How can Wide Sargasso Sea be read from a gynocritical perspective?
Consider that Feminism explores the various ways (gender, sexuality, class, identity, etc.) women have historically been subjugated by male-dominated society; and this is in the attempt to seek justice, equality, and empowerment for women. Feminist literary analysis does this in its approach to literature and theory. Note that there are many different versions or theories of feminism, but the overall goals tend to be in search of justice.
Gynocriticism is a way of doing Feminist Literary analysis. It is often described (especially in its inceptions) as the study of women writers or "women writing about women." So, the focus is on women but also on the process of writing itself. Wide Sargasso Sea is an appropriate study for gynocriticism because it is a woman writing about another woman('s) writing: it is Jean Rhys writing about Charlotte Bronte's writing. So, one of the ways to use gynocriticism in this respect is to look at the ways that Rhys has written or rewritten Bronte's story. Clearly, the obvious thing to note is that Rhys provides a backstory to Bertha Mason (Antoinette Cosway), the "other" woman in Jane Eyre. In this way, Rhys attempts to offer a critique, either of Bronte and her writing or of the way this particular woman (Cosway) was represented (as Bertha) in Jane Eyre. In this sense, Wide Sargasso Sea is a rewriting of a writing, and this is one of the things gynocriticism sets out to do: study women in literature, women's writing, and/or women writing about women's writings. It is the study of giving women a voice. In Jane Eyre, Bertha has a voice but she is not given a chance to tell her story; in fact, she has been so poorly treated that she is too mad/crazy to tell that story.
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's work The Madwoman in the Attic addresses some of these issues and the title refers to Bertha. They suggest that when Jane encounters Bertha, she (Jane) recognizes some aspect of herself as an oppressed, suppressed, imprisoned woman.
Having evolved from Freudian psychonalysis. gynocriticism is a female criticism that involves the female identity, free from patriarchy and masculine definitions and opposition. Both recognition of "a distinct female canon" and the development of the "female reader" are aspects that are fundamental to gynocriticism.
Wide Sargasso Sea, written by a female writer as an answer to the suppressed character of Bronte's novel Jane Eyre, Mrs. Rochester, presents the re-workings of a female character by a female writer. Through the skill of Jean Rhys, a mixture of Creole and white, just like her character, Antoinette Cosway Mason, comes to life. Antoinette, the protagonist, is in a constant battle with the patriarchal Rochester. Having only learned of England through the words of others, she has assumed it is "like a cold dark dream" while to her the "rivers and mountains and the sea" are what is real, what are the world; England is oppressive to her and after she is locked up, Antoinette loses her identity:
There is no looking glass here and I don't know what I am like now. I remember watching myself brush my hair and how my eyes looked back at me. The girl I saw was myself yet not quite myself. Long ago when I was a child and very lonely I tried to kiss her. But the glass was between us—hard, cold and misted over with my breath. Now they have taken everything away. What am I doing in this place and who am I?
As this passage is communicated in present tense, it reveals the psyche of Antoinette, which is what gynocriticism does. Also, the context of this passage is revealing, as well, since it takes the reader into the mind of Antoinette when she loses her sense of identity because she is isolated and without anything such as a mirror with which to view or measure herself.
Certainly, instances such as these exemplify Gynocriticism which examines the female struggle for identity along with the social construct of gender.