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