Shades of Grey in Wide Sargasso Sea

Shades of Grey in Wide Sargasso Sea

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Some believe the world is black and white but there isn’t always a clear person to blame for heartbreak or hardship. It is easier to blame something on one person but it’s not always realistic. Rhys portrays this “grey world” theme in Wide Sargasso Sea with her main characters: Rochester and Antoinette. She uses two unique connections to show how the two are intertwined: the first by the racism that they both experience and the second by their own actions/rationalizations that hurt each other portrayed through Rhys’ use of alternation perspectives. Rhys uses these two connections to show how the world is grey and that blame is hard to unburden on one person.
To fully understand the racism that Antoinette and Rochester experienced, you have to understand the racial history of Jamaica. According to an article concerning the emancipation of Jamaica in the 1800s ( jamica-guide.info), England attempted to abolish slavery but was met with fierce objections by the government in Jamaica. Jamaican parliament believed that the slaves were happy and did not crave change which led to an immense conflict which resulted in numerous revolts, one by Sharpe and one by the Creole population led by 21-year old Jordan. There was an immense racism towards whites and the Creole population during this time period, with the Jamaicans, Creoles and Jamaican whites wanting different things: freedom, rights and their power back, respectively. The intense racial tension is felt by Antoinette as a kid and an adult, and Rochester.
After the emancipation, Rhys starts with Antoinette as a young child, who is confused with her own identity. She knows she doesn’t fit into a group, calling the Jamaicans “black people” and the English as English or “white people” (15, 16) and never referring to them as if she belongs to each group; she understands she’s different like her mother who is “without a doubt not English, but no white nigger either.” (33). Rhys also shows how apparent the racism between white people and the blacks are, with Annette hinting at the destructive nature of the Jamaican people when she recalls a conversation between Mr. Mason and Annette with him saying “they’re too damn lazy to be dangerous” and Annette replying “[Jamaicans] are more alive than [Mr. Mason is], lazy or not, and they can be dangerous and cruel for reason [he] wouldn’t understand” (29).

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Rochester experiences the same racism also, when he arrives in Spanish town and the “[Jamaican] women were outside their doors looking at [him] but without smiling. Somber people in a somber place.” (62), and Antoinette’s own racism towards white women, disgusted by their “their yellow horse…” and how they “talk their lying talk” (77). There is without a doubt racism that exists for both Rochester and Antoinette.
Rhys integrates Antoinette’s and Rochester’s racism so her readers will feel more connected with both. In Halloran’s paper “Race, Creole, and National Identities in Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and Philips’ Cambridge”, she discusses how the people that lived in Jamaican could interchange different racial slurs and use “insults or name calling to cross socioeconomic boundaries” (Halloran 88). Halloran describes how Rhys creates a world where the mixing of culture in Jamaica creates a place where blame is hard to place. Halloran explains how Rhys uses the citizens of Jamaica to show how racism is mixed together using terms such as “white nigger” and “black Englishman”. The terms put together two opposites to create a nastier whole, juxtaposing two unlikely things to create something more harmful. But through this action, Rhys’ readers are shown how connected the two different races are and Rhys uses this to meld the two perspectives of Rochester and Antoinette together. Even Rochester dissects Antoinette’s lack of racial classification, thinking how she is “Creole of pure English descent… but not English or European” (61). The mixing of races and racial slurs shows how there’s no clear antagonist or protagonist.
Racism isn’t the only thing that connects Rochester and Antoinette; they both hurt each other. What’s important though is how Rhys doesn’t place the blame on one person. Rhys portrayed this by showing the actions and thoughts of both characters by alternating the perspective: through Antoinette’s perspective, she says she’ll do anything to “make [Rochester] love [her]” (102) because she felt he was slipping away from her, and from Rochester’s perspective; readers viewing his cheating on Antoinette and not “[having] one moment of remorse” (127), because she had drugged him. Rhys does this to show her readers the intertwined story of both main characters and how it’s difficult to feed the blame to one individual. Because she chooses to show the thoughts and justifications of both characters before and after they commit their faults, readers are more sympathetic towards the current perspective, making it difficult to choose a clear protagonist.
To be clear, racism does not affect the actions of Rochester and Antoinette; their actions are based on fear of losing love and betrayal. What the racism and their rationalizations do is give the readers two different connections that contribute to the mixing of both characters so it’s harder to place blame. Racism helps mix Rochester and Antoinette by uniting them under the duress of alienation while their rationalizations unite them because readers sympathize with both characters. Due to this, the blame cannot be placed on one person and Rhys shows us her grey world.
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