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Wide Sargasso Sea and the Symbolism of Mirrors and Madness

Poscolonial narratives and rewritings attempt to deal with minority responses by recovering their untold stories as a outcome of European colonization (Reavis). This literature addresses the troubles and consequences of the decolonization of a nation and individual responses to issues of imperialism and racialism. Jean Rhys takes on the task of providing a voice to historically silenced characters in her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, a precursor story to Bronte’s Jane Eyre from the perspective of Mr. Rochester’s mad and seemingly bestial wife Bertha Mason, whose provided name is revealed to be Antoinette Cosway. All through the novel Rhys employs different symbols to convey the idea of “the other” along with themes of social and cultural identity, entrapment, and ecocriticism to reflect the psyches and experiences of the characters. Rhys uses the notion of mirrors in certain throughout Wide Sargasso Sea to symbolize Antoinette’s double identity, madness, and ultimately deteriorated selfhood below a program of patriarchal oppression.

Mirrors initially play a huge part in Antoinette’s chaotic childhood to convey her double identity and fluidity between social groups. In a pivotal scene when the Jamaican natives siege Antoinette’s property at Coulibri Estate, Antoinette makes use of her passive and poetic rhetoric to describe an otherwise disastrous scenario. When she and her family finally get out of their burning residence, Antoinette alludes to mirrors as she runs toward her childhood friend Tia: “When I was close I saw the jagged stone in her hand but I did not see her throw it. I did not feel it either, only anything wet, running down my face. I looked at her and I saw her face crumple up as she began to cry. We stared at each and every other, blood on my face, tears on hers. It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking-glass” (Rhys 45). This scene, fraught with intensity and emotion, serves as an intriguing juxtaposition of two diverse female experiences. Antoinette, a white Creole girl living in Spanish Town, Jamaica in the midst of post slavery illegalization, usually refers to herself as a “white cockroach.” All through her narrative, she fails to belong to any a single social group, as she can not relate to the black residents of Spanish Town but is also as well “exotic” to fit into any element of English culture. Tia serves as her double in a considerable way, and as a reflection of Antoinette, she acts out the anger and grief Antoinette ultimately seeks to express but from the other side of the mirror of racial separation. Tia is an image of an identity Antoinette longs to be her personal: a black woman with a sense of belonging, not a white Creole lady strung in among any true community. The notion of the searching glass and Tia as a double appears to iterate what Antoinette knows, that she will never ever find the sense of belonging or identity that she wants for herself.

As Antoinette’s madness develops, mirrors reflect her alienation from any sense of identity. Portion Three of the novel is a frightening culmination of Antoinette’s psychosis by way of seclusion that poses the question of whether her madness is intrinsic or just a consequence of her poisonous therapy and history. Annette, Antoinette’s mother, despite her short look in the novel, had a habit of continuously seeking for her personal reflection in the mirror. Antoinette adopts this element of her mother, possibly indicating their shared want to be observed in a planet that neither invites nor accepts them. When Rochester puts Antoinette in the attic, he additional amplifies her madness by producing her isolated and disconnected. In rhetoric constantly jumping in between the past and present, she describes her mirrorless prison when she says, “There is no looking-glass right here and I do not know what I am like now. I bear in mind watching myself brush my hair and how my eyes looked back at me. The girl I saw was myself yet not fairly myself. Extended ago when I was a kid and very lonely I tried to kiss her. But the glass was among us – tough, cold and misted more than with my break” (Rhys 182). Even when Antoinette had access to a mirror, her sense of isolation and alienation from her image demonstrates her common lack of selfhood. As a youngster, Antoinette tries to kiss her image in the mirror as if to unite the two halves of her cultural identity but is met by the cold glass. By calling her the incorrect name and not giving her a mirror, Rochester seeks to erase her most basic sense of existence. Nonetheless, by the time she lives in the Thornfield attic, her madness has turn out to be her identity a lot more than anything else. The lack of mirrors and Antoinette’s lifelong need to close the gap between two cultural identities serve to personify her madness in this passage and accounts for her inability to completely grasp reality.

Lastly, mirrors serve as a signifies to reflect Antoinette’s deteriorated, colonized self as a outcome of patriarchal oppression. Her identity has knowledgeable an irreversible split, which is evident in Portion Three when she escapes from the attic and woefully explores Thornfield. She describes her encounter with a mirror in a dream-like trance: “I went into the hall once again with the tall candle in my hand. It was then that I saw her – the ghost. The lady with streaming hair. She was surrounded by a gilt frame but I knew her. I dropped the candle I was carrying and it caught the finish of the tablecloth and I saw flames shoot up. As I ran or maybe floated or flew I called aid me Christophine aid me and looking behind me I saw that I had been helped” (Rhys 188-189). Rhys illustrates how Antoinette’s identity is so diminished by means of her oppression and entrapment that when she looks in the mirror in this pivotal and traumatically poetic scene she does not very recognize her reflection. The use of the mirror itself, an impenetrable wall of separation, represents patriarchal judgment, and Antoinette believes she has noticed a ghost-like woman with streaming hair, but she is a stranger to herself and does not recognize her identity as Bertha Mason (Sarvan). Her selfhood has undergone an irreversible split in which she will not recover from. In the same way that Tia was previously her mirror image and “dark double,” Antoinette seeks to destroy Bertha, her other self, and Thornfield, a manifestation of her patriarchal imprisonment.

Rhys makes use of mirrors all through Wide Sargasso Sea to embody Antoinette’s double identity, mental break, and deteriorated identity under systematic patriarchal imprisonment. In a conversation with Rochester in Part Two, Antoinette pleads with her husband to listen to her story and think about her side when she says, “There is always the other side, always” (Rhys). In the very same way that the mirror acts as third space for Antoinette’s mental deterioration, Wide Sargasso Sea is a third space that enables for the enunciation of the other in which Rhys locates the racial and feminist struggle of Antoinette (Reavis). Apparent through the mirror and an intimate appear into Antoinette’s thoughts, Rhys entraps the reader and creates compassion for a lady whose helplessness by means of patriarchal oppression is usually remarkably familiar.

Performs Cited

Reavis, Serena. “”Myself However Not Very Myself”: Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, and a Third Space of Enunciation.” 2005. University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Document. 4 May 2016. <>.

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: W. W. Norton & Business, Inc., 1982. Print. Sarvan, Charles.

“Flight, Entrapment, and Madness in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea.” International Fiction Assessment January 1999: 58-65. Journal Report.
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