Being the Meat in the Sandwich: Implications of the double colonisation of empire and patriarchy by the female characters in Wide Sargasso Sea

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One of the many ways that postcolonial literature accomplishes the task of challenging the hegemony of western imperialism is through the use of a ‘canonical counter-discourse,’ a strategy whereby ‘a post-colonial writer takes up a character or characters, or the basic assumptions of a canonical text [where a colonialist discourse is developed directly or indirectly], and unveils [its colonialist] assumptions, subverting the text for post-colonial purposes’. (Tiffin, 1987) Such a revolutionary literary project is evidently realised in Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, a prequel that ‘writes back the centre’ of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847). Rhys is categorical about her conscious authorial intention: ‘I immediately thought I'd write a story as it (the story of Bertha/Antoinette) might really have been.’ (Rhys, 1986) The novel revitalizes Bronte’s Bertha Mason, the madwoman in the attic, as Antoinette Cosway, a hyper-sensitive woman who is deprived of her voice, isolated, marginalised, rejected, led to the brink of insanity and finally locked up in a room to pay the price of her ‘otherness’. It combines a stark postcolonial critique of Brontë’s novel with an ethnographic approach that highlights the issues of race and miscegenation to deal with the problem of Antoinette’s racial heritage through a more or less straightforward exposition of her background.

This essay intends to examine the implications of double colonisation of patriarchy and empire experienced by the female characters of Rhys’s novel, particularly by Antoinette Cosway. ‘Double-colonisation’ is a critical term coined by Peterson and Rutherford (1986) to refer to the condition of simultaneous oppression experienced by women in colonised communities due to imp...

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...g effect of both the dimensions and this dual oppression is more severe and painful than a singular form of oppression either colonial or patriarchal.

Works Cited

Tiffin, H. (1987) ‘Post-Colonial Literatures and Counter-Discourse.’ in Ashcroft et al (Ed.), (1995) The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, pp. 95–98.

Rhys, Jean (1996) Wide Sargasso Sea. London: Penguin Books

Petersen, K. & Rutherford, A. (1989) ‘Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics, and the Black Woman Writer's Literary Tradition.’ in Napier, W. (2000) African American Literary Theory: A Reader. New York: New York UP, 2000. 257-267

Millet, K. (1971) Sexual Politics. London: Rupert Hart-Davis

Spivak, G., (1985) ‘Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism.’ in Ashcroft et al (Ed.) (1995) The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1995. 269–72.
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