Whilst reading ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, the theme of supernatural attracted my attention as it appeared to inflict a large amount of fear upon the characters in the novel, particularly the dark magic Obeah (which is known to the French-speaking Caribbean as “voodoo”). Its main practitioner is Christophine – Annette’s servant and Antoniette’s nurse – who causes worry to those who come into contact with her. Obeah is a folk religion that is native to the Caribbean and casts a large shadow over the novel – though it is arguable that the obeah magic doesn’t even work. The supernatural element is separated from any of the traditional concepts of God which provides a start contrast to the traditional, God-centered Supernatural forces that are present in Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’. Instead of causing fear to people through the actual achievements of magic, it causes people tobe afraid from what it’s rumored to do. The Haitian revolution is said to have been started off from a voodoo ceremony that led to the practitioners of obeah being put into prison as they were thought to have encouraged the slave rebellion. Obeah is often juxtaposed with Christian beliefs in ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ which began various questions on how the different systems of belief work. Christophine says,
“so you believe in that tim-tim story about obeah, you hear when you so high? All that foolishness and folly. Too besides, that is not for béké. Bad, bad trouble come when béké meddle with that.”
She is being disingenuous in this section as she refuses to give Antoinette the obeah potion but then ends up giving it to her. She also explains how she has been put in prison by the bèkès (the white people) for her practicing of obeah. (Associated with slave mutinies). Christophine says how bad “trouble” comes from that, which echoes the beginning of the novel referring to the damages that were caused by the Emancipation Act, which other members of the blog have touched upon so I won’t go into detail to explain it.
As others have also mentioned, the novel uses many of the same techniques that is also used in Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’. However, ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ puts its own twist on the Gothic elements that are presented in Brontë’s novel. Antoniette, much like Jane Eyre, is connected to the spiritual world as it gives her awareness that the rest of the characters seem to lack; it is as though she is able to predict her future making it seem like there is something that is not part of the physical world that makes her envision this. At the section of the novel when Antoinette is about to get married, she gets close to withholding the wedding, but yet when Rochester asks why, she simply replies,
“I’m afraid of what may happen”
as though she is already aware that their marriage is not going to work and it is going to end badly and has a psychic element about her. Rochester also gives the impression that he knows there is something mystical about her,
“is she trying to tell me that is the secret of this place? There is no other way? She knows. She knows”
showing that he is aware Antoinette knows – or can sense things – that other people cannot and this threatens him.
As stated before, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s critical piece of feminist work titled ‘The Madwoman in the Attic’ had actually been written with Antoniette in mind and the way in which she had been presented in ‘Jane Eyre’. As mentioned in Amy’s post, Glibert and Gubar voice their disapproval on the element of fiction of the idea that female characters are only able to conform to two different stereotypes: the pure angelic woman and the corrupted monster. When reading ‘Jane Eyre’, it was clear to me that Rochester viewed Jane as being the perfect angelic angel to him and Antoniette was looked upon as being his monster. In ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, however, it was obvious to me that the majority of times it wasn’t clear as to what Antoniette’s character was and it didn’t come across as there was only the two different stereotypes for women. As Antoniette is a creole (white person born in the Caribbean – refer back to Alan’s post for more information on Creole Identity), she can often be looked upon as being high up, then other times her race can have people look down upon her (Tia when she calls her a “white cockroach”). Jane Eyre is often looked upon as being a higher person and is portrayed as being the angelic and ideal woman whilst Antoniette is treated badly, displaying how there was a stereotype that decided how different people should be treated in a different way all because of who they are and the race that they are.
Another theme that I’m going to touch up on before I end things is ‘The Origin of Genres’ by Tzvetan Todorov. In this text, Maurice Blanchot stated how he believes there is no “distinction between genres” anymore. He believes that all novels and books have now became one and genres no longer have their own individuality any longer. Todorov does not support Blanchot in his beliefs that genres no longer exist and there is no “distinction between” them. This is made quite clear in ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ as it shows the Gothic elements in the novel as it has ghosts, black magic and obeah, dreams and zombies. It is also made clear that it is a Post-Modern text as it contains slavery (though they had been set free at this point) and integrates multiple voices and blurs the difference between reality and dreams.
‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, Jean Rhys
‘The Origin of Genres’, Tzvetan Todorov
‘The Madwoman in the Attic’, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar