The Mother(Land) As Mirror: Reflections On Identit Essay, Research Paper
The Mother(land) as a Mirror:Reflections on Identity in Jean Rhys Wide Sargasso Sea Wide Sargasso Sea is a strangely beautiful and haunting tale of acertain Creole Madwoman locked up in an English attic without a voice andwithout a past. Jane Eyre provided the inspiration for Rhys novel but thework is not limited to a simple answer to the earlier text. Rhys takes on amultitude of issues concerning the effect of the decaying colonial system onthe Caribbean. Among these concerns is the issue of identity, which Rhysaddresses through the complicated and often symbolic mother-daughterrelationship. Antoinette Cosway begins her narration at a definitive point in herchildhood when the circumstances under which she lives have begun tointensify. She lives in a volatile world of sudden change and uprising– herold way of life is crumbling before her young eyes. This is the arena in which Jean Rhys sets up her post-colonial discourse of one of the most mysteriouscharacters in English Literature, and the most intriguing part of that discourseis the issue of identity in relation to the Mother and motherland. The mother-daughter relationship can be defined in terms of a mirror,and the success of that relationship is shown in the quality and the depth ofthe reflection. The mother figure represents the first external mirror,eventually internalized, into which a girl child looks to discover her identity. (Scharfmann, p. 89) This novel uniquely depicts how different issues, somebeyond human control, can thwart this mirror bond and cause a destruction ofidentity– mother s face is not then the mirror. The result of this isdetrimental. So perception takes the place of apperception, perception takesthe place of that which might have been the beginning of a significantexchange with the world, a two-way process in which self enrichmentalternates with the discovery of meaning in the world of seenthings (Winnicott, p.113) . There is an intense focus on the power of the mother figure and thesearch for identity in the novel. The most important aspect of that power isthe ability to give to and receive from the daughter the strength of a concreteidentity, the peace in knowing who you are, and the foresight of where youare going and where you have been. This beautiful and revolving flow ofidentity realization between the mother and daughter is not possible in thisnovel for two distinct and separate reasons, one is selfishness and the other isthe problem of when the land and the body do not coincide. The motherfigure and failed mirroring is represented in two characters–Christophinewhose power lies in love that transcends biology and race, and AnnetteCosway (the birth mother) who has an equal and opposite power to wreckhavoc and despair through the cold rejection of her daughter. The [birth] mother herself is an emblem and a victim of the colonialsystem. Her plantation is a relic, an island of white now adrift in a black seawhere, as she says, she is marooned . (Scharfmann, p. 100) The protagonistAntoinette longs to have a connection with her biological mother but thealienation of their relationship is apparent even on the first page. Her motherAnnette, from which her own name is a derision, is described as she prettylike pretty self (Wide Sargasso Sea, p 1). The insinuation of such extremenarcissism is very telling. Her coldness is proven quickly as well : A frown came between her black eyebrows, deep–it might have been cut with aknife. I hated this frown and once touched her forehead trying to smooth it. But shepushed me away, not roughly, but calmly, coldly, without a word, as if she haddecided once and for all that I was useless to her…Oh let me alone, she would say, letme alone.(p. 20) Christophine, a old wise Obeah woman who is a former slave of theCosways, takes over as the emotional mother of Antoinette. Her failure liesin the distinct correlation in the novel between the reflective quality of themother-daughter relationship and the land of their birth. This is the reasonthat keeps Christophine, despite all her love, from being Antoinette s mirror . Antoinette Cosway is a girl without a nation. She is alien in any settingwhether it be the land of her birth or the land of her ancestors. Even thoughChristophine is essentially Antoinette mother, her strength, the only one whocan console Antoinette and understands all her complexities she cannot saveAntoinette. This love may seem boundless but it cannot over step one deepdivide–Antoinette is not and can never be one of Christophine s people. Christophine cannot see herself in Antoinette. The reflection is one sided.Antoinette cannot be a part of the island, she is a lone and dying exoticbreed–a strange mix of Creole culture and English skin. She exists in themargin, she is a blur of different textures that are destined to decay in thewake of the passing colonial way of life. This gap cannot be bridged by love,hope or understanding –for it is as wide as the Sargasso. She cannot belong:
It is that song about white cockroach. That s me. That s what they call us who where here before their own people in Africa sold them to slave traders. And I…
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