Study Guide

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys in Postcolonial Theory

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

As good postcolonialist Shmoopers, we can't mention Jane Eyre without bringing up Jean Rhys' retelling of Bertha Mason's story, Wide Sargasso Sea. And honestly, what's more postcolonial than a novel that attempts not just to re-write a canonical English novel, but also to re-frame that very novel with its suppressed colonialist roots?

Wide Sargasso Sea takes Bertha and gives her a voice, a history, heck—an entirely new name (in Rhys' version, Antoinette is Bertha's real name; Rochester renames her as just one of his acts of unpleasantness). In Rhys' novel, Antoinette/Bertha enters what is more or less an arranged marriage, a contractual agreement between Rochester's family and hers. You also get to see how Rochester really just doesn't get the Caribbean or Antoinette, even though he's totally willing to sleep with their black servant.

But it's not all from Antoinette's/Bertha's point of view. The novel—like so many contemporary novels (Rhys was way ahead of her time)—switches between Antoinette's and Rochester's perspectives. Adding Rochester's perspective not only allows Rhys to avoid "'suppressing"' a character (as Bronte did with Bertha); it lets Rhys toggle back and forth between the "'oppressor"' (Rochester) and the "'oppressed"' (Antoinette and the other women in the novel).