Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys
Wide Sargasso Sea Theme of Mortality
While there are certainly many deaths in Wide Sargasso Sea (Antoinette's entire family, for example), neither Antoinette nor Rochester actually die. Instead, death for them becomes a potent metaphor for all of the ways in which selves can be lost, transformed, or destroyed. The novel plays on the literary tradition of equating death with orgasm in order to suggest how sex between the characters can be a form of control, rather than pleasure. The novel is also littered with people who act like zombies, beings that are both alive and dead, and ghosts, beings that are neither alive nor dead.
Questions About Mortality
- What are the different ways of dying in the novel? Consider, for example, death as a metaphor for sex, death as social death or a retreat from society, death as a loss of sanity, and death as a loss of identity.
- What are some specific instances where characters act as if they were dead, as zombies or ghosts? What does this death-like state say about their situation or their state of mind?
- How can death be understood not as the loss of a self, but as a necessary step toward the development of a new understanding of the self? For example, consider different ways of reading Antoinette's last dream at the end of the novel.
Chew on This
In Wide Sargasso Sea, zombies, or the living dead, are used to symbolize the different ways that characters can be physically alive but socially or emotionally dead at the same time.
Antoinette's dream of committing suicide at the end of Wide Sargasso Sea actually signifies her rejection of her racial prejudices and her ultimate identification with the black Caribbean community.