How does your view of Antoinette change from part one to part two
- Pages: 9
- Word count: 2129
- Category: Change
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When we meet Antoinette for the first time, she is a child of no more than 10. The absence of a definite age mirrors her flightful and relaxed personality. This is a common technique involving several factors that forms a bond between the reader and the character. Her innocence as a child is taken for granted, and therefore any aspect of her life will be both honest and frank in its description. “She was much blacker – blue-black with a thin face and straight features. Because of the use of stream of consciousness writing, her comments on and interactions with the world around her are simple, direct and open.
This is shown through her interpretation of various objects. “Our garden was large and beautiful as that Garden in the bible – the tree of life grew there. ” As common with other writers such as Joyce in “Portrait of the artist as a young man”, Rhys adds an element of autism to the observations of the child. “I sat close to the old wall at the end of the garden. It was covered with green moss”.
The absence of direct meaning or symbolism, added to the already plain language serves to arouse the reader’s sympathy for the character. We take her brutal honesty in her observations “I went up to him but he was not sick, he was dead and his eyes were black with flies” straight to heart without attempting to analyse it for being coloured with emotion or biased with interpretation based on previous experiences. Interestingly, perhaps one of the downsides to this simple observational style is the lack of importance shown towards aspects of her life that she enjoys.
For example, in Aunt Cora “an ex-slave owner who had escaped misery, a flier in the face of providence”, she describes her only in unemotional terms, and does not give us the benefit of understanding this woman’s importance. The only aspects of Antoinette’s life that truly characterise her childhood by reaching a deeper emotional level are those that frighten or anger her. “Everything would be worse if I moved” is particularly prophetic in its childlike perceptiveness, for of course, this is the time of her life that she will be happiest, and everything will go downhill once she moves to Granbois.
This affects the reader in several ways. The introduction of the main character as a child creates a sort of “intsa-empathy”. There is the honesty, the brutality, “A horrible noise swelled up, like animals howling, but worse”, and most importantly the history which is carried over into the second part. By sharing such violent and shocking experiences, especially from the subdued viewpoint of a child that can neither analyse nor instigate meaning to, we as readers develop a sense of intimacy with the character.
This becomes an important weapon that Rhys uses in the second part of the book when she evolves the reader’s anger towards Rochester, while only appearing to describe events. The characters’ thoughts and dreams are a very important in their depiction, particularly as the text uses the stream of consciousness narrative. The dreams perhaps symbolise best the characters desires and fears. In Rochester’s narration, there is a period where he hungers for Antoinette “I was thirsty for her, but that is not love. Here, the conscious thought and dreams run into each other, while the physical actions and happenings are played down. This perfectly illustrates the fervour and confusion of this period of his life. “It was not a safe game to play – in that place. Desire, hatred, life, death came very close in the darkness”. Our image of Antoinette now is clouded by the feelings of another. The fact that that these feelings are vile and careless, particularly while he appears to offer her so much happiness, “She’d like that – to be told ‘You are safe'”.
This makes her a victim in the reader’s eyes, falling foul to his cruel intentions. The absence of Antoinette’s voice denies any connection with her, helping to isolate the reader’s anger at Rochester. For surely if Antoinette could speak, she would describe herself as happy, which would lessen the impact of his actions. This is especially poignant when compared to the sorrowful peace of Antoinette’s sleep as a child in “I didn’t hear the end but I had that before I slept, “the sorrow that my heart feels for”. “Stream of consciousness” is an important feature of the book.
The whole novel is not narrated by an omniscient detached narrator, but through the eyes of the characters. This means that we as the reader can identify closely with the characters. We can hear their words, listen to their thoughts and share their pain, “It was at this nightmare moment that I heard Christophene’s calm voice. ” However, interestingly, one would expect to apply relative amounts of sympathy to the different narrators. Rochester narrates for more than 70% over the two sections, yet the reader does not feel an increased sense of empathy for his character.
Rhys, by using Antoinette as the first narrator, gives the reader the only element of fact to go on. We must believe her; we must take her word as Gospel. As a result therefore, by the time we come to Rochester’s narrative, we find it more difficult to accept his opinions, and instead come to make our own judgements on actions rather than go along with thoughts already displayed to us, like we do in Antoinette’s opinions in the first part. This can be partly to do with the fact that he is simply not Antoinette, and therefore not what the reader has classified in their mind as the narrator.
There is no absolute truth to the story. For example, in Daniel Cosway’s predicament, even the reader is not completely sure of the truth, which in a sense forces them to trust even more in the words of the characters. The reader is very much a part of story in that we must make the effort to distance ourselves from the characters in order to objectively review their actions. Since Antoinette is the first narrator, all the information we are given is through her. We cannot make judgements on her actions at first like we can when we read Rochester’s narrative, because we have no prior knowledge.
