Wide Sargasso Sea

by Jean Rhys

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Is it accurate that in Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette's 'madness' results from her husband's pursuit of patriarchal and colonial mastery?

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Any summation will distort the nuance of a novel, but yes, I would agree that this statement is an accurate summation of how and why Antoinette is driven mad.

In this novel, Rochester is presented as a suspicious man who has a hard time communicating with his wife. He becomes convinced that he has had his life and happiness ruined by being tricked into marrying a woman that others, including his father, knew was from a mad line. Rochester never considers that the source of the idea that the supposedly "mad" Antoinette was palmed off on him and he was played for a fool comes from an unreliable and vindictive source in Daniel Cosway. Instead, like a patriarch, he believes what the male tells him. Rochester never asks Antoinette what is going on or for her side of the story, which might have cleared issues up or at least raised doubts in Rochester's mind; instead, he expects her to pass little "tests," which she inevitably fails because she doesn't know she is being tested.

At the end of part 2, Rochester is so filled with rage that he has (as he falsely believes) been married to a madwoman who doesn't truly love him that he determines to destroy her. He decides he will take her England, because he knows she will hate being torn away from her homeland. He is lashing out at her in rage:

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. I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness.

Rochester has the patriarchal and colonial power to destroy Antoinette, and he takes advantage of it. All her money has become his on their marriage, with her relatives failing to set aside even an allowance for her. Rochester can take her away as his wife, and there is little she can do about it. Rochester uses his power in abusive ways, knowing he is doing so, and the result is that he drives Antoinette to insanity.

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