Study Guide

Wide Sargasso Sea Power

By Jean Rhys


Wide Sargasso Sea investigates the theme of power by looking at such institutions as marriage, empire, and slavery. These institutions are all ways in which a person or a group of people can dominate others. For Antoinette and her mother, marriage is a legal arrangement that results in the loss of their economic freedom. Through characters such as Mr. Mason and the Luttrells, the novel shows how the island colonies provided a rich source of income to England, the seat of imperial power. And racial relations continue to register the effects of slavery, even after it is officially ended in 1833, as the hostility of the Cosways' former slaves attest.

Questions About Power

  1. How does the novel register the consequences of the Emancipation Act of 1833? Have racial relations improved after the abolition of slavery, or do racial hostilities persist? What are some of the causes of persistent racial antagonism?
  2. How are the characters affected by the legal ramifications of marriage in the novel? In what ways does marriage serve the needs of a patriarchal society?
  3. How are the economic, social, and political structures of colonial Jamaica described in the novel? Can certain relationships between the characters be viewed as allegories for the exploitative system of imperialism? If so, how?
  4. Given the systems of social, economic, and political oppression described in the novel, how do characters express their resistance to these systems? Do you think their resistance is effective?

Chew on This

Rochester uses the rhetoric of chastity, legality, and sanity to justify his control over Antoinette and her fortune.

What appears to the white characters as mere laziness or irrational, destructive behavior is actually an expression of protest on the part of the black Caribbean community against continuing economic and political injustices.