Jean Rhys s Construction of Blackness as Escapefrom White Femininity in "Wide Sargasso Sea



J A R Y, while reluctantly trying to settle i n E n g l a n d as a white E N HS
West Indian, started working o n her novel Wide Sargasso Sea with the primary intention of describing the D o m i n i c a o f her childh o o d . In 1956, she wrote i n a letter: "I still work but write mostly about the vanished West Indies of my c h i l d h o o d . Seems to me that wants d o i n g b a d l y — f o r never was anything more vanished or forgotten. O r lovely" (Letters 1 3 3 ) . T h i s preoccupation with the lost island o f her c h i l d h o o d came very early o n to be tied to another concern, that o f "rescuing" the white Creole madwoman from the denigrating descriptions o f her found i n Jane Eyre. T h e choice of Jane Eyre as a starting point is important to Rhys. In one of her letters, she writes about her work o n the novel: "it might be possible to u n h i t c h the whole thing from Charlotte Bronte's novel, but I don't want to do that. It is that particular m a d Creole I want to write about, not any of the other m a d Creoles" (Letters 153). This connection to one of Britain's most well-known women writers puts Rhys's exploration o f the construction of her own racial identity into a larger political context. Rhys shows awareness of the fact that the meaning of who she is as a white West Indian woman cannot be understood separately from the way this identity has been constructed i n the dominant AngloSaxon cultural context. Rhys worked o n the novel d u r i n g the 1950s and 1960s, a p e r i o d of increasing West Indian immigration to Britain and of a growing awareness o f the issues involved i n struggles for independence i n colonized countries. She sets her novel i n a time which was crucial i n the development of colonial history: the time just following the passing of the A b o l i t i o n of Slavery A c t i n
ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature,

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Planters often pocketed their compensation money. and in her fiction has caused critics to draw the conclusion that she was concerned with issues of racial justice and that she had taken the side of black people. "a marginal community run over and abandoned by History" ( 3 2 4 ) . were faced with a process of considerable restructuring which left many of them destitute (Williams 4 0 0 ) . Rhys's clearly expressed l o n g i n g for blackness i n her letters. Rhys simply describes two ways of being victimized and two ways o f non-cooperation with oppressive structures. She often describes black women in contrast to white women: "They were stronger than we were. Lucy Wilson. . for instance. . Black girls . something she expected to happen through a miracle: "Dear G o d . Rhys remembers a fierce longing to be part o f the black community. Estate owners who decided to stay o n . and left the island. i n her autobiography. and identity from the system o f slavery. they c o u l d walk a long way without getting tired. . Rhys's primary concern was the fate of a woman belonging to a group which no longer has a place. In the mid-nineteenth century. . A n important part of the exploration o f the white colonial experience is an understanding o f the consequences of the division between black and white. T h e freed slaves bought land where they could or squatted o n the estates. . therefore. . carry heavy weights with ease . Selmajames similarly sees the e n d i n g o f Wide Sargasso Sea as a reconciliation between black and white: . A c c o r d i n g to Wilson. she used to pray. She sees Rhys's description of both strong and assertive black women and the weak and dependent white women as a way o f fighting for justice.N 1833. status. She focuses o n the experience o f the white plutocracy. what I thought o f as the worry o f getting married . or i n J o h n Hearne's words. sold their estates. the colonies were no longer economically important for Britain. seemed to be perfectly free" (Smile 5 0 5 1 ) . people born i n the West Indies who derived their wealth. Also there wasn't for them as there was for us. let me be black" (Smile 4 2 ) .66 MARIA OLAUSSF. looks at Rhys's black characters Christophine i n Wide Sargasso Sea and Selina i n the short story "Let T h e m Call it Jazz" and comments on the contrast to the white characters.

