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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
Wide Sargasso Sea is written in the trisect form with Parts One and Three narrated by Antoinette and Part Two narrated by Antoinette’s husband. This shift in narrative voice, along with forward and backward movements through time and space, is quite different from the linear autobiographical Jane Eyre on which the characters are based. In the Parts narrated by Antoinette, Rhys uses the device of fragmentation and shifts tense from present to past making Antoinette’s character seem disembodied. Antoinette’s husband’s narration is in past tense delivered by a nameless character, giving his account authority and credibility.
The shift in narrative voice also gives the reader insight into the cultural and psychological differences between the two characters. The husband, with his deliberate, educated tone, gives us a disturbed and disgusted image of Antoinette. Antoinette’s simple language and patois evoke sympathy and show her as the victim of racial isolation and patriarchal oppression. We are able to view the developing madness from the outside and the inside.
Dependency becomes Slavery
Even though slavery had been officially abolished, the bondage imposed by dependency became like slavery to ex-slaves and women alike. The hostility between ex-slave servants and their white employers escalated as the relationship changed from legal ownership to financial dependence, a figurative slavery. The fire at Coulibri illustrates this resentment of the black workers against the exploitative whites dramatically.
Women’s dependence on their husbands and fathers was another form of financial slavery. Annette’s marriage to Mr. Mason was an attempt to escape her captivity at Coulibri. The men in the novel married to increase their wealth. Women had no financial rights. This is summed up in Antoinette’s explanation to Christophine, “And you must understand I am not rich now, I have no money of my own at all, everything I had belongs to him.”
Conflict of Values
Seldom did Antoinette and her husband, or their West Indian and colonial counterparts, see eye to eye on their opinions of the landscape or the people. West Indian values were based on living in harmony with nature. This was where Antoinette got her idea that nature was a comfort, though she also respected its power. The colonials sought to conquer nature and the people associated with it for their own purposes. Along with harmony in nature went the West Indian value placed on spirituality and the belief in signs and omens. The colonials made light of this savage nonsense yet feared it enough to arrest Christophine for her practice of obeah.
After slavery was abolished, the work ethic of many blacks was corrupted. “No more slavery - why should anybody work?” Material greed and the power of capitalism took over, obscuring former values including respect for humanity. Interpersonal relationships were often reduced to financial arrangements.
Gender, color, parentage and geographic origin all affected where one stood in society. Women were a lower class than men. Whites from England felt superior to white Creoles. Black ex-slaves not from Jamaica were looked down upon by Jamaican blacks. Those of mixed race filled in the gap between black and white societies occupying whatever niche their parentage or means allowed. Interactions between the different levels or groups were tainted with the fear that underlies forced respect.
POINT OF VIEW
The novel is written in first person. The point of view changes depending on which character is narrating. As we alternately enter the minds of Antoinette and her husband the position shifts according to each character’s perspective. From the man we hear the English imperialist version of events, the version clearly not preferred by Rhys. As he recounts what has happened, though his story is credible, the reader doubts that he is being completely honest, even with himself. As narrator, even though he is involved in the action, he seems to take the position that it is all beneath him.
Antoinette’s version comes from the West Indian viewpoint. Her passages evoke sympathy and clearly underscore the inequities and injustices of the post emancipation experience in the Caribbean. Her account is more genuine allowing the reader into her heart as well as her mind. This voice of the underrepresented is the one the reader feels the author prefers.