Postcolonial Discourse in Wide Sargasso Sea
In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys confronts the possibility of another side to Jane Eyre. The story of Bertha, the first Mrs Rochester, Wide Sargasso Sea is not only a brilliant deconstruction of Brontë's legacy, but is also a damning history of colonialism in the Caribbean.
The story is set just after the emancipation of the slaves, in that uneasy time when racial relations in the Caribbean were at their most strained. Antoinette (Rhys renames her and has Rochester impose the name of Bertha on her when their relationship dissolves) is descended from the plantation owners, and her father has had many children by negro women. She can be accepted neither by the negro community nor by the representatives of the colonial centre. As a white creole she is nothing. The taint of racial impurity, coupled with the suspicion that she is mentally imbalanced bring about her inevitable downfall.
Rhys divides the speaking voice between Rochester and Antoinette, thus avoiding the suppression of alternative voices which she recognises in Bronte's text. Rochester, who is never named in the novel, is not portrayed as an evil tyrant, but as a proud and bigoted younger brother betrayed by his family into a loveless marriage. His double standards with regards to the former slaves and Antoinette's family involvement with them are exposed when he chooses to sleep with the maid, Amelie, thus displaying the promiscuous behaviour and attraction to the negro community which he accuses Antoinette of harbouring. Their brief days of happiness at Granbois are halted by his willingness to believe the worst of Antoinette. His betrayal of her is set up before he recieves the information from Daniel Cosway.
Rhys negotiates with Bronte's text. As an already canonical text, the merging of Antoinette's fate into that of Bertha's...