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Wide Sargasso Sea

by Jean Rhys

Book Group Questions
1. Jean Rhys explains why she wrote Wide Sargasso Sea, “The Creole in Charlotte Bronte’s
novel is a lay figure-repulsive which does not matter, and not once alive which does. She’s
necessary to the plot, but always shrieks, howls, laughs horribly, attacks all and sundry-off stage.
For me (and for you I hope) she must be right on stage. She must be at least plausible with a
past, the reason why Mr. Rochester treats her so abominably and feels justified, the reason why
he thinks she is mad and why of course she goes mad, even the reason why she tries to set
everything on fire, and eventually succeeds. (Personally, I think that one is simple. She is coldand fire is the only warmth she knows in England)” (The Letters of Jean Rhys. Ed. Francis
Wyndham and Diana Melly. New York: Viking Penguin, 1984. 157). Do you like her portrayal
of Bertha Antoinette Mason? Did Rhys change your opinion of any of the characters from Jane
Eyre?
2. “Martina Ghosh-Schellhorn gives due attention to the title of Wide Sargasso Sea. The sea, she
writes, gets its name from the mass of seaweed that renders the water motionless. ‘[T]o be lost in
this sea inexorably decrees that one is doomed to everlasting shipwreck, since there is no
possibility of being cast ashore by the waves, hence no chance of being saved’ (181). Thus, she
connects the sea with Annette’s despairing utterance, revoiced and reiterated throughout.
Antoinette’s narrative: ‘Now we are marooned * now what will become of us?’ (Sargasso 10).”
Do you agree? What do you think the title means? How does it affect your understanding of the
book?
3. The novel’s first working title was “The First Mrs. Rochester”, followed by “False Legend”
and “Solitaire”. Rhys also titled it, “What the Hell or Where’s Jane.”1[1] Would a different title
have changed your reading of the novel? Do you like any of these titles better?
4. Rhys explained, “The book began with a dream and ended with a dream (though I didn’t get
the last dream right for a long time). All the rest was to be a long monologue. Antoinette in her
prison room remembers, loves, hates, raves, talks to imaginary people, hears imaginary voices
answering and overhears meaningless conversations outside. The story, if any, to be implied,
never told straight” (Letters 233). Does style writing influence your view of Antoinette’s
character? How are the dreams at the beginning and the end similar?
5. Rhys argued that Bronte's novel is "only one side--the English side"; "white West Indians ...
have a side and a point of view" (Letters 297). Compare and contrast Wide Sargasso Sea and
Jane Eyre from a country settings and culture point of view. How do the settings differ? How
does Rochester perceive the West Indies? How does Antoinette perceive or refuse to perceive
England? How are Jane Eyre’s and Antoinette’s lives similar? How are they different?
6. Jean Rhys commented on the pacing of the novel, “I’ve tried to make it move fast and have
skipped years, of course, with a sentence or so” (Letters 172). Antoinette also explains, “Time
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Kimmey claims “With the book’s first movement from the shelf. Wide Sargasso Sea intimates that Antoinette’s descent into madness results from her conflicting position vis-àvis the Europeans and Dominicans. Finale told in first person. Although Rhys claims that the story is written from the man’s point of view. I am doing (2)” (Letters 162). Well that is hard for me. Rochester (or the unnamed man) is the narrator of the second section with a few subtle shifts when the story is again told from Antoinette’s point of view. Jane Aschom made a statement: "Rhys's novels describe a female consciousness passive and impotent in a world where men have all the power. Linda Bamber included Rhys with her fictional heroines when she described Rhys as a "woman more comfortable with failure than with success. Do you think that time matters in Sargasso? Is it hard to understand time in Sargasso? 7. that has a meaning” (Sargasso 109). Rhys said “I carefully haven’t named the man at all” (Letters 297). Or it can be done (2) Man’s point of view. Adjarian calls Rochester “her oppressor” and claims that “She wishes to strip him of as much of his power as she can.’ Denounced and denied by both countries.” Do you believe that cultural instability and displacement caused or contributed to Antoinette’s madness? . Or it can be told in the third person with the writer as the Almighty. (3) Woman’s ditto both first person. Deborah A. is Rochester a reliable narrator for the second section? Is Rochester a villain or a victim? Did Antoinette inherit madness.has no meaning." What men have power in Sargasso? Does Antoinette have power over anyone? Or power over her destiny? Do you agree that she is more comfortable with failure? In what ways does Antoinette play the victim? In what ways is she victimized by those around her? 10. or did Rochester drive her to madness? 9. Do you think the overall point of view is masculine or feminine? Is it ever hard to establish whose point of view the story is being told from? 8. M. Rochester doesn’t have a name or a physical description." In the same year. Antoinette is clearly the narrator in the first and third sections. M. Childhood. she is both a ‘white cockroach’ and ‘white nigger. Once Antoinette marries Rochester. he possesses all of her money and complete control of her personphysically and legally. she is marooned-with her existence jettisoned to the borders. As she says to the unnamed husband: ‘* I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all’ (Sargasso 61). Marriage. Jean Rhys wrote about point of view in Sargasso: “It can be done three ways. But something you can touch and hold like my red dress. She also desires to escape from the space of ‘living death’ to which Rochester has condemned her and where she can do little else but remember her past and wait for her own demise. Hence she decides to burn down Thornfield Hall after a dream in which she sees herself setting the mansion on fire: ‘Now I know why I was brought here and what I have to do’” (190). I prefer direct thoughts and actions. Is she mad or has Antoinette finally achieved power over her masculine oppressor? 11. In a 1982 study of Rhys's work. A wife had no legal identity until the Married Woman’s Property Act of 1870. (1) Straight.

"Is that poem true? Have all beautiful things sad destinies?" (72). when Rochester touches the full-blown pink rose and its petals drop at his touch. Names play an important role in the story. How does Antoinette’s name evolve with her life situation? Who calls her which names and why? Is it important that in the last section when her name is not spoken at all.12. how does that reflect her character? 13. Do you agree? . One day. he wonders.

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