Why do Rochester and Antoinette lack a redemptive identity in this novel?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The identities that Rochester and Antoinette display are forged from the harsh and cold reality of the world that surrounds them. The world in which both live do not provide any nurturing elements.  Rather, the products of abuse, neglect, and derision have become imprinted on their identities.

Rochester has become a product of his mistrust of the West Indies.  It is with this in mind that he perceives Antoinette.  Rochester cannot understand nor feel comfortable within the West Indian setting.  He is in a realm where an emotional condition of nurturing and redemption is denied.  This becomes clear in his expressing his dislike for Antoinette:  “I was tired of these people.... And I hated the place.... Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the   loveliness.”  Rochester's identity is impacted by the world of "these people."  

Rochester is emotionally estranged from "the other."  His identity is impacted by his disdain for the conditions that surround him.  When he has sex with Amelie, mistaking her for Antoinette, it is clear that Rochester is impacted by the conditions that envelop him.  Rochester is unable to find a sense of emotional nurturing in the way he perceives other around him.  This becomes evident when he speaks of Amelie:  "[Amélie's] expression was so full of delighted malice, so intelligent, above all so intimate that I felt ashamed and looked away."  These are conditions that preclude him from any emotional involvement or investment.  His identity is hardened by his loathing of the world around him.  This is critical in assessing his treatment of Antoinette, one whose identity lacks redemption because of the replication of evil within her.

For Antoinette, it becomes fundamentally difficult for her to find any condition of nurturing around her.  Even before her marriage to Rochester, Antoinette was placed in challenging conditions.  Her condition made her disliked by others.  Amelie's "White Cockroach" comment reflects this:  "I never looked at any strange negro. They hated us. They called us white cockroaches. Let sleeping dogs lie. One day a little girl followed me singing, "Go away white cockroach, go away, go away."   The negativity that Antoinette is forced to absorb impacts her identity.  Seeing her mother die, her home burned to the ground, and being unable to establish any emotional realm have impacted her identity in a negative manner.  

At the same time, the emotional reaction Antoinette receives from Rochester is representative of how her identity has been formed with a lack of redemption. She has become the product of the world's disdain and negativity around her. These conditions of evil, hurt, and betrayal have imprinted themselves upon her, forging Antoinette's identity as one devoid of redemption.

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