Life-Affirming Wisdom Within Wide Sargasso Sea Essay, Research Paper
Life-Affirming Wisdom Within “Wide Sargasso Sea”
Encounters with pain and suffering whether mental or physical can often be a debilitating experience. However, through the course of a lifetime, one may develop life-affirming ideals to sustain a desire to live. By using these beliefs and gained knowledge, one may learn to cherish life or stability through emotionally difficult stages. At its inception, wisdom may not be utilized, “…and you only know a long time afterwards what it is…” (Rhys, 186). When it is used, or at an awakening moment of anagorisis, it can strengthen a person s resolve, or bring them to new decisions previously unconsidered.
Such is the case in Jean Rhys acclaimed novel, Wide Sargasso Sea. In the course of the book, the main protagonists, Antoinette Cosway Mason and the unnamed husband (Edward Rochester, from Charlotte Bronte s Jane Eyre) struggle with their love, lust, disappointment, and apprehension. Antoinette, the beautiful naive girl whose life has spun wildly out of her control, marries the cold, avaricious Rochester, who is stifled with Victorian conformity and resentment. Their sufferings shed light on the nature of tribulation, and wisdom gained from extraordinary pain. Although neither of these characters is destined to find felicity within the limits of their exposed lives, both experience anagorisis, although Antoinette has a much more intense awakening than Rochester’s, ultimately resulting in both her death and subsequent freedom.
As a child, Antoinette is emotionally estranged from her family. Her father deserts the family and commits a rash act of suicide. Antoinette s mother cannot cope with the abandonment and sudden poverty, despairing of life, pushing Antoinette away, not roughly, but calmly, coldly, without a word, as if she had decided once and for all that I [Antoinette] was useless to her. (20). Through this estrangement, she [Antoinette] does not discover any wisdom, rather, she takes refuge in fear, disillusionment, and hatred. But she did not come, and as the candle burned down, the safe peaceful feeling left me. (37). Her childhood is split between childish wishes for comfort, love, and normality. Antoinette slowly realizes that she is adrift in a basically foreign land. In referring to a former playmate of the islands, she muses, Not to go. Not. When I was close. [...] It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking glass. (45). Antoinette s entire childhood seems to be filled with these moments, moments in which she plays the role of the outsider, the neglected, the alienated. Antoinette s delusions of normality are exemplified in her nurse Christophine s songs. The loving man was lonely, the girl was deserted, the children never came back. Adieu. (20). Throughout her childhood, she shuts herself off emotionally to anything that may be damaging to her, learning to protect herself through silence and emotional dampening, which leads to her eventual emotional death.
After the cataclysmic arson of her home (which destroys ever last material trace of Antoinette s life) and the subsequent destruction of her mother’s sanity, Antoinette violently represses her emotions. She finds refuge behind aloofness, and learns to wield it like a weapon. The girl began to laugh, very quietly, and it was then that hate came to me and courage with the hate so that I was able to walk past without looking at them. (49). Antoinette spends her time in a convent going through vague motions of life and blending into her environment. Antoinette imposes a blank death upon herself at the convent and matures physically, but not emotionally. Through her entire time as a child and in the convent, Antoinette nursed a desire for comfort and love. When she does not receive either feeling from those around her, she distances herself emotionally, feeling numb , and only showing strong emotion when relating to her dreams. Later in the novel, Rochester remarks, In any case she had given way, but coldly, unwillingly, trying to protect herself with silence and a blank face. Poor weapons, and they had not served her well or lasted long. (91).
Soon, Antoinette’s life is disturbed again, this time with lasting implications when she is married to the straitlaced Englishman, Edward Rochester. At first fearful, Antoinette gives into Rochester’s lustful advances towards her,
She’d liked that – to be told ‘you are safe.’ Or I’d touch her face gently and touch tears. Tears – nothing! Words – less than nothing. As for the happiness I gave her, that was worse than nothing. I did not love her. I was thirsty for her, but that is not love. I felt very little tenderness for her, she was a stranger to me, a stranger who did not think or feel as I did. (93).
Antoinette mistook Rochester’s lust for love, a mistake that would prove fatal. When she realizes by his blatant display of infidelity that he does not love her at all, this girl who was “made for loving,” rejects both Rochester and the life he offers.
“Do you know what you’ve done to me? It’s not the girl, not the girl. But I loved this place and you have made it into a place I hate. I used to think that if everything else went out of my life I would still have this, and now you’ve spoilt it. It’s just somewhere else where I have been unhappy, and all the other things are nothing to what has happened here. I hate it now like I hate you and before I die I will show you how much I hate you.” (147).
Antoinette’s discovery of the truth destroys her complacency of mind, and she descends into a fate worse than denial, the “blank death”, what Rochester describes as “that blank hating moonstruck face.” (166).
Throughout the novel, Rhys makes periodic notations about “zombies”. Delving into the novel, it is clear that many parallels are drawn between Antoinette and a “zombie”. Antoinette and a zombie’s courses of life and fates are extremely similar. Rochester’s readings while in Jamaica teach him that, “A zombi is a dead person who seems to be alive or a living person who is dead.” (107). Antoinette is transformed from a vibrant, loving girl into one steeped in desperation and sorrow. Her way of combating this pain is to deaden as much emotion as she can, making her emotionally dead while her body endures and lives on, embodying the definition of Rochester’s “zombie”, although neither he nor Antoinette understands it.
‘… and though I still hated them and was afraid of their cool, teasing eyes, I learned to hide it.’
‘No,’ I said.
‘You have never learned to hide it,’ I said.
‘I learned to try,’ said Antoinette. Not very well, I thought. …
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