Jean Rhys novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, is one of the most successful feminist novels in the 20th century. Written in 1966; her work borrowed significantly from the Charlotte Berthas novel Jane Eyre written in 1847. This novel focuses on life after marriage, focusing on Janes marriage after going to work for Rochester. This novel is arguably one of the most successful novels in the world focusing on the ability of the roles of men and women in marriage. At a time when male chauvinism was a norm in many societies around the world, Jean addresses the role of men and women in relationships and marriages and the cause of abuse in these relationships. The main protagonist of the novel Antoinette Cosway has to change her name to Bertha after she moves away to England to start her new marital life. Using Bertha Jean addresses the cruelty and animosity many women in faced in their marriages owing to their weak nature in the 19th and 20th century. The troubles Bertha faces help to enlighten the community about the various issues in the community.
The novel is set in 1833 immediately after the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. The main protagonist of the play is Antoinette, who relates her life to Jane Arye in Mr. Rochechesters novel. Antoinette has to change her name after her arranged marriage to his British husband. Her childhood and personality have to change for her to please her new husband and look acceptable in her new society. Her wish and wants are no longer valid, and she has to be submissive to her new husband. Bertha is locked in a room for long and slowly loses her mind. She is lonely and depressed from the physical and mental suffering she goes through in her new house. Her madness is one of the things that justify her mistreatment.
In her new marriage, she is assumed insane and is locked in a room away from all human contacts. Her thoughts and reasoning reveal a high level of sanity during her lockup. Her insanity seems to be an excuse to justify the problems she faces as a wife. Her husband uses her alleged insanity to justify her lock up and mistreatment. Her lockup had led to the development of deep feelings of deep anger and emotional pain. She has to handle all this emotional pain on her own in a secluded room. She lacks the correct environment to express her anger and frustrations another lockup in the house. All she longs for is a way of escape from the abusive relationship. However, the location of the country house denies her any possible way of escape.
When she finally manages to escape, she burns down her prison to ensure that she does not get back into it. Her decision to burn the house was an expression of her anger and frustration as she was locked up in the house. Many people thought that her actions were caused by her insanity. The real reason for her behavior was an expression of her anger because of her unfair treatment. Her action of burning her house and committing suicide was not a cause of insanity but an intentional expression of her anger. She burns down her oppressor in his house. However, things did not work out as she planned as she died in the fire. She managed to the hurt her husband in the fire, but it was not enough to kill him. Although her actions may reflect a high level of insanity, she was just expressing her frustration about her denial of freedom in her marriage. Her anger and frustrations had developed to a level that they were close to becoming insanity. Her lockup was a setup to deny her access to her rightful position as Creoles first wife. Her lockup was a way of getting her out of the way for Creole to enjoy his life with his young new wife, Jane.
In Smith Elders novel, Jane Eyre Bertha is the lunatic and crazy first wife that makes life hard for his co-wife and his husband. This notion is an assumption that ignores her interests and development. In this novel, no one cares to understand the cause of Berthas behavior and her personalities in the development of this character. However, Jean Rhys examines her life to establishing the reasons behind her behavior. She examines her background in Jamaica and her departure from the country and the changes in her marriage. Understanding her background would help a person understand her worldview and understand her behavior. Initially known as Antoinette, Bertha grew up as a solitary young girl in Jamaica. She was happy in her country and ready to experience an adventure of life around the world. She is reserved as a young girl and can hardly belong to any social group. Her solitary life makes her happy, and she is content with her life as a young girl. However, her inability to belong to any social group makes her prone to mental instability and possible insanity.
She makes her vulnerable to becoming violent in case she faces difficulties. Her arranged marriage causes her increased mental pain, as she cannot express the need for her freedom. She has to leave the comfort of her home to go into a foreign country to become a wife to her lunatic husband that abuses her. Her husband fails to understand her and assumes that she was a lunatic that needed disciplining. In her solitude, she develops a high rate of disconnection with her immediate environment; she cannot associate with her husband or anyone in her surroundings. She is bitter about her childhood loneliness and the increased suffering in her new marriage. She blames her family for giving her away in a loveless union in a foreign land. To her, this could be equated to slave trade as her family sought the financial benefits that they benefited from the union and not her well doing and wishes as a human being. Rochester cannot divorce her because he would lose the inheritance he expected to get from her father. Analyzing the challenges that she faces in the society, enables us understand Berthas behavior in her new setting.
