Wide Sargasso Sea

by: Jean Rhys

Mr. Rochester

Characters Mr. Rochester

Mr. Rochester, Antoinette's young husband, narrates more than a third of the novel, telling, in his own words, the story of Antoinette's mental downfall. His arrival in Jamaica and his arranged marriage to Antoinette is prefigured in the first part of the novel by the appearance of Mr. Mason, another English aristocrat seeking his fortune through a Creole heiress. However, unlike Mason, Rochester remains nameless throughout the novel, referred to only as "that man" or "my husband." In a novel in which naming is so important, Rochester's anonymity underscores the implied authority of his account. He is the nameless creator and, as a white man, his authority and privilege allow him to confer identity on others. For instance, he decides to rename his wife, calling her "Bertha" in an attempt to distance her from her lunatic mother, whose full name was Antoinette. Later, he takes away Antoinette's voice along with her name, refusing to listen to her side of the story. As he continues to fragment her identity, he creates the new name of "Marionetta," a cruel joke that reflects Antoinette's doll-like pliability. He ultimately refashions Antoinette into a raving madwoman and treats her as a ghost. Having totally rejected his Creole wife and her native customs, Rochester exaggerates his own cool, logical, and distinctly English rationale; he asserts his total English control over the Caribbean landscape and people.

Rochester's narration in Part Two reveals that he and his estranged wife are actually more similar than dissimilar. Both characters are essentially orphans, abandoned by their family members to fend for themselves. As the youngest son, Rochester legally inherits nothing from his father, who already favors the older child. Antoinette, who was persistently neglected by her mother in favor of her brother, Pierre, receives an inheritance that is tainted, at best. She is left with the burdens of a divided cultural identity, the hatred of the blacks, the contempt of the whites, and the responsibility of a dilapidated estate. Both Rochester and Antoinette struggle for some sense of place and identity, and enter the arranged marriage with apprehension and anxiety. Rhys creates further parallels between her two antagonists in their bouts with fever and their twinned experiences with dreamed or actual forests.