Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys
Wide Sargasso Sea Theme of The Supernatural
Obeah (called "vodou" or "voodoo" in the French-speaking Caribbean), a folk religion indigenous to the Caribbean, casts a huge shadow over this novel, though whether its magic really works is up for debate. (Read more about obeah here). Obeah seems to inspire fear more through what it's rumored to do rather than through actual feats of magic. The Haitian revolution in 1791 was thought to be initiated by a voodoo ceremony, and obeah practitioners were imprisoned because they were thought to encourage slave insurrections (Rhys 1999: 75). In Wide Sargasso Sea, obeah is often juxtaposed to Christian beliefs and to rational, scientific thought, bringing up questions about how different systems of belief operate.
Questions About The Supernatural
- How are obeah and the practice of religion, specifically Christianity, similar? Consider, for example, the use of prayers and incantations, the importance of relics or holy/magical objects, and the figure of female practitioners, such as Christophine and Sister Marie Augustine.
- Do you think Christophine's magic actually "works" in the world of the novel? If not, why do you think everybody is so terrified of Christophine? How does Christophine exert her influence over other people?
- How do magical elements contribute to the novel's representation of life in the Caribbean?
Chew on This
In the novel, neither obeah nor Christianity are shown to be a superior way of understanding the world; both are shown to be belief systems that require the radical suspension of critical thought on the part of the individual.
The novel demystifies the magic of obeah by showing how it is a culturally specific expression of a community's identity and history.