How is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys structured, and how does this structure generate meaning?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Except for one chapter, Wide Sargasso Sea has two narrators, Antoinette and Edward Rochester, thus creating a duality of antagonist and protagonist. In Parts I and  III, with Antoinette as the protagonist who acts as narrator, the point of view, then, is hers; in Part II, with the exception of one chapter, Rochester acts as narrator; he, then, becomes the protagonist. Thus, a dichotomy is created, one that marks the conflict of cultures of the two characters, the contrast of themes, and the contrast of personality that is given meaning by his juxtaposition against a conflicting one..

  • Conflict of cultures and character

Antoinette is part of the West Indies culture, sensual and spontaneous; Edward Rochester comes from a patriarchal, colonial power. His point of view when he narrates is the of the Imperialist that is disdainful and critical--

 “I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever colour, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know."

whereas the section in which Antoinette narrates evokes sympathy and emotion, such as the passage in Part 2 in which she 

"Why did you make me want to live? Why did you do that to me?"
"Because I wished it. Isn't that enough?"
"Yes, it is enough. But if one day you didn't wish it. What should I do then? Suppose you took this happiness away when I wasn't looking…" 

Rochester finds the sun and the vibrant colors on the island overwhelming and excessive, but Antoinette delights in them. Furthermore, he does not understand the interrelationships of black and white, nor the patois that Antoinette speaks.

  • Contrast of Themes

The structuring of this novel is very effective in conveying themes of Isolation, the unreality of another environment. When, for example, Rochester has only been on the island for a short time, he reacts,

“Everything is too much.... Too much blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near. And the woman is a stranger.”

Antoinette, too, is shocked by the English environment into which she is injected. She feels, for instance, that the ship has lost its way to England and the world is made of cardboard because it appears so dull.

The structure of two main divisions in narration gives meaning to Jean Rhys novel as it presents the contrasting points of view of the main characters. In addition, this separation of point of view connotes the feelings of isolation and division of cultures.

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