Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys
Antoinette Mason Rochester
So…is she or isn't she? Mad, that is. Even though much of the novel is filtered through Antoinette's point of view, it's easy to read the entire novel and still have no idea who this woman is. Come to think of it, we're still struggling with it ourselves. Antoinette's story is certainly sad, but it's also puzzling and complicated. One thing is for sure: she seems to know how to push the right buttons. You'll find yourself alternately compelled, frustrated, and overwhelmed by her.
Now, why is that? Well, you have to admit it makes the novel a little more fun to read. Who wants to read the story of some bland goody two-shoes who angelically triumphs over evil and adversity? Antoinette is willing to dig deep into the murky side of human nature. Nature is "better than people" (I.1.3.36)? Did she just say that? This holds true for her brutal honesty with Rochester. She knows that her husband views her as inferior because she's a white Creole woman, and, no, she's not going to pretend to be calm and rational – racism is ugly and she's going to call him out on it. And she's absolutely candid about the effect that everything that's happened in her life has had on her – you know, losing her entire family, watching her mother get molested by her caretaker, listening to Rochester have sex with Amélie in the next room, getting locked up in an attic in a foreign country…
So we may not understand everything she says and does. But living in Antoinette's head for a while makes us think that she's worth taking some time to figure out. Here are a few things to mull over:
Antoinette the Madwoman
Back to that pesky question again. Antoinette is constantly questioning who she is, but, by the end of the novel, she really seems to forget who she is. Is she insane or is there another explanation for her utterly fractured sense of self?
Antoinette the Creole
Antoinette challenges characters both white and black on their views on race, particularly their treatment of white Creoles. But why doesn't she run off with Sandi, her colored lover? Does she view other black characters, like Christophine for example, as simply people to be used?
Antoinette the Vamp
There's probably a weighty feminist tome out there on why women are called "vamps" if they're up front about their sexuality. Antoinette is called a "soucriant" in the novel, and a "vampyre" in Jane Eyre (II.5.2.14). Is there something off about Antoinette's sexual desires? Or is there something wrong with a culture that can't accept a woman who's frankly sexual?
Antoinette the Zombie
Like many characters in the novel, Antoinette at times acts like a zombie, particularly at the end of Part II. But the fact that she has a close connection to the islands suggests another sense that she might be a zombie, as a "spirit of a place" that might be propitiated with offerings of flowers (remember all that frangipani in their honeymoon shack?).
Antoinette the Victim?
You can definitely feel sorry about all the stuff that's happened to her. But how much of that is her own responsibility? Did she have any options?
Antoinette the Dreamer
However you might feel about her as a character, you have to admit that she's got a vivid dream life, so vivid in fact that it seeps into the reality she lives in. Viewing the world through Antoinette's eyes, we get extravagant sensory detail that makes her narrative such a pleasure to read.Antoinette Mason Rochester Timeline