Study Guide

Wide Sargasso Sea Identity

By Jean Rhys


While Antoinette's constant questioning of who she is takes center stage, many of the other characters in Wide Sargasso Sea also struggle to make sense of their identities during the tumultuous historical period described in the novel. Characters must navigate challenges to the ways that race, gender, and class affect their identities. Their mental states are often altered due to illness, alcohol, narcotics, or even obeah. Often, other characters serve as mirrors or doubles who reveal unexpected desires and commonalities, as Tia does for Antoinette.

Questions About Identity

  1. How do race, class, gender, and culture affect the characters' identities and their attitudes toward each other?
  2. What specific events bring on identity crises for different characters? How do they respond to these crises? Do you think they come out of these crises with a stronger sense of who they are, or do you think these crises leave the characters shattered and powerless?
  3. How do the characters' relationships affect their sense of who they are? How do friendships, family relations, relationships between masters and servants, and romantic relationships empower or destroy the characters?

Chew on This

Ironically, Antoinette's relationships with the people closest to her in terms of race and class contribute to her breakdown; it is only in her relationships with characters from other races and classes – such as Tia and Christophine – that she feels most comfortable with herself.

In showing how Rochester unwittingly mimics Caribbean cultural practices, such as the practice of obeah, the novel demonstrates that his effort to distinguish Caribbean characters as essentially alien and different from himself is futile.