Rhys manages, by switching the narration, to make the reader become the omniscient viewer. We can compare and contrast the different attitudes of the characters, even when they cannot clearly see where they are going. The reader can take into account that the view of Antoinette will invariably change with the switch in narratives, but we can account for that change with the basic truth Antoinette has given us at the beginning of the book. This is one reason why starting the book with her as a child was so good.
As a child, she only sees everything at face value; she is not weighed down with the presumptions made by adults based on their experiences. At the beginning of the book, we are also “children” in that we know nothing about this world. We, like Antoinette, have to place trust in those around us, and when they abuse that trust, because we are seeing in through Antoinette’s eyes, we also feel the sense of dejection. Rochester, on the other hand, comes from a life style that many aspire to, so it is easier for the reader to feel jealous and angry with him. He embodies many human traits that as readers we dislike in ourselves.
He is not a “villain” that we can have respect for, and as such cannot trust in his word, even if we can believe and understand the thoughts of villains in other novels such as Moriarty in “Sherlock Holmes”. This relates to the image of Antoinette in that it reaffirms the difficulty we have as readers to accept his view of Antoinette and make it our own. One of the most important aspects of Wide Sargasso Sea is the relationship between not only Rochester and Antoinette, but that of the two classes they represent. Part of Rhys’ efforts is to emphasise the problems faced in this new world by creating a symbolic relationship.
Interestingly, Antoinette does not represent the stereotypical Caribbean slave. Much worse, she represents the people who don’t “fit” with this separation, which the British colonialists want to create. She has no identity on a political scale, and therefore must be forced in one direction or the other. However, this is only according to people’s images of her. Rochester feels that she should be the English wife he wants, and so attempts to break her into that mould, whereas Christophene and the other servants recognise her background, even if they do not always accept it.
Therefore the reader must rely on Antoinette’s image of herself to know exactly who and what she is. However, Rhys denies the reader this opportunity, as Antoinette cannot explain what she is, but rather what she wants to be “So I looked away from her at my favourite picture, ‘The Miller’s daughter’, a lovely English girl with brown curls and blue eyes… ” This creates a strong sense of the emotion Rhys is trying to put across, that of the absence of security and belonging. Rhys’ language concerning Rochester’s denial is short and direct.
The sentences are pieced together, almost Neanderthal and animalistic like when he talks about his relationship with Antoinette. While it mirrors the animalistic attraction to her quite well, it also gives an insight into the reality of his supposed “superiority”. The truth is that he cannot understand the secrets and hidden pleasures of the island and its people, so his only response is to bring it “down” rather than “up” to his level. Antoinette’s name change is not only to undermine her individualism and personality, furthering her lost sense of belonging, but also to signify Rochester’s power.
Antoinette is quite defiant at first at the name change, but it seems important to Rochester’s sense of security that if he cannot understand, he must break it down until he can. Imagery is a very important part of our view of Antoinette. Since the technique of stream of consciousness is used, we cannot evaluate only what is, but what the characters notice. This provides two levels on which we cannot only define the characters, from our omniscient position, but how they define themselves and each other. One good example is Antoinette’s representation as a flower.
We know that she wears bright clothes, and her personality mirrors that of a carefree fragile object. Rochester on the other hand is used as a contrast. He is described as a stone in the book “You see. That’s how you are. A stone. ” There are never any particular colours that relate to him, such a contrast in the wild and powerfully bright Caribbean. As a child, much of her memories are caught in the moment of almost still life. She remembers elements such as colour and textures far better than words. One example of this is when she is leaving Coulibri. I did not feel it either, only something wet running down my face”. She does not analyse, but she does understand. As readers we are presented with the tableau, the actions, the memories as we would have experienced them and we can make our own conclusions, but this style of writing gives the reader a much clearer description of the situation, and a much better understanding of the character. It is, in some ways, why we cannot have sympathy for Rochester. He does not give us that emotion. He describes situations, trying to be objective, but they are only skewed by his opinions.
He refuses to share with us that emotion, and we cannot understand as easily when he does. Rhys’ goal in Wide Sargasso Sea was to ask the reader to re-evaluate “Jane Eyre”. She disagreed with the pigeonholing of this character as simply “mad”, and disputed the villainy of her actions. Therefore, it was key that Rhys presents Antoinette in such a way that the reader will significantly change their opinion about her. All these literary aspects serve to turn Antoinette from the simple, isolated, stereotypical “mad woman in the attic” into a character with feelings, desires, fears and history.
Rhys is quite literally making a heroine from a villain. The only feasible way to achieve this is for Rhys to take us inside the characters head. It is a credit to her skill as a writer that she manages to build such a relationship between Antoinette and the reader, and even go so far as to turn Rochester into the villain. Techniques such as stream of consciousness, passage of time and imagery all help to form a unique picture of this already established character.