October 12, 2019
Orientalism in Wide Sargasso Sea
Jean Rhys rewrites Wide Sargasso Sea in a way that highlights its more postcolonial roots. Basically, in the novel, Antoinette goes through a traumatic experience in her childhood, and then enters into what is basically an arranged marriage with Rochester. In the book who can see a lot of orientalism being portrayed especially in depiction of dark-skinned women.
The novel takes place after the Emancipation Act of 1833; which we learn from Antoinettes mother, but before it actually takes effect. Antoinettes mother was a white Creole woman and her father an English former slave-owner that had Jamaican heritage. In the novel, they called Antoinette and her family white niggers by the whites. In part one, the very first sentence says They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks. (9) They werent hated on because they were Creole, which is white West Indian, which basically means that they even though they were white, they were not considered English; and even though they were West Indian, they also werent considered as black either. Antoinette tells her husband that she is called a white cockroach because her people were there before their (the blacks) people from Africa were even sold to slave traders. Being a mixture of the two, caused them to be dislike and judged which Antoinettes mothers servant (which was a gift to her from her first husband) tells Antoinette also in part one. Christophine says they dont approve of her mother because she pretty like pretty self (9). In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette and her family are seen as white cockroaches (13); which is what her family was referred to by the blacks. Antoinettes friend Tia told her one day when they were at the swimming hole, that she wasnt a real white person; Plenty white people in Jamaica. Real white people, they got gold money (14) when Antoinette called her a cheating nigger for taking her money.
In the novel, it seems like Antoinette wants to be accepted in one of the other communities. In part one, as Antoinettes house is burning down, Antoinette is desperate to be accepted, so much so that when she sees Tia and her mother, she runs to them and as she is doing so she is thinking I will live with Tia and I will be like her. (27). Being White West Indian, she is not accepted into either community or has a place to belong. Even when she moves to stay with her aunt, and she is on her way to a convent, she is chased by two black kids, and teased, and called crazy girl (29). And though she desperately wants to fit in, she cannot help but associate the islands as a dangerous place, but she knows she does not belong to England either.
These are just a few of the examples that are shown in Wide Sargasso Sea that portray orientalism. But you could also say that Ashcrofts term displacement would work as well. Antoinette, being Creole, had no community, and was also literally displaced when her home in Coulibri was burned. She was forced to leave her home, just like when the whites took over Indian lands. Since she did not fit in either the white or black community she was treated as a savage or a low life. If we were to get super technical you could defiantly say that Ashcrofts term exile fits, because again being white west Indian, she wasnt considered black nor white, and even after multiple attempts to fit in either community, she was exiled from both and could be considered and Other.
Rhys, Jean, et al. Wide Sargasso Sea: Backgrounds, Criticism. W.W. Norton & Co., 1999.
Aschroft,Bill, et al. Postcolonial Studies: The Key Concepts. 3rd ed., Routledge, 2013.