Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea is a study of individuals who are entangled and finally consumed by their obsessions, just as divers are ensnared by the thick sargasso seaweed that surrounds the Windward Islands. Rhys’s characters are similar to the grotesques described in Sherwood Anderson’s “The Book of the Grotesque.” He describes characters who cling to singular ideas, adapting them as personal truths. Their limited perspectives act as barriers to communication that cause the sea between individuals to widen. Isolation results as characters reside within their own psychological islands. Because the memories of slavery are so fresh in their minds, the townspeople cannot let go of their hatred of white landholders. Annette cannot release either her desire for social acceptance or her fear of the blacks. Antoinette is obsessed with the need to be loved, while Christophine cannot release her faith in obeah. Finally, Rochester cannot relinquish his civilized social decorum. All these characters have become entangled in their own truths. The tighter they hold on to their particular perspectives, the more isolated and grotesque they become. Rhys demonstrates that isolation leads to psychological demise.
Isolation is not necessarily self-inflicted. At times, historical factors influence relationships. This is seen in the rejection by the blacks in Spanish Town of Annette. The Coulibri estate had been a flourishing plantation during the days of slavery, but when slavery was abolished, workers’ wages became too costly and many white “aristocrats” watched their lands decay. As property deteriorated, the respect that went along with land...
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