Carole A n g i e r i n her biography of Rhys draws similar conclusions from Rhys's own statements about her relations to black people. Lee Erwin argues that although i n Wide Sargasso Sea Rhys takes up her West Indian past. (73) Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell reads Rhys's autobiographical comments on her c h i l d h o o d preference for a black d o l l over a white one as an indication of her "sense of kinship with her black compatriots" ( 2 9 2 ) . Rhys articulates the connection . Rhys's rather complicated attitude towards black people should be looked at i n the context of her enterprise of writing the Creole madwoman's part of the story. In this way." Needless to say. of a 'place-to-be-from'" ( 1 4 3 ) . "I will live with Tia and I will be like her. her analyses do not include a critical approach to Rhys's professed preference for black over white people. O n the contrary.JEAN RHYS'S WHITE FEMININITY 67 Many years before she had said. For a white woman. biological determinism is thus not limited to sex alone. rather than the recovery. All she had offered Tia before was the domination of her white skin. and therefore Rhys sees them as "perfectly free. T h e specific limitations and complications connected with white womanh o o d d i d not apply to black women. it exists as a response to the loss. this is one of the rare instances where Angier takes Rhys's own view and hands it on unexamined. Mary L o u Emery describes Jean Rhys asking: " A m I an expatriate? Expatriate from where?" (13-14). she cannot be said to articulate West Indian nationalism. this is not an accurate description o f black women's lives but a construction which functions to define the d i l e m m a of the white woman as a biological necessity. "The novel seems rather to inhabit a l i m b o between nationalisms. This clinging to biological determinism can be understood within the context of Rhys's own lack of a clearly defined identity. But as Antoinette burns down the Great House which imprisons her—as Tia had burnt down the Great House which was the centre of her exploitation—Tia welcomes her home. It is the "worrying of getting married" that for her defines w o m a n h o o d . A l t h o u g h A n g i e r analyzes Rhys's fiction carefully. blackness as freedom means that the only way for her to be free is by miraculously changing the colour of her skin." But first she had to let Tia know the terms on which she planned for them to be together.

Rochester first crosses the Atlantic alone to a place which threatens to destroy him. feels is one's own place is. . as a personally valued locale. We know the e n d i n g of the story and thus the restrictions placed o n both the narrative and the main character. placeless. B o t h Rochester and Antoinette are transformed through this passage. is constituted and maintained by and within boundaries set by a dominating authority.68 MARIA OIAUSSEN between place and identity which H o u s t o n A . institutional arrangements of power. Rhys finds her own place in Jane Eyre. then once more. also makes her white protagonists use black ways o f resistance i n her novel The Orchid House. In her challenge to Jane Eyre. Rhys draws o n the collective experience of black people as sought out. Bertha. she redefines it as her own. from the perspective of human agency. the occupant of authorized boundaries would not be secure in his or her own eulogized world but maximally secured by another." She sets out to describe that place and. "a prisoner o f another's desire. (104) In Wide Sargasso Sea. She uses this experience and the black forms of resistance as modes through which the madwoman in Jane Eyre is recreated. and transported across the M i d d l e Passage and finally locked up and brutally exploited for economic gain. bringing his new wife to E n g l a n d . A n o t h e r white D o m i n i c a n novelist. perhaps. first published in 1952. Rhys constructs black w o m a n h o o d as exactly that which is desirable and lacking i n the white woman's position. If one. however. Phyllis Shand Allfrey. the starting point is this placelessness. a prisoner of interlocking. one must set and maintain the boundaries. its boundaries lie outside the novel i n another woman's text. Under the displacing impress of authority even what one calls and. In distinction to Shand Allfrey. A l t h o u g h Rhys's novel starts with Antoinette's c h i l d h o o d in C o u libri. i n d o i n g that. Bereft of determinative control of boundaries. In Jane Eyre we have the madwoman Bertha locked up in the attic of T h o r n f i e l d H a l l . T h e significant title "Wide Sargasso Sea" refers to the dangers of the sea voyage. Baker describes as follows: For place to be recognized by one as actually PLACE. uprooted. then one is not a setter of place but a prisoner of another's desire. and in E n g l a n d she finally is locked up as mad. Rochester gives Antoinette a new name.

Such a definition o f slavery disregards the actual. instead. Emery writes: "The protagonist of Wide Sargasso Sea. and Antoinette's mother comes out o f her passive state . nobody see them come near us. Also the black people point out that they now lack real whiteness: "Real white people. But we were not in their ranks" (15). O l d time white people n o t h i n g but white nigger now. T h e lack o f real whiteness gains increasing significance when Antoinette grows up. and so the white people d i d . H e r descriptions o f black women serve this purpose. T h e black servant Christophine is the one who points to the necessity for change when she says: "She run wild. They d i d n ' t look at us. T h e very first sentences of the novel set the tone: "They say when trouble comes close ranks. T h e theme is the fear and the possibility of losing one's whiteness.JEAN RHYS'S WHITE FEMININITY 69 H e r e many critics actually repeat Rhys's wishful t h i n k i n g . T h e meaning of her sexual identity is what ultimately determines her racial identity and vice versa. and black nigger better than white nigger" ( 2 1 ) . T h e narrator is the madwoman but her tale is the young Antoinette's. she grow up worthless" ( 2 2 ) . Antoinette recollects an incident where she returned home i n her black friend Tia's dress to find that they had beautifully dressed white visitors. Rhys starts her own narrative. Rhys does not suggest such a "women and blacks" equation. undergoes sexual and class enslavement as a white Creole woman" (19). equating British colonial rule over all inhabitants of the colonies with the specific situation of slavery. it shows that she is not part of the real white people. Antoinette (Bertha) Cosway Mason (Rochester) . they got gold money. That these white slave owners could also be oppressed and excluded by metropolitan politics and the fact that patriarchal oppression took o n a specific meaning for a white Creole woman still d i d not make her share the experience o f slavery. she moves within the shifting boundaries of constructed racial identities desperately trying to find her own place. Tia's dress has to be burned. historical institution of slavery as experienced by black people under the d o m i n a t i o n of their white owners. Antoinette's appearance i n a black girl's torn and dirty dress causes a great deal of disturbance. With the imprisoned madwoman i n T h o r n f i e l d as both starting point and end.

on the other hand. each time with more clarity and detail: I dreamed that I was walking in the forest. i n a fever to change our lives" ( 1 0 9 ) . I don't know how old she is now. Annette tells her that Christophine was a wedding present from her first husband. She had her own very good reasons you may be sure. Here Antoinette has a dream which is then repeated three times in the novel. Antoinette remembers this change i n her mother: "it was my fault that she started to plan and work in a frenzy. but she doesn't know her age. (18-19) . from being a "white nigger. A description of Christophine. Annette says: I don't know how old she was when they brought her to Jamaica. out of sight. and the connection to England. The most important black character i n Wide Sargasso Sea is the servant Christophine. her origin and her age. The real change. I could hear heavy footsteps coming closer and though I struggled and screamed I could not move. again. reintroducing the connection of white with wealth and d o m i n a t i o n . Not alone. Antoinette wants to know who Christophine is. H e sees himself as a liberator. is given by Antoinette's mother Annette. comes with M r Mason. however. Antoinette's mother's second husband. 'because she pretty like pretty self Christophine said" (15)." This he does by reestablishing the black-white dichotomy. she knows that Christophine comes from Martinique.70 MARIA OIAUSSEN and tries to provide Antoinette with new clothes. "The Jamaican ladies had never approved o f my mother. he "rescues" Antoinette from growing up worthless. She is the first character to speak within Antoinette's narrative and her voice is used to explain the behaviour of the white people. Antoinette fears her future when it becomes clear that she cannot grow up like T i a . (23) This dream suggests fear of sexual violation. G r o w i n g up worthless. Does it matter? Why do you pester and bother me about all these things that happened long ago? Christophine stayed with me because she wanted to stay. Someone who hated me was with me. For Antoinette the meaning of being a woman is firmly placed within a colonial context. I dare say we would have died if she'd turned against us and that would have been a better fate. is the result of a situation where the black-white dichotomy no longer exists. quite young.

It is Antoinette who finds Christophine useful. and passivity. develops only her feminine qualities i n spite o f their distressing situation. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak writes about Christophine: Christophine is tangential to this narrative. She is thus outside the sphere of what can be controlled and understood by the white family once slavery has ended. without a word. No perspective critical of imperialism can tum the Other into a self. dependence. her age is u n k n o w n . "So I spent most of my time i n the kitchen which was in an outbuilding some way off. . Antoinette's mother concentrates her energies o n survival i n a feminine way i n that she does everything to get a new husband. Antoinette's mother. . make it impossible for her to change actively their situation. . the white lady. Christophine's function i n the novel has to be understood within the overall context o f the white woman's tale. Christophine is m e n t i o n e d i n her relation to Antoinette at a point i n the narrative where Antoinette most clearly describes the indifference of her mother to herself: "she pushed me away. is the meaning o f w o m a n h o o d . She cannot be contained by a novel which rewrites a canonical English text within the European novelistic tradition in the interest of the white Creole rather than the native. fragility. Christophine belongs to her c h i l d h o o d . her origin o n another island. such as beauty.JEAN RHYS'S WHITE FEMININITY 71 Christophine's most important function as a powerful protector and nursing mother-figure is thus introduced against the backdrop o f the information that she was a wedding gift. T h e life of the white family is now i n the hands of a person who once was part of their property. for her. Christophine slept i n the little r o o m next to it" ( 1 7 ) .' Antoinette turns to Christophine for the mothering she needs. as i f she had decided once and for all that I was useless to her" (17). to a p e r i o d of time which is lost even before the narrative begins. Antoinette's narrative i n Part O n e is a reminiscence of her c h i l d h o o d which carries within it an awareness o f the loss o f place and identity which. They also make her unable to care for her daughter or to perform the most necessary household tasks. W h e n her own mother pushes her away and finds her 'useless. because the project of imperialism has always . These qualities. T h e reasons for staying are Christophine's own.

