Examine the Ways in Which Rhys Demonstrates How Women Are Victims of a Patriarchal Society in Wide Sargasso Sea.

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Examine the ways in which Rhys demonstrates how women are victims of a patriarchal society in Wide Sargasso Sea. A patriarchal society is one whereby men are the decision makers and hold positions of power and prestige. Patriarchy refers to a societal structure whereby men are dominant not in number or in force but in their access to status related power and decision making power. In these societies, women are presented with an interpretation of the world made by men, and a history of the world defined by men’s actions. Rhys presents her interpretation and opinions on first-wave feminism in Wide Sargasso Sea. Second wave feminism and beyond suggests that men exploit women in nearly every aspect of their lives. Radical feminists define patriarchy as ‘a system of social structures and practises in which men dominate, oppress and exploit’.

Wide Sargasso Sea purposely highlights problems in its conceptions of gender. It is suggested that all women, including Antoinette, in Rhys’ novels are exposed to the financial and gendered constraints of an imperial world. This imperial world is created and controlled by white men and is therefore extremely based on patriarchy. Antoinette is the development of a forced dependency on the world that excludes her.

Annette feels helplessly imprisoned at the Coulibri estate after the death of her husband, repeating the word ‘marooned’ over and over again. This repetition of the word ‘marooned’ implores sympathy and emphasises imprisonment. Antoinette can be suggested to be doomed to a form of enslavement in her love for and dependency upon her husband. Due to the patriarchal society of the time, the women’s childlike dependence upon both fathers and husbands represents a figurative slavery that is made literal in Antoinette’s physical captivity. It is this childlike dependence on the nearest man that causes the demise of both Antoinette and Annette. Both women marry Englishmen in the hopes of ridding their fears as vulnerable outsiders, however, the men betray and abandon them.

Antoinette does not even know where to begin to desire change or to assert herself. In her novel Rhys considers the possibility that perhaps, the gulf between men and women cannot be breached, suggesting the differences are so established and internalized that Antoinette cannot ever have the sense of security, happiness and pride that a woman may desire and deserve. Wide Sargasso Sea presents a more post-modern form of feminism which takes into account the complexity of male-female interactions, in an attempt to try to change the ideas of patriarchy and its deep-set gender norms. This attempt to try change the ideas of patriarchy can be seen within the novella when we are not shown what happens with Antoinette and the candle in the closing as it does not show us any achievement to change opinion that she may have achieved through these actions.

During the time of the novel, women’s role in society was for them to be submissive; however, Antoinette is very passionate. For Antoinette, marriage is seen as an oppressive force that chains women to their husbands, taking away their independence. For men in the novel, marriage increases their wealth by granting them access to their wives’ inheritance. Antoinette can be seen to have passionate rages against her husband, Rochester, when he describes “her hair hung uncombed and dull into her eyes which were inflamed and staring”. Antoinette asks if he even loves her at all, and she bites his arm when he tries to take the drink from her. She is Mr. Rochester’s “red-eyed wild-haired stranger who was my wife”. This clearly suggests how Antoinette can be seen as a passionate female living in a world in which she must learn to control her fiery personality. Here she can be seen as a threat to male patriarch. Her appearance is used as a metaphor to demonstrate how she is a treat as her “hair is wild and her eyes too”. The society of this time is pre-disposed, due to...
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