Wide Sargasso Sea

Significance of Bertha's Name in Wide Sargasso Sea College

In the novella Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, the idea of cultural identity is explored through the symbolic significance of names. Although his name is never stated, it is assumed that the man that Antoinette marries is Rochester based upon the context clues pulled from Jane Eyre into Wide Sargasso Sea. Since the name of this mysterious man is now known, the real question is: why does Rochester rename Antoinette “Bertha?” (Rhys 88). I wish to argue that the man we refer to as Rochester calls Antoinette “Bertha” because naming places the power of the relationship in his own hands; in this way, Rochester is ‘othering’ Antoinette (Tyson 420).

Rochester refers to Antoinette as “Bertha” as a way of ensuring that she surrenders into his idea of a woman, as opposed to who she truly is. When Rochester and Antoinette are on their honeymoon, Rochester begins to see a side to Antoinette that is far different from the personalities of the ladies that he is accustomed to in England – quiet, civilized and refined – he is frightened by this unknown side of ‘femininity.’ Rochester begins to refer to Antoinette as “Bertha” to try to bury her personality and beliefs under a separate name. When Rochester calls Antoinette a name separate from her...

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