T h e function of these stereotypes becomes clear only when the situation of the white slave-owning man is seen as the determining instance. sensitivity." another stereotype emerged. Hazel Carby argues that stereotypes about black women have their origin i n slavery and furthermore that these stereotypes do not exist in isolation but should be understood i n connection with dominant ideas about white women. the centre a r o u n d which female identities were constructed." Barbara Christian points out that also this stereotyped role has to be . This ideology defined white women as physically delicate and saw this as an outward sign of chastity. it also defined the black woman but i n different terms. they have the history o f slavery i n c o m m o n . that o f the "mammy. (27) In contrast to the stereotype of the black woman as a "whore. was represented as being merely prey to the rampant sexuality of his female slaves. But in the face of what was constructed as the overt sexuality of the black female. excluded as she was from the parameters of virtuous possibilities. in fact. Confronted by the black woman. (272) Black feminist critics in the U n i t e d States have studied black female characters i n texts by white authors and pointed to the way i n which these characters are constructed to fit a view o f history which mystifies the oppression of black people. A basic assumption underlying the cult of true womanhood was the necessity for the white female to "civilize" the basic instincts of man. Carby writes: The effect of black female sexuality on the white male was represented in an entirely different form from that of the figurative power of white female sexuality. Here the physical strength and endurance necessary for the work required o f black women were seen as signs of moral and spiritual depravity. the white man behaved in a manner that was considered to be entirely untempered by any virtuous qualities: the white male.72 MARIA O l AUSSEN already historically refracted what might have beeti the absolutely Other into a domesticated Other that consolidates the imperialist self. A l t h o u g h there are important differences between the A m e r i c a n South and the Caribbean. these baser male instincts were entirely uncontrolled. and refinement. "The dominating ideology to define the boundaries o f acceptable female behavior from the 1820s until the Civil War was the 'cult o f true womanh o o d ' " ( 2 3 ) .

the needs o f her own family do not interfere with her work for the white family. "The mammy figure. (5) T h e complexity o f Christophine as a character does not challenge these stereotypes. and the conjure woman as stereotypical roles for the black woman are based o n a fear of female sexuality and spiritual power. A c c o r d i n g to Herbert S. O n l y one o f her children survived and he is now grown. She is harmless or benevolent and can therefore be trusted with a great deal of responsibility when it comes to taking care of the white c h i l d r e n . it was c o m m o n d u r i n g slavery for black women i n the Caribbean "to engage i n pre-marital intercourse o n a rather free basis. A l t h o u g h the family unit takes o n different forms because of the situation of slavery. Christian argues that the mammy. sooner or later. T h e mammy is the house slave or domestic servant. and not at all content with her lot. seamstress. always nurturing and caring for her folk. who is represented as being loyal to the white family and who has no ties to the black community. In the oral tradition of the slaves the mammy is still present as a stereotype: She is there as cook. the fact that black women c o u l d have children on their own. though both images are dependent o n each other for their effectiveness" ( 2 ) .JEAN RHYS'S WHITE FEMININITY 73 looked at i n the context of the role of the white woman. She does not have a husband having chosen to be independent. live together with men. This . there is ample evidence to show that such units existed and were maintained and recognized as families by the black community (Klein 170). housekeeper. the whore. is i n direct contrast to the ideal white woman. Christophine's relations to her own children and to the rest of the community are made to fit the needs of the white family without m a k i n g Christophine's own situation seem overly oppressive. does not mean that most black w o m e n d i d not. she is cunning. and thus were not subject to the same rules as white settler women. Similarly. K l e i n . prone to poisoning her master. But unlike the white southern image of mammy. In this way the contradiction of considering black people less than h u m a n and at the same time entrusting the care o f one's c h i l d r e n to them is to some extent made less apparent. nursemaid. A u n t J e m i m a . the most p r o m i n e n t black female figure in southern white literature.

