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Full Title Wide Sargasso Sea
Author Jean Rhys
Type of work Novel
Genre Postcolonial novel; reinterpretation; prequel
Language English, with bits of French patois and Creole dialect
Time and place written Mid-1940s to mid-1960s; England
Date of first publication First version of Part One published in 1964; completed novel published in 1966
Publisher Andre Deutsche
Narrator Antoinette in Part One; Rochester for most of Part Two except for a scene narrated by Antoinette (when she visits Christophine); Grace Poole and then Antoinette in Part Three
Point of View Rhys's critique of English colonialism and capitalist values comes through in her depiction of post-Emancipation Jamaica. She exposes the degraded ideologies of a traditionally slave-owning elite and—although she provides for Rochester's perspective—her point of view seems distinctly Caribbean. In fact, Rhys saw herself as a displaced colonial and vehemently opposed English culture.
Tone Nightmarish; violent; foreboding; sensual; exotic; romantic; passionate; ecstatic; mysterious
Tense In the sections narrated by Antoinette the tense shifts from present to past making it difficult to locate her in time and affording her a disembodied, ghost-like presence. Rochester's narration is more like a testimonial and is delivered in the past tense
Setting (Time) 1840s
Setting (Place) Jamaica; the Windward Islands; England
Protagonists Antoinette; Rochester
Antagonists Antoinette; Rochester (depending on whose story we are being told)
Climax Identifying the climax in of the novel depends largely on how we read it in relation to Jane Eyre. If we stress the novel's significance as a prequel to Brontë's novel, we might argue that Antoinette's final lines—as she prepares to enact her fatal dream—represent the climax of the action. On the other hand, taken as an independent work in its own right, Wide Sargasso Sea points to the rising hatred between Antoinette and Rochester. According to this perspective, the climax might be the moment in which Rochester sees what he has made of his wife: "I was too shocked to speak. Her hair hung uncombed and dull into her eyes which were inflamed and staring, her face was very flushed and looked swollen. Her feet were bare."
Falling action Rochester decides to symbolically "kill" Antoinette by pushing her to childlike imbecility
Themes Slavery and entrapment; the complexity of racial identity; madness; colonialism; the authority of a literary canon and the ability to rewrite or reframe histories; the meeting of European and Afro-Caribbean values
Motifs Disease and decline; death; magic and incantation; fire; watching and following; heat and suffocation; mirrors and reflections; saints and Christian martyrs; competing religious ideologies and the mixing of beliefs
Symbols Birds; forests and trees; the garden; candles; insects; names (Christophine, "Sass", Granbois)
Foreshadowing Descriptions of nature that are eerie or strange; the death by poison of Annette's horse; Mr. Luttrell's violent outburst and disappearance; Tia's cruel betrayal; the burning death of Coco; the omnipresence of death in the cool, crypt-like convent; the recurring forest-abduction dream; descriptions of ruined houses; the ominous crowing of the cock; moths burning themselves in candles
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