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What Are The Origins Of Lunacy?

1488 words - 6 pages

"'...She must at least be plausible with a past, the reason why Rochester treats her so abominably and feels justified, the reason why he thinks she is mad and why of course she goes mad, even the reason why she tries to set everything on fire, and eventually succeeds, ...." (Gregg, 82)

Throughout literature female characters have struggled for power, be it power over logic, emotion, or knowledge. Time and again women in literature have failed miserably, creating a concept that women in repressive societies who struggle for the power over logic, emotion, knowledge, and therefore their own freedom invariably end up committing suicide or suffer some mental illness; these characters, just as Bronte`s Bertha Mason, are often lacking development, perhaps because it is too taxing for a writer of a dominate culture to truthfully represent the characters of a colony. Either way, the theme proves pervasive enough to cause reader's to question the source of a female character's lunacy, whether it be the social/historical environment, or a result of the vast differences between the dominate and colony cultures. In this essay I seek to prove that Antoinette's lunacy was not merely a product of her environment (i.e. inbreeding/heredity), but more importantly a result of the vast and irreconcilable cultural differences between Rochester and her. He is like the bokor, and likewise she is the zombie.

I believe the historical setting of the novel sets up the importance of Antoinette`s environment. The background of Wide Sargasso Sea is set in Jamaica and Dominica circa the 1830s, and under British dominion. The British parliament had passed the Emancipation Act in 1833, outlawing slavery in Britain and its colonies (Erwin, 207). Colony planters did not want to see their estates and holdings collapse as a result of the loss of forced labor. Luckily, for the plantocracy, an "apprenticeship system" followed from 1834-38 which transformed slaves into indentured laborers, after which time former slave owners were to get compensation for the loss of property and labor, though it oftentimes never came. As a result of lost labor and property there is a decrease in both the economic and social status of the former plantation/white Creole class. It is through this decrease that the racial purity of this class is challenged, and ties in with the changing uses of the word Creole. Creole, a term originally applied to people of European descent born in the colonies, also referred to the slaves who were born rather than brought to the colonies, and was later frequently used to indicate racial mixture. From the historical background of the novel and of the changing interpretations of the word Creole, we can see Antoinette's culture as problematic in shaping her identity as well as irreconcilably different to Rochester's dominating culture.

"If in the post slavery period the relationship between West Indians of African and European ancestry is charged and volatile,...

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