Rhys works within an ideological framework where property relations are given the meaning of blood-relations for black people. By describing Christophine as perfectly free of social ties and responsibilities. She is not able to prevent the ultimate disaster where the white woman is victimized precisely through her womanhood. approaches Rochester with fatal information about the Cosway family. moment try the property since it can be invaded at any given and arbitrary I certainly do not mean to say that African peoples in the New World did not maintain the powerful ties of sympathy that bind blood-relations in a network of feeling. "kinship" loses meaning." (74) relations. It is precisely that relationship—not customarily recognized by the code of slavery—that historians have long identified as the inviolable "Black Family. Being a white Creole woman implies the necessity of securing a husband by clinging to a definition of w o m a n h o o d which makes that husband necessary i n the first place. Spillers has written i n an analysis o f the meaning of black A m e r i can kinship systems as determined by slavery. T h i s he does i n revenge for not having received proper recognition as one o f the family. but she herself is saved because as a black woman she is excluded from that definition o f womanhood. A t this point i n time a woman usually settled down into a relationship which might or might not be with the child's father" ( 1 7 2 ) . T h e second incident concerns Rochester and the servant girl A m é l i e o n the honeymoon island.74 MARIA OIAUSSKN continued until the birth of the first c h i l d . T h e black woman is. Daniel Cosway. As Hortense J . however. of continuity. Daniel's mother is described as a liar. She is furthermore i n a position to help the white woman i n distress until the husband is found. one of these children. Black feminist critics claim that it is the mystification of sexual relations between white men and black women that has given rise to the stereotype of the black whore. A m é l i e destroys what is left . Antoinette's father is said to have had several children by his black slaves. We find two important incidents of this k i n d i n Wide Sargasso Sea. she makes her primary attachment to the white family seem natural. free to work and support herself. someone who tempted M r Cosway and then tried to trick h i m into taking responsibility for her son.

soft skin. She is scheming and finally manages to take advantage o f the white man so that she can start a new life with the money she gets from h i m . even the white men are to some extent victims of their own confusion caused by the cunn i n g of the black women. '"Why you don't take that worthless good-for-nothing girl somewhere else? But she love money like you love money— must be why you come together. As L e e Erwin points out. Christophine takes the side of the white mistress when she tells Rochester. Shortly afterwards. and his guilt are all narrated from his point of view. In this way his confusion and fear of the island. T h i s narrative also contains the possibility of blackness for Antoinette but here blackness is given an entirely new meaning. victimized by the white servant woman who takes advantage of the white master and husband. based upon the wished-for substitution of one term for another. the second incident brings a great deal of pain to Antoinette and constitutes a turning point i n her life. 'You are not the first to kiss her pretty face. L i k e goes to l i k e ' " (123). T h e identification of black with sexual power and white with innocent confusion is further underlined through the description o f Antoinette's mother: mad and abandoned. pretty c o l o u r — not yellow like me. [i]f Antoinette's racial imagination is metaphoric. T h e first incident causes suffering for Antoinette's mother and later destroys Antoinette's life. T h e mammy turns against the whore i n defending the white mistress. Significantly. at the same time. Thus we have the white mistress. In both these incidents the victim is the white wife. Rochester is the narrator of Part Two of the novel. Rochester's . Pretty face. being sexually abused by her black warden while his female mate watches them.' he called after me venomously. T h e black women are not seen to suffer. W h e n Daniel Cosway visits Rochester he makes a clear link between sexual promiscuity and blackness: '"Give my love to your wife — my sister. it is the "white cockroach" that she is willing to harm most ruthlessly. which describes his encounters with Daniel Cosway and A m é l i e . But my sister just the same'" ( 1 0 4 ) .JEAN RHYS'S WHITE FEMININITY 75 between Rochester and Antoinette by seducing Rochester at a crucial moment. his desire for black women. Rochester looks at Antoinette and thinks that she looks very m u c h like A m é l i e . smiling maliciously.

