A Lost Identity: an Exploration of Form and Context in Wide Sargasso Sea

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One’s identity is very unique and personal. However, where you obtain your identity is even more important. In most cases your identity comes from your home-ground and consists of the values of the culture in which you are raised. Conversely, the book Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys explores the absence of a home-ground and tells the story of a girl’s (Antoinette) troubled life in Jamaica and eventually England. She encounters hardships due to her race and social status such as being tormented as a child to being locked away in an attic until she commits suicide. Throughout the story she has trouble finding her place in society and is isolated because of it. Within this context the text suggests a vision of disconnection from one’s identity and their home-ground as exemplified by the characterization of Antoinette. Growing up in Jamaica in the late 1800’s was very difficult for Antoinette. Although she was born in Jamaica she came from a different background: she was white, English, French, and yet lived in a black nation, she was a creole woman. Although there were white people living in Jamaica, they were of great wealth and there was no middle ground. To find your place you either had to be black and fit in with their community and culture or be a very wealthy white person and fit in with their demographic and way of life; and the white class disassociated themselves from her family because her father had married a French Woman, “She was my father’s second wife, far too young for him they thought, and, worse a Martinique girl”(Rhys 9). Unfortunately for Antoinette, after her father had passed away she became impoverished and fell down the social class ranks. Antoinette’s identity from this day is troubled. Throughout her childhood she attempted to reach out to both the blacks and whites and is rejected. The other children tormented Antoinette following her singing, “Go away white cockroach, go away, go away. Nobody want you. Go away” (Rhys 13). As a child her identity is questioned especially when people began to torment her, as some other kids also bullied her while she walked to her school. She did not feel safe walking the streets and felt neglected and rejected. Another significant point in her childhood is when her only childhood “friend” Tia betrayed her by stealing her money and clothes while harassing her about how she was poor and didn’t fit in in Jamaica, “Plenty of white people in Jamaica. Real white people, they got gold money…Old time white people nothing but white nigger now, and black nigger better than white nigger” (Rhys 14). This encounter was detrimental to Antoinette as she ran home and hid in her room. She had realized her place in society was lost and everybody gossiped, tormented, and teased her family. Later in the book when reflecting on her life to her husband she says, “So between you I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all” (Rhys 61). Throughout these incidences during her childhood she begins to realize how much of a misfit she is in Jamaica. Antoinette is made to feel as an outsider throughout her childhood because she is not of the social class of the wealthy white people. She at one time was and fell from that social class therefore she no longer fits in with society. Since she does not fit in with either social or racial class, she cannot connect to her home-ground socially because she does not feel accepted. Moreover, as a result Antoinette becomes lonely and cannot make a connection with anybody in her social world, which leads to her troubles later in life. According to Caribbean Studies, an article juxtaposing “Wide Sargasso Sea” and “Annie John” about how the characters upbringing tarnished their self-esteem determining their future, “By the time Antoinette reaches adolescence, however, fate of her adult identity already lies in shards…. She is a product of a childhood that has robbed her of capacity for strength,...
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