Where to Begin?
So much packed into such a short novel! Wide Sargasso Sea's remarkable economy may pose the problem of too much material to discuss, but this also, of course, offers a wealth of opportunities. Rather than tackle all of the novel's themes of race, colonialism, gender and class inequality, madness, sex, religion (and on, and on…) at once, teachers may find it easiest to follow the novel's own divisions to focus first on Antoinette, and then on Rochester. Taking advantage of students' sympathy toward Antoinette, considering her situation can lead into discussions of her lack of strong parent figures, to Christophine as a surrogate mother, and the precarious social position of former slaveholding families. This in turn can lead to discussions of colonialism, and perhaps cause students to question how sorry we are meant to feel for the white Creoles.
Antoinette's use of the "N-word" when arguing with Tia will likely pose another challenge for the classroom, but again, this challenge can be converted into an opportunity. It allows students to see Antoinette – while surely a child victim of a disastrous family situation – as not entirely sympathetic. This can help students recognize that Rhys is both creating sympathy for Antoinette and critiquing her, to the extent that she has adopted the racist stereotypes of her family.