And the motif that I was assigned was male-dominance. Male dominance certainly seems to be an overarching motif in Wide Sargasso Sea. It is everywhere and is covered throughout the text as an analytical thought or a reflective idea rather than having been physically being mentioned in a written form. In Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys explores the oppressive, male-dominated society of the 19th century and uses the overarching motif of male dominance to reflect the influences and impressions it leaves on the key female characters in the book like Annette, Christophine but most importantly Antoinette.
This motif starts off in the very first chapter when Annette struggles with her marital relationship with her husband’s due to power struggle and abruptly ends when she dies. Then, this motif is further developed in both chapters 2 and 3 when R tries to gain control of Ant. The dominance here too ironically only ends when Antoinette dies. The cultural context of imperialism (and therefore patriarchy) and, also of “white male authority” of then 19th C can be applied to the motif. Similarly, Rochester a “white male authority” has certainly had a great effect on Antoinette as an individual, she gets abusively treated by the dominant nature that R embraced growing up. This can be seen In chapter 2 when Antoinette says ‘Come, I will show you the house’, he says “I went with her unwillingly for the rest of the place seemed neglected and deserted. She led me into a large unpainted room. (50) This shows that Rochester likes to be in control. He does not like following Antoinette. He is both attracted and repelled by the islands because these are the places where Antoinette seems dominant and he can’t tolerate that. Then he later mentions “The two women stood in the doorway of the hut gesticulating, talking not English but the debased French patois they use in this island. The rain began to drip down the back of my neck adding to my feeling of discomfort.” (45) Creole French is spoken on the island. Rochester regards it as debased because it is used by former slaves and also because he cannot understand it. He is inclined to despise what he cannot control. Therefore Antoinette. And this frustration is represented by the motif rain. Rochester also uses sex to dominate Antoinette, he recalls “I could see Antoinette stretched on the bed quite still. Like a doll. Even when she threatened me with the bottle she had a marionette quality. (120) Marionette is a puppet doll whose limbs can be controlled by strings. Here Rhys uses symbols to compare Antoinette to the “controllable” doll that R mentions. Antoinette soon enough realizes that she doesn’t have a good rel with R and now only one option left to save her marriage was to please R. She says to Christophine ‘He will not come after me. And you must understand I am not rich now, I have no money of my own at all, and everything I had belongs to him: CH being the only free and independent character in this book (which is ironic as she is an African American working for Annete and Antoinette who struggle with this issue all their life), she says ‘That is English law’ (84) and suggests her to have hope and please her husband. Male voices in the novel force control over the female characters and decide how they may appropriately behave, leaving female identities suppressed. In this case literally changing a women’s identity as the Rochester character ruthlessly renamed his wife and started calling her Bertha (87). Annette too was again dominated by a “white male authority”, her husband Mr. Mason, she neither did have a stable relationship with her previous husband, she was incapable of controlling her husband’s drinking or promiscuity. Finally Antonette Cooped up in room, separated from her childhood land, eventually loses the will to live. In a final act to regain power over her oppressive husband, "knowing what [she] has to do" (104) Antoinette sets fire to Rochester's estate, killing herself in the process. While Antoinette sees her death as an escape and revitalization of her stolen dominance. Her death signifies the overwhelming control Rochester possessed over her. Just like her mother Antoinette's only escape from patriarchal suppression is death. And the English men they were married to weren’t “proper”, well-mannered and respectful as they were portrayed and thought of, ironically they were equally vulnerable, barbaric and ruthless characters.
In conclusion, Jean Rheas represent how the oppression of women traps their existence and shows their fight and attemps to defy the Social norms of the 19th century expected women to act only as dutiful wives and mothers. The female characters of have little power or freedom as their husbands dominate their existence. Wide Sargasso Sea explores the destructive control that civilization pressures men to possess over women and the neg impact it leaves on all people.