Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea Essay Questions

  1. 1

    In her letters, Jean Rhys wrote about her concern that Wide Sargasso Sea would be viewed as "just another adaptation of Jane Eyre," of which, she remarked, "[t]here have been umpteen thousand and sixty already." Today, critics view Rhys's novella not as an "adaptation" but rather as a "revision" of the nineteenth-century classic. How does Wide Sargasso Sea revise or alter the way one reads and understands Jane Eyre? Along these lines, what narrative techniques did Rhys employ to differentiate her text from the earlier work of Charlotte Brontë? You should think about the particular amendments Rhys made to certain details of Brontë's novel, and/or the specific aspects of Brontë's story that she chose to emphasize; for example, elements of the characterization of Mr. Rochester. Finally, consider Rhys's deliberate additions to the Caribbean plotline, such as the invention of Christophine. What is the function of such supplements?

  2. 2

    "Wide Sargasso Sea is a study in unfulfillment, in unreconciled oppositions and contrasts," the critic Thomas F. Staley once declared. Choose one of the work's many pairs of binary oppositions - examples of which might include black/white, sun/shade, life/death, slave/master, truth/fiction, day/night, past/present, sympathy/hatred, attraction/repulsion, knowledge/denial, familiar/strange, male/female, England/West Indies, and madness/sanity, just to name a few - and analyze how and what the juxtaposition of antithetical entities contributes to the novella.

  3. 3

    Perhaps because Jean Rhys was writing within the limitations established by an earlier literary classic, Wide Sargasso Sea seems to present Antoinette's ultimate fate as an inevitable, foregone, pre-determined conclusion. Daniel Cosway insists, for example, that madness runs in the family, and Annette certainly proves to be psychologically unstable, so it is hardly a surprise when we see Antoinette begin to lose her grasp on sanity. With this in mind, would you classify the novella as a naturalist tale; that is, according to The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms, as one which portrays human beings "as passive victims of natural forces and social environment"? If so, how do you reconcile this naturalistic aspect with the work's thematic emphasis on the supernatural? In either case, please carefully explain your reasoning.

  4. 4

    Jane Eyre is considered one of the defining texts of the literary genre known as the Gothic, and Wide Sargasso Sea is often referred to as a work of "Caribbean Gothic" fiction. Choose one of the fundamental tropes of the Gothic mode - such as incest, doubles and the uncanny, mothers as monsters, haunted houses, and live burial or life-in-death - and analyze how Jean Rhys modifies this convention to make her novella into a particularly "Caribbean" example of the Gothic. You might also consider the stated moral of Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764), one of the first and most famous Gothic novels. Walpole writes that "the sins of the fathers are visited on their children to the third and fourth generation," and critics have interpreted this statement as a summary of the Gothic genre in general. In your opinion, does this generalization apply to Wide Sargasso Sea? What, if so, are "the sins of the fathers"?

  5. 5

    Wide Sargasso Sea repeatedly represents altered states of consciousness, including daydreams, memories, fainting, fits of rage or madness, moments of awakening, drunkenness, sexual ecstasy, and nightmares. What happens in these other states and what do they add to the narrative? Choose one such scene of altered consciousness and provide a close-reading of the details it offers, paying particular attention to voice and point-of-view. (One example that stands out is Rochester's enraged confrontation of Christophine late in Part II. If you select this option, be sure to pay attention to the function of the parenthetical asides. You may want to look at this scene even if you decide to write about another moment of altered consciousness in the text.)

  6. 6

    "Names are important," Antoinette says at one point in the text, but she does not elaborate on what she means. How do you understand the importance of naming in Wide Sargasso Sea? Keep in mind that almost every major character is referred to by several different monikers (Antoinette/Bertha/Antoinetta/Marionetta; Christophine/Josephine/Pheena; Daniel Boyd/Esau), but the character of Mr. Rochester from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre remains nameless throughout the entire work. What do you make of this fact?

  7. 7

    The narrative structure of Wide Sargasso Sea is much more complicated than that of, say, Jane Eyre, in which a single narrator recalls events of the past in a linear and chronological fashion. Jean Rhys's novella relies upon a variety of alternative narrative techniques to advance the plot, including letters and book excerpts, overheard conversations and gossip, and perhaps most importantly, multiple points-of-view. In a well-planned essay, analyze how these devices serve to underscore the work's "ambiguous and mutually incompatible interpretive possibilities."

  8. 8

    Feminist readings of Wide Sargasso Sea typically see the work as an indictment of Victorian patriarchy, insisting that Rhys portrayed Rochester as a cruel and exploitative tyrant. Do you agree with this view? Rhys actually grants Rochester more pages of narration than anyone else; does his account of his marriage complicate the feminist reading of the text or reinforce it?

  9. 9

    Trace the motif of fire throughout Wide Sargasso Sea, examining its role at three or more different points in the text. Be sure to craft a strong thesis statement and use examples to support your argument about how fire functions as a recurring element of the novella.

  10. 10

    Setting is of undeniable importance to Wide Sargasso Sea. Is there a discernible relationship between psychology and landscape in the text; that is, do aspects of the external world seem to correlate somehow with characters' internal states? As you prepare your response, you might consider what happens when characters are removed from the surroundings to which they are accustomed; for example, when Rochester visits the West Indies, or when Antoinette goes to England. Your answer should involve close-reading of both scenic and psychic detail.