Narrative Technique

In Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys neglects the linear autobiographical narrative, as in Jane Eyre, preferring the trisect form where parts one and three are in Antoinette's own voice with a gap of Rochester's narration between them. This allows Rhys to open out the narrow view of events we have in Brontë's novel and gives the reader an awareness of cultural differences, motivation and psychology of both the characters and sympathy for both. By giving both narratives Rhys is allowed an innovative base to explore each character's mentality and the relationship becomes the mainspring of the novel as they become caught in a tangle of resentment, rumour, history and betrayal. Through the two points of view she creates a world of oppositions, contrasts and parallels; the patois and simple childlike tone of Antoinette compared to the deliberate, educated and imperial tone of Rochester. Culture is set against culture; "She called the ajoupa, I the summer house". There are different levels of awareness as Rochester desperately tries to find the secret of the place and Antoinette hides her past. By interrupting Antoinette's narrative with Rochester's the full effect of their relationship is starkly portrayed. The contrast of the adolescent "I will write my name in fire red" and the shadowy insubstantial "ghost" in Thornfield intensifies the sense of loss and destruction the relationship causes and heightens the tragedy of the novel and Antoinette's demise.

In much the same way that the split narrative shows up their divisions it also shows up the similarities of their positions. They are both vulnerable outsiders. Antoinette is forced to go to England by a dominating force, and this same force has also been compelled to go to Jamaica. Where Antoinette is rejected by her lunatic mother, so Rochester is rejected by his father: both are rejected in favour of a brother. From the two points of view the reader may learn how these rejections have had similar effects - they are hurt, vulnerable and fear their passions and are reluctant to trust others, practising "caution ... silence and coldness". Rochester is later shocked by the force of his desire for Antoinette and his passion takes a dangerous and threatening turn "Desire, Hatred, Life and Death come very close in the darkness ... " (p.79). Revelations of the past haunt them as Daniel's letter arrives, it cuts through Rochester's narrative and causes him to assume a distance and they become estranged "This brought me to my senses". He empties himself of "mad conflicting emotions" and masters the situation. Rhys therefore manages to show Rochester as implicated in the same mad passion and violence that he attributes to 'Bertha'. The reader sees the effect of this coldness as Antoinette's narrative is inserted. She is desperate for his love, he is the substitute for her life and prepared to go to any lengths to recapture him "there must be something else I can do". Whilst we feel sympathy for Antoinette there is also a certain amount allowed for Rochester "She had left me thirsty ... longing for what I had lost before I found it".

The structure of the narrative allows Jean Rhys to explore the nature of madness and perception. She charts the seeds of instability in childhood, the effect of Rochester and the workings of the mind and its externalised form of madness. From Rochester we only receive a disturbed and distorted image of Antoinette. He detests her and is disgusted by her behaviour "my lunatic" (p.136). He portrays her as a biting and cursing, a "red eyed wild haired stranger" whereas Christophine merely tells her mistress to stop crying. His narrative is infected then with melodrama as he expects her to turn into her mother; he is perhaps creating a self-fulfilling prophecy "inflamed and staring, her face very flushed and looked swollen" (p.120).

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.