One thought on “An introduction to Wide Sargasso Sea – The British Library

  1. Slavery and emancipation:
    In 1833, Parliament passed the Emancipation Act. This outlawed slavery in Britain and all its colonies. However, it instigated a transition phase, seven years’ apprenticeship for the slaves before they could have full freedom. In practice, the conditions under this apprenticeship scheme were often no less cruel than under slavery. Christophine refers to this in her anger at the new incoming estate owners who used the treadmill and the chain gang to force their ‘apprentices’ to work. The beginning of the novel is set in the 1830s and so this is why Christophine expressed her disdain towards this scheme- 1838 was the full date for emancipation. Rhys may have been trying to express her own discontent through Christophine’s because of how the initial emancipation became a mockery of the slaves’ freedom by continuing slavery under a legal façade until 1838.
    British Caribbean plantations suffered an economic slump because the British government did not pay sufficient compensation and this resulted in the plantation owners becoming bankrupt. This is the fate of Antoinette’s family as well as Mr Luttrell in the novel, who commits suicide- ‘one calm evening he shot his dog, swam out to sea and was gone for always’. Their estates were then bought by wealthier people from England like Mason. This may symbolise how even after the emancipation act, the British were still establishing their dominance over the colonised by taking advantage of their vulnerable condition and buying their estates.
    Jean Rhys’ family also suffered in this way. Her mother’s family had owned slaves on their estate Geneva and did not receive compensation for their emancipation, so after losing this slave labour, the estate declined. This shows how Rhys’ representation of the effect of the emancipation act is authentic and valid as she had experienced its effects first hand.
    Colonial influence/ownership:
    Antoinette’s childhood shows her positioned between the white and black communities. She has affinities with certain black characters such as Tia and Christophine, but cannot fully identify with them because she is white, making her of an upper class. This represents colonial influence in the novel because it explores the inbuilt class divisions within society that implies the people of European origin are more deserving of a more luxurious lifestyle as oppose to the people originating from the British colonies.
    Antoinette is marginalised from both communities as a ‘white cockroach’ and develops a fractured sense of personal identity. In spite of how degenerately Tia treats her, she continues to try to gain her favour which highlights how Antoinette yearns to be accepted by that community and it implies that only through acceptance she will feel safe.


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