving lunatic. Jean Rhys' serves as Mason's defendant, as the author's 1966 novella Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel to Jane Eyre, seeks to explore and explain Bertha's (or Antoinette Cosway's) descent into madness. Rhys rejects the notion that Antoinette has been born into a family of lunatics and is therefore destined to become one herself. Instead, Rhys suggests that the Cosways are sane people thrown into madness as a result of ...view middle of the document...

The black man who asks Aunt Cora this question, like the mob that burns the house to the ground, is attempting to bring the white, wealthy Cosways down to the same level as the black, powerless former slaves and to avenge the injustices of the past, with fire as his chosen tool. The rioters' use of arson as their method of leveling the playing field and stripping the Cosways of their power is a testament to fire's role as a symbol of defiance in the novella. Another oppressed figure shown in this scene is Annette's parrot, Coco. Shortly after marrying Annette, Mr. Mason clips Coco's wings, stripping the parrot of his ability to fly and forcing him into a state of entrapment. Coco becomes ill-tempered after having his wings clipped (38), and his fatal, fiery fall from the glacis (39) serves as a merciful escape from his misery. Coco's use of fire as a means of escape and defiance is echoed once again in Antoinette's death. Indeed, the entirety of Coco's presence in the novel can be used to draw a parallel between himself and the protagonist. Mr. Rochester oppresses Antoinette just as Mr. Mason did the parrot, and, like the bird, Antoinette becomes increasingly hostile as a result: "Then she cursed me comprehensively, my eyes, my mouth, every member of my body, and it was like a dream in the large unfurnished room with the candles flickering and this red-eyed wild-haired stranger who was my wife shouting obscenities at me" (135). Antoinette’s refusal to be enslaved by Rochester--- her insubordination and her unwillingness to accept her husband's repressive actions--- flares up in this scene, and the flickering flames of the candles lighting the room as she screams and threatens her husband with a broken bottle demonstrate once again the connection Rhys makes between fire and defiance. Antoinette's rebelliousness leads her husband to declare her mad and lock her up in an attic in England. Rochester's decision to shut Antoinette off from the rest of the world is the greatest example of oppression in the novella. The motif of fire manifests itself once again when seeing the color of her old dress spurs Antoinette into action against her husbands attempts at repression: "But I looked at the dress on the floor and it was as if the fire had spread across the room. It was beautiful and it reminded me of something I must do. I will remember I thought. I will remember quite soon now" (168). Fire serves as the impetus for Antoinette's ultimate rebellion and escape from her confinement, and, predictably, it serves...

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