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Teaching Guide

Teaching Wide Sargasso Sea

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If Wide Sargasso Sea teaches us one thing, it's this: don't keep your crazy locked up in the attic. In more scholarly terms: oppression = bad. Here at Shmoop, we let our personalities loose, and we teach and learn while we do it. Get ready to help your students do the same.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity exploring the novel's creative use of point of view.
  • pop culture connections to popular authors like Gregory Maguire and Jasper Fforde.
  • links to our Jane Eyre guides, of course.

And much more.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: "Is there another side?" Rochester asks, and Antoinette responds: "There is always the other side, always." These lines seem to sum up Jean Rhys's project in Wide Sargasso Sea: tell another side of Charlotte Brontë's beloved classic Jane Eyre. But they also suggest a problem of almost infinite proportions. Once we start considering other characters' sides of the story, when do we stop?

We can turn this problem into an opportunity, though, since Rhys provides so many mysterious minor characters in her novel. In this activity students are encouraged to turn Rhys's own method against her by rewriting Wide Sargasso Sea from the perspective of one of her minor characters. Doing so can allow students to consider how first-person narratives focus on one character's subjective experience, and often fail to consider that of others.

Teachers can plan for one class period for introduction and discussion, plus homework assignment.

Step 1: Teachers should provide some background about Rhys's desire to tell Bertha's Mason's story, and perhaps an excerpt from Jane Eyre. These Shmoop resources may be useful:

Teachers might also want to consider discussing Rhys's use of the multiple first-person narrators, and how their conflict calls our attention to the limits and biases of any single perspective.

Step 2: Teachers lead a discussion by asking students to list characters besides the two narrators, Antoinette and Rochester, and speculate on what the events of the novel, and life in general, was like for that character. Are these characters stereotypes as they are portrayed in Wide Sargasso Sea? Who is stereotyping them – the narrator (Antoinette or Rochester) or the author Rhys? How can we tell?

Annette, Christophine, Tia, Sandi Cosway, Aunt Cora, Godfrey, Sass, Grace Poole – all these and others would make for provocative discussions.

Step 3: Introduce the assignment: rewriting Wide Sargasso Sea from the perspective of a minor character. Students may write a standard first-person narrative, but should be encouraged to be creative. Diaries or letters are welcome; more dramatically-inclined students might want to write and perform a dramatic monologue; musicians or poets could write a song/poem in which a character laments her plight.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Reading 2.3, 2.8, 3.3, 3.4, 3.8, 3.9, 3.12; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.4; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 1.3, 1.9, 2.1, 2.4; 11th & 12th grade Reading 2.2 2.4, 2.5; 3.3, 3.8; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3; Listening & Speaking 1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 2.1, 2.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

"Is there another side?" Rochester asks, and Antoinette responds: "There is always the other side, always." These lines seem to sum up Jean Rhys's project in Wide Sargasso Sea: to tell another side of Charlotte Brontë's beloved classic Jane Eyre. But they also suggest a problem of almost infinite proportions. Once we start considering other characters' sides of the story, when do we stop?

We can turn this problem into an opportunity, though, since Rhys provides so many mysterious minor characters in her novel. In this activity, you'll get to turn Rhys's own method against her by considering Wide Sargasso Sea from the perspective of one of her minor characters.

Step 1: Read up on the connection between Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea using these Shmoop resources:

Step 2: Participate in class discussion by exploring the minor characters in Wide Sargasso Sea. Can Christophine really make love potions? What might be going on in Grace Poole's mind? Could Daniel Cosway be as malicious as his letters let us believe? Why does Tia throw that rock at her friend?

Step 3: For homework, pick one of the minor characters in the novel (not Antoinette or Rochester). If you need to jog your memory, check out Shmoop's Wide Sargasso Sea character list.

Step 4: Now write a fictional narrative, letter, diary entry, dramatic monologue, poem, or song, written from the perspective of the minor character you chose. Narrate the events of the Wide Sargasso Sea from this character's perspective. Feel free to give some back-story if it's relevant. (For example, if you choose Annette, you might explain why you were always so worried about Pierre. Or if you choose Christophine, you might clear things up about your Obeah, and time spent in prison – not to mention in slavery!)

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WANT MORE HELP TEACHING WIDE SARGASSO SEA?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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