Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys
Wide Sargasso Sea Identity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Section.Subsection [if applicable].Paragraph). Wide Sargasso Sea is divided into three parts. Within those parts, the novel does not number sections and subsections. This guide refers to sections if they are marked by an asterisk or some other symbol in the text. Within those sections, the novel indicates subsections by an extra line break.
It was a song about a white cockroach. That's me. That's what they call all of us who were here before their own people in Africa sold them to the slave traders. And I've heard English women call us white niggers. So between you I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all. (II.4.1.61)
In explaining her conflicted feelings about race to Rochester, Antoinette is also touching on another important issue: the question of national identity. That is, how do we determine who "belongs" in a country? Is it determined by race? Does whoever live there "first" get first dibs? Then neither black nor white can lay claim to the islands, because the Caribs and other indigenous tribes preceded them. Antoinette's musings here could indirectly explain why white Creoles attract so much abuse: their liminal status as not-quite-white and not-quite-black undercuts the claim that either race deserves to call the island exclusively theirs.
I remember saying in a voice that was not like my own that it was too light. (II.3.3.88)
At this point, Rochester has been drugged with obeah powder by Antoinette. He enters into a zombie-esque state where he temporarily loses his sense of self. However, the passage also invites us to think about the other ways in which Rochester becomes a zombie, so to speak. Is Rochester, who considers himself superior to everyone else because he's a white European male, really so different from people like Antoinette and Christophine?
"Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. I know, that's obeah too." (II.6.6.31)
Antoinette learns Christophine's lesson about the way that the white-dominated, colonial society works. (See our discussion of Quote #8 under "Race.") Rochester's calling Antoinette another name isn't just an annoying habit. It's his way of taking control over her entire identity, just as he assumed legal control over her fortune when he married her. Rochester's "obeah" makes us wonder whether he's all that different from Christophine…