The Impact of Race and Gender on Antoinette’s Identity
Rhys depicts Antoinette’s struggle to establish a stable reality and her desire to break out of her displaced role as ‘the other’. Antoinette’s feelings of alienation and rejection are intensified by her experience as a Creole woman. The undefined race is seen as a major dilemma in Antoinette’s life. She is torn between two races and exiled from both, having no place to belong. The blacks call her ‘white cockroach’ and the whites refer to her as ‘white nigger’. Antoinette is not white enough for the Europeans and not black enough for the natives. Antoinette is a descendant of English slave owners. This fact increases the tensions between her family and the islanders. Antoinette strives to find a true identity, but unfortunately she fails. Her identity is fragmented because of her race and gender
Madam Sarup argues that identity is shaped by simultaneous operations of social dynamics such as race, class, nation and gender. She affirms that identity is determined through two different ways: the outside and inside. The outside of our identity is how others see us. The inside of our identity has to do with our vision of ourselves. (14) Identity is not a flat description of our personality, but it takes into consideration different perspectives of ‘the self’ in order to construct a coherent image. Hall states that cultural identity should proceed from the past to understand its present formation. He defines cultural identity as a state of being as well as of becoming. It is not fixed in history but rather it is a subject to transformation, fluid change and constant development under certain circumstances. Hall says that we should recognize the other side ‘the differences and hybridity’ as a part of our cultural identity because the common history can unify people across their differences but cannot show exactly who they are.(395-397)
Hybridity is an important issue in post-colonialism. It is used to interpret what it means to be a hybrid, belonging to no place. These hybrids live “'border lives' on the margins of different nations, in-between contrary homelands” (McLeod, 217). In fact, living in-between multiple identities leads to, an ambivalent state of mind where there is no stable place or home. Bhabha also describes hybridity as “the sign of the productivity of colonial power, its shifting forces and fixities; it is the name for the strategic reversal of the process of domination through disavowal ... Hybridity is the revaluation of the assumption of colonial identity through the repetition of discriminatory identity effects” (Bhabha 112). Bhabha clarifies that hybrid identity is produced by the colonial power and cannot exist without a common history of a colonizer and colonized. Hodge and Mishra define the ambivalent hybrid as “a migrant who is dispossessed, schizophrenic, exilic, often profoundly unhappy and exploited under capitalism.” (384). In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette suffers from hybridity. She struggles to find a clear direction to follow. Antoinette is neither black nor white, but somewhere in-between Europe and the Caribbean. This creates her an uncertain and fragmented identity.
Ania Loomba describes in Colonialism/Postcolonialism how race and gender provide metaphors and images for each other in the colonial arena: “In short, lower races represented the ‘female’ type of the human species, and females the ‘lower race’ of gender” (161). Loomba explains how in colonial texts both non-Europeans and women were viewed as being either passive, child-like and needing leadership or as sexually aberrant, emotional, wild and outside society (159). From the beginning of the colonial period, female bodies symbolized the conquered land. (Loomba, 152)
The definition of woman as ‘the other’ and ‘the object’ has been...
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