Subversion in Women's Fiction: Power Relations and Alienation in Jean Rhys's "Wide Sargasso Sea" and Arundhati Roy's "The God of Small Things"

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Subversion in Women's Fiction: Power Relations And Alienation in Jean Rhys's "Wide Sargasso Sea" and Arundhati Roy's "The God of Small Things"

U. Jayachandran



Any form of writing that upsets the rhythm of the movement of the established order in the society is subversive. John Wycliffe1 (1329- '84) is probably a pioneer of subversive writing in Europe. Mary Wollstonecraft2 (1759- '97) and John Stuart Mill3 (1806- '73) should certainly be regarded as subversive writers as their writings asked unanswerable and probably unforgivable questions on the status quo during their time. Down the Ages, there is the beat generation; angry young me like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac who shocked the world with their uninhibited and sometimes indulged articulation of the unspeakable and unwritable. The nineteen fifties and sixties marked a watershed in the course of "new writing". Postmodern writing can only be understood and interpreted in the backdrop of the writing of the postwar period. Postmodern writing unwrites history only to rewrite it differently. While it re- creates time in fragments ( thereby negating the linearity of time) it places itself at an "after" modern position in the history of writing. That it needs to be placed somewhere along the linear time- lines is an interesting fact and in stark contrast to its own interpretation of time.

Subversion is iconoclastic. The arguable point is, does every act of subversion thrive on icons to be iconoclastic? Perhaps it is a dialectical relationship. In writing, subversion asks uncomfortable questions. It aspires to transcend the barriers of communication by deconstructing the concept of communication in the human world.

It deliberately takes liberties with established patterns of using signifiers (words or symbols) and reinvents language itself. It creates new idioms of expression. It uses sounds to create profound silences.

This discourse takes a brief look into the works of two women writers separated by time, place and societies. Jean Rhys, the West Indian writer from Dominica wrote Wide Sargasso Sea in 1966. Arundhati Roy, the Indian writer from the state of Kerala4 wrote The God of Small Things in 1997. When one considers the social, religious and racial chasms that separate these two writers, the gap of three decades (of linear time indeed!) is rather insignificant. What is more significant is the fact that there are striking similarities and stark contrasts between the two. Therefore are concepts which can be critically considered in the context of these two books. These shall come to the fore when some of the concepts are examined in relation with the two books. The following concepts will be examined in these novels:

1. Power Relations

2. Alienation


It will not be possible to look at the various manifestations of power in WSS and TGST without relying on Michel Foucault (1906- '84). In Foucault's writing power is defined thus:

the multiplicity of force relations immanent in which they operate and which constitute their own organisation; as the process which, through ceaseless and confrontations, transforms, strengthens or reverses them; as the support which these force relations find in one another, thus forming a chain or a system, or on the contrary, the disjunctions and contradictions which isolate them from one another; and lastly, as the strategies in which they take effect, whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the State apparatus in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies. (1981, p.92)

The power equations in Wide Sargasso Sea should be seen in the backdrop of Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte 1847) on which it is based. It would be better to say that Wide Sargasso Sea is intertextual to Jane Eyre. By being the intertext of Jane Eyre, it does not use the former only to...
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