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In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys explored the origins of Bertha Antoinetta Rochester, the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Reimagined by Rhys as Antoinette Cosway Mason, Sargasso Sea documents Antoinette’s troubled adolescence and her eventual descent into apparent insanity. Rhys’ choice to investigate the life of a character who was already doomed to a tragic end focuses the informed reader on the development of Antoinette’s madness, and a potential explanation for her inevitable fate. In this essay, I will investigate one key aspect of Antoinette’s fragile state, the complex ethnic identity she forms during her adolescence, particularly in regards to her childhood friendship with Tia, and how that confused identity relates to her tragic end. A victim of many circumstances beyond her control, Antoinette’s identification with both Black and White culture fractures her sense of self, alienates her from both, and is an important factor to how she is degraded by her husband. Between the upheaval of post-emancipation Jamaica and her own ever-changing social position, Antoinette finds herself, “caught between two cultures… but never able to identify fully with either.” (Kadhim 2011) This incomplete sense of self is incompatible with the world she lived in, and, in combination with her inability to control her own destiny, it informs her disastrous marriage and the eventual abuse and imprisonment she suffers from her husband, leading to madness, and her tragic fate. [Author’s Note - I don’t want the above to read as if Antoinette is in any way responsible for Rochester being Abusive, only that he is more able to do so because of the way he perceives her as, “other,” and that she is less than worthy. Advice... ... middle of paper ... ...ad happened. And though it never had, I tried again. Dear God let me be black” (Rhys 1981) Living and writing more than a century after her constructed character of Antoinette, there is certainly an aspect of self-exploration in how Rhys chooses to tell the story of Antoinette, perhaps reflecting her struggles with self-identity in her own youth. To conclude, while the tragic life of Antoinette Cosway Mason is rife with unfortunate circumstances, nothing is more critical to her eventual end than the racial identity she forms as a lonely and isolated child. The short-lived success of Antoinette’s arranged marriage to Rochester can be traced back to his view of her as, “foreign,” and “other.” By identifying so strongly with the culture of her servants and former slaves, Antoinette winds up torn between two cultures, and neither accepted nor respected by either.

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