In Brontes book, she was referred to as the mad woman that lived in an abandoned house on the hill. Jane, the main character in the story suffers because of the mad woman in the hill. Jane attributes her dreams and illusions to supernatural powers influenced by Bertha, the evil woman at the house on the hill. Bertha alleged insanity became an excuse for all the troubles facing Jane. She, being of a different race, was the excuse for all the misfortunes that faced her husband and her new wife. The fact was that was treated as a slave even after slavery had ended. As a product of a white man and a slave, she was treated as a slave. Her marriage exposed her to a new form of slavery where she faced incarceration and mistreatment on the farm. Although she did not work in farms and other placed involuntarily, she was forced to remain in the house alone for a very long time. She assumed insanity caused by her inability to relate to people in the society. She lived in a society in where racism was a critical issue. The fact that she could not identify fully with any race caused her loneliness and solitude. Her race influenced her discrimination and mistreatment at the hands of her husband.
Gender was another issue that influenced how a person was perceived in the society. In this novel, men had the power over their wives without any limits or hindrances to their being. In the convent, Antoinette has to learn and emulate them from the friends in the convent how to behave womanly. She had to attain virtues that would help her live with her new husband and let go all her personal feelings. She had no role to decide whether to get married or not. Her opinions mattered even less when she got married. She had to bear loneliness and accept her status as a prisoner in her matrimonial home. Being a woman, she had nowhere to turn to. The societal norms required that she would be submissive and obey her husbands rules whether she liked them or not. Her gender was one of the greatest contributors to her ill-treatment by her husband. Marriage to women is considered an opportunity to escape poverty and not an institution to express love. Berthas parents marry her to her abusive husband for his wealth and not for love. The belief that women should not earn but inherit their husbands wealth had influenced this move in that society. She lacked any control of her fathers property while her husband had access to all their facilities.
The complex relationship between Jane and Bertha is an issue to consider in the play. Both Jane and Bertha have experienced dreams that reflect their relationship to the society. The have dreams that reflect their perceptions about various issues in life. These people have increased negligence to the growing nature of the people in the country. Their visual dreams and paranoia about various issues in life leads to their misery. These visions lead to the perception that these people are mad and the ability to handle issues. Bertha is locked up in the house owing to her visions and paranoia that proves her insanity. Rejected by her parents and relatives, Bertha has to endure a life of pain owing to her visions and paranoid nature of the people.
From the onset of the marriage, Berthas relationship is doomed to fail. They marry for the wrong reasons, and their marriage is an impending failure. The change in nature of her husband leads to her increased depression and paranoia. Taken from a loving father, she has to endure a painful life in England owing to her alleged insanity. Berthas character allows her to protest her suffering and is the main cause of her trouble with her husband. Unlike Jane, she fights for her rights and is mistaken for insanity. These expressions lead to her imprisonment in a asylum and causes her great mental strain. The novel ends tragically, as she burns down her house and commits suicide. Her suicide was a predictable event owing to her paranoid nature and the circumstances she faced growing up. Her misfortunes reflected the discriminative nature of the society as it evolved to appreciate human nature in the society. Issues of women rights, slavery and racism are addressed in the book and help the readers understand the society of the time. Berthas ability to express her feelings and fight for her rights makes her labelled as insane and is imprisoned. Using this novel Jean Rhys addresses issues of women discrimination in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Champaign: Project Gutenberg, 1990. Print.
Frickey, Pierrette M. Critical Perspectives on Jean Rhys. Washington: Three Continents Press, 1990. Print.
"London School of Journalism | Jean Rhys: Wide Sargasso Sea. Charlotte Bronte Jane Eyre." London School of Journalism | Creative Writing and Journalism Courses by Attendance and Distance Learning. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.
Rhys, Jean, and Charlotte Bronte. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: Norton, 1992. Print.
Teachman, Debra. Understanding Jane Eyre: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2001. Print.
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