pregnancy. If we complement the black feminist insight about race and gender construction with analyses of nineteenth-century British definitions of womanh o o d . obsessively perceived as sexual. Elaine Showalter has studied these discussions and concludes that [i]n contrast to the rather vague and uncertain concepts of insanity in general which Victorian psychiatry produced. JaneEyreprovides clear indications that Rochester fears Bertha's sexuality: "Bertha Mason. Rhys shows that this is only his perception of events. . kill herself. Furthermore. We also know that she will set fire to the house. childbirth. dragged me through all the hideous and degrading agonies which must attend a man b o u n d to a wife at once intemperate and unchaste" ( 3 3 4 ) . (146) Antoinette's own wish to be part of the black people is thus supported by Rochester's fears. W i l l i a m A c t o n f o u n d sexual desire i n women only a m o n g low and i m m o r a l women w h o m he encountered i n the divorce courts and the lunatic asylum (Hellerstein 177). menopause—during which the mind would be weakened and the symptoms of insanity might emerge. Rochester's narrative gives the British point of view. Victorian psychiatrists established a link between mental illness i n women and the female reproductive system. theories of female insanity were specifically and confidentially linked to the biological crises of the female life cyle—puberty. constantly expressing itself as a perception of contamination from contiguity. Charlotte B r o n t ë describes her madwoman very m u c h i n accordance with the beliefs and attitudes of her time. By giving Rochester a voice i n the narrative. female sexuality exists as a symptom of mental illness. and b l i n d Rochester. Rhys takes up this element but places it within Rochester's narrative. In 1857. (55) In Victorian discussions. the true daugther of an infamous mother. we find that sexual desire and w o m a n h o o d are defined as mutually exclusive. N o t surprisingly. one racial term slipping or "leaking" into another through sheer proximity.76 MARIA OIAUSSEN is métonymie. In Wide Sargasso Sea. T h i s point of view starts in Jane Eyre and we know that what really happens next is that Antoinette goes mad and has to be incarcerated i n the attic of T h o m f i e l d H a l l .

(138) In Antoinette's narrative.JEAN RHYS'S WHITE FEMININITY 77 His encounters with the island. Rochester experiences only a brief conflict about the reality of his vision. She'll not care who she's loving. (40) . T h e dead horse. and finally Christophine's love-potion are described as a powerful illicit force. A n identification with blackness is established as the only possible escape. I shall never understand why. In Part O n e . D a n i e l Cosway. and laugh and coax and flatter (a m a d girl. Mary L o u Emery argues that this term. Everything that happened after the event is seen as resulting from this. the burning of the great house at C o u l i b r i is a final and clear manifestation of the hostility of the black people towards their oppressors. And she suggests possible kinship with Christophine. bewilderingly. False. T h e vision can only exist i f the reality o f E n g l a n d and the meaning of being a white woman i n that context is denied. at once tempting and dangerous. poisoned by the black people. T h e only escape is to project all the forbidden feelings onto Antoinette and define her as m a d because of these feelings: "She'll loosen her black hair. which continues i n Part Three and gives the final meaning to the events taking place i n Part O n e . Here is the secret. Antoinette's narrative is shaped around this event. as an obeah woman. Here. practices a magic that enables survival in dangerous and hostile environments. is one o f the first signs of hostility. might suggest for Antoinette a possible way out of the necessity of getting married and living the life of a white lady. Or could" (135-36).) She'll moan and cry and give herself as no sane woman w o u l d — o r c o u l d . the alternative vision is expressed. who. suddenly. referring to the M a r o o n communities of escaped slaves. Only the magic and the dream are true—all the rest's a lie. I was certain that everything I had imagined to be truth was false. Inadvertently Annette alludes to places in the island's history that Antoinette might inhabit and the wild unexplored parts of the island that may help her to survive. Let it go. H e is aware o f all that he has to give up i n order to keep his view of the world intact. "Now we are mar o o n e d " (16) is the reaction of Antoinette's mother. A m é l i e . i n that everything that took place before it is reinterpreted and thus turns into premonitions.

