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Themes In Wide Sargasso Sea By Jean Rhys

703 words - 3 pages

Themes in Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

The main themes in Wide Sargasso Sea are slavery and entrapment, the
complexity of racial identity and womanhood or feminism. In all of
these themes the main character who projects them are Antoinette and
Christophine. The theme slavery and entrapment is based on the ex-
slaves who worked on the sugar plantations of wealthy Creoles figure
prominently in Part One of the novel, which is set in the West Indies
in the early nineteenth century. Although the Emancipation Act has
freed the slaves by the time of Antoinette's childhood, compensation
has not been granted to the island's black population, breeding
hostility and resentment between servants and their white employers.
Annette, Antoinette's mother, is particularly attuned to the animosity
that colors many employer-employee interactions. Enslavement shapes
many of the relationships in Rhys's novel-not just those between
blacks and whites.

The second theme refers to subtleties of race and the intricacies of
Jamaica's social hierarchy play an important role in the development
of the novel's main themes. Whites born in England are distinguished
from the white Creoles, descendants of Europeans who have lived in the
West Indies for one or more generations. Further complicating the
social structure is the population of black ex-slaves who maintain
their own kinds of stratification. Christophine, for instance, stands
apart from the Jamaican servants because she is originally from the
French Caribbean island of Martinique. Interaction between these
racial groups is often antagonistic. Antoinette and her mother,
however, do not share the purely racist views of other whites on the
island. Both women recognize their dependence on the black servants
who care for them, feeling a respect that often borders on fear and
resentment. In this manner, power structures based on race always
appear to be on the brink of reversal.

The theme of womanhood intertwines with issues of enslavement and
madness in Rhys's novel. Ideals of proper feminine deportment are
presented to Antoinette when she is a girl at the convent school. Two
of the other Creole girls, Miss Germaine and Helene de Plana, embody
the feminine virtues that Antoinette is to learn and emulate: namely,
beauty, chastity and mild, even-tempered manners. Mother St. Justine's
praises of the "poised" and "imperturbable" sisters suggest an ideal
of womanhood that is at odds with Antoinette's...

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