I thought. T h e rejection by T i a places Antoinette firmly within the white community and thus secures her white female identity. In this way. fear of sexual violation . loss. T h e convent represents a world where definitions of w o m a n h o o d are suspended and where the necessity o f counteracting black hostility and fighting for a place a m o n g the black people is no longer present. Say nothing and it may not be true. it was i n fact a necessary prerequisite for her wedding with a British gentleman. Antoinette chooses sides: she runs back to her black friend T i a .' The feeling of i m p e n d i n g danger is momentarily relieved at the convent. When I was close I saw the jagged stone in her hand but I did not see her throw it. Not to go. This time the dream contains even more clearly the fear of sexual violation but also an active determination not to fight or try to escape.78 MARIA OIAUSSEN W h e n the black people burn the house and it becomes clear that white and black are irreconcilable. How can they know what it can be like outside} (49-5°) Here Antoinette has her dream for the second time. As soon as Antoinette is visited by M r Mason the security vanishes. It was like that morning when I found the dead horse. As I ran. Not. I will live with Tia and I will be like her. This time I did not let him see it. sadness. almost choked me. It won't spoil you o n your wedding day" ( 3 9 ) . that through an act of will she can make herself belong to the black community. Antoinette's A u n t C o r a later refers to the w o u n d inflicted by T i a i n this way: "That is healing very nicely. (38) Here Antoinette still believes that her racial identity is simply a matter of choice. but again a feeling of dismay. It is significant that the visit by M r Mason is a p r e m o n i t i o n equal to the incident of the dead horse. They are safe. Without that separation she w o u l d not have been able to escape the risk of 'growing up worthless. The girls were very curious but I would not answer their questions and for the first time I resented the nuns' cheerful faces. Not to leave Coulibri. The w o u n d inflicted through the separation of white from black did not only not spoil her on her wedding day. It may have been the way he smiled. But they all knew at the convent. Significantly.

the love-potion prepared by Christophine makes Rochester think he has been poisoned. The struggle for "Antoinette" against "Bertha" continues through the last part of the novel. This dream is described by Antoinette when she has already lost her sanity and her ability to communicate her view of the world to other people. What am I doing in this place and who am I? (147) Shortly afterwards. Rhys thus invites a comparison between Antoinette's situation and that of the slaves. Antoinette is far from a passive victim. however. cold and misted over with my breath. sold. She is determ i n e d to fulfil her mission even though its significance lies entirely i n the West Indies of her c h i l d h o o d . T h e confrontation with her m i r r o r image i n the hall brings her great confusion. transported across the sea. Now they have taken everything away.JEAN RHYS'S WHITE FEMININITY 79 is l i n k e d to the rejection by Tia: Antoinette is not a black person. But the glass was between us—hard. she knows why she was brought to England. We arrive. This is the result o f the passage across the Sargasso Sea and the other side of Jane Eyre. thus she cannot escape what lies i n store for all white women. The girl I saw was myself yet not quite myself. She calls to Christophine for help and miraculously escapes "the ghost" i n the mirror. Now the dream is clear. then. There is no looking glass here and I don't know what I am like now. back at Jane Eyre. I remember watching myself brush my hair and how my eyes looked back at me. something which she has seen c o m i n g to her ever since the house at C o u l i b r i was burned. "Antoinette" is connected to . Antoinette also resists in that she refuses her new identity. Antoinette is captured. from a world of relative clarity and sanity to a world of madness. and it is only by escaping that image that she can h o l d on to the significance of her dream. She does. The theme of the b u r n i n g o f the Great House is repeated in the third part of the novel when Antoinette i n a dream sets fire to Rochester's mansion i n E n g l a n d . In Wide Sargasso Sea. offer passive resistance. Antoinette has her dream for the third time. Bertha remains Antoinette. given a new name. Long ago when I was a child and very lonely I tried to kiss her. and locked up. For her to keep this identity she is compelled to remember and to perform an important task.

Rhys here evokes the black legend of flying to freedom. a trick of the light" ( H a m i l t o n 102). whereas Rochester's attempts to turn her into a Victorian woman is i n Part Two rejected by Antoinette as just another form of obeah. Antoinette sees the C o u l i b r i of her c h i l d h o o d i n the red sky: I saw my doll's house and the books and the picture of the Miller's Daughter. Tia was there. Qui est là? Qui est là?und the man who hated me was calling too. Why did I scream? \ called "Tia!" and jumped and woke. And the sky so red. As Wilson Harris suggests. I heard her say. Bertha! Bertha! All this I saw and heard in a fraction of a second. . T h e second b u r n i n g implies liberation and fulfillment and this meaning it derives by refusing the English context. Someone screamed and I thought. In the dream. Antoinette embodies the b u r n i n g parrot when she j u m p s down from the battlement at T h o r n f i e l d H a l l . But when I looked over the edge I saw the pool at Coulibri. In V i r g i n i a H a m i l t o n ' s retelling of the legend "The People C o u l d Fly" some slaves knew how to fly already in Africa but had to shed their wings o n the slave ship. They thus looked the same as all other slaves but owned the secret knowledge and flew away to freedom when the situation in the fields became unbearable. I heard the parrot call as he did when he saw a stranger. You frightened? And I heard the man's voice. (155) T h e dream finally shows her what she is supposed to do: "Now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to d o " (155-56). if I jumped to those hard stones. a mission which will give her a new identity outside o f that prescribed for her by patriarchal demands. It might bear me up. She beckoned to me and when I hesitated. but within this frame Antoinette creates her own alternative. she laughed. Bertha! Bertha! The wind caught my hair and it streamed out like wings. Rhys similarly invokes a secret knowledge which changes the meaning of her actions. T h e Master "said it was a lie. which frightened the superstitious black people when it was falling off the railing with its clipped wings alight. her hair aflame. I thought. A t the event at C o u l i b r i the whole family was saved by their parrot.80 MARIA O I A U S S E N the island and the power of Christophine's obeah. T h e Master will always have his own interpretation o f events.

1 9 8 2 . 1 9 9 0 . Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist. " Modern Fiction Studies 31.9 3 . 2 ( 1 9 8 5 ) : 114-17. 1991. They. L o n d o n : Virago. Harris. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Carby.JEAN RHYS'S WHITE FEMININITY 81 It is finally the combination o f both Rochester's a n d Antoinette's narratives that points towards blackness as the escape from white femininity. Workings of the Spirit: The Poetics of Afro-American Women's Writing. 1 9 6 6 . . 'The Orchid House. and the United States. Lee Erwin sees Rochester's narrative as determinate i n this respect: "The impossible desire evident i n Antoinette's narrative. i n an attempt to perform the impossible feat of seeing herself from the place from which she is seen" ( 1 5 5 ) . Jean Rhys at "World's End": Novels of Colonial and Sexual Exile.. Antoinette's use o f black strategies o f resistance reinforces the meaning o f blackness as freedom. B r o n t ë . eds." Cornhill Magazine ('974) : 3 3" 42 2 Hellerstein. ." The Revino of Contemporary Fiction 5 . J o h n . Victorian Women: A Documentary Account of Women's Lives in Nineteenth Century England. In e x p l o r i n g the construction o f a particular white female identity. The Ladies and the Mammies: Jane Austen and Jean Rhys. Selma. Austin: Ü o f Texas P. 2 ( 1 9 8 9 ) : 143-58. Harmondsworth: Penguin. African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean. Oxford: O x f o r d UP. 1 9 8 6 . Hearne. Erna Olafson. "The Wide Sargasso Sea: A West Indian Reflection. 1 9 9 0 . O x f o r d : O x f o r d UP. 1 9 7 9 . Virginia. Rhys denies the existence of systematic oppression o f black women. 9 7 . Chicago: U o f Chicago P. Phyllis Shand. Mary L o u . France. 1 9 8 7 . Carole." Stories Around the World. Elizabeth. Jr. become "prisoners o f another's desire" as the white Creole madwoman is set free. WORKS CITED Allfrey. K l e i n . Erwin. Jane Eyre. Lee. that is. Brighton: Harvester. Hazel V. ." Novel 2 2 . James.1 0 3 . "The People C o u l d Fly. 1 9 9 0 . '"Like in a Looking-Glass': History and Narrative in Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: Harper. L o n d o n : Andre Deutsch. Wide Sargasso Sea. Emery. Bristol: Falling Wall Press. Baker. Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography. can only realize itself i n the gaze of the Other. Angier. Nunez-Harrell. Rhys. L o n d o n : H o d der & Stoughton. H o u s t o n A . et al. Herbert S.2 ( 1 9 8 5 ) : 2 8 1 . Jean. H a m i l t o n . "The Paradoxes o f Belonging: T h e White West Indian Woman in F i c t i o n . 1 9 8 3 . "Jean Rhys's Tree o f Life. 1981. Charlotte. 1 9 6 8 . to occupy a racial position not open to her. Jean Rhys. i n turn. Wilson.

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