Character: Antoinette Cosway
Source Text: Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: W. W. Norton &, 1998. Print. Norton Critical Edition.
Entry Author: Lauren Cyr
Antoinette and her mother are unable to fit in with the other white people in Jamaica. This is due to the fact that they are from Martinique originally, a French colony, rather than the Jamaican English colony. Antoinette is, however, also unable to relate to the non-white villagers as well. The villagers refer to Antoinette as “white cockroach,” in reference to her creole/white race. Antoinette is also the daughter of a former plantation owner; her class sets her apart from the other slaves.
Antoinette’s European heritage puts her into contact with her eventual husband, Mr. Rochester, a white man from England. He comes to Jamaica in order to marry Antoinette. He continually tries to subdue the Creole side of her, which he associates with madness. For example, he decides to rename Antoinette (her mother’s Creole name) “Bertha,” a more English sounding one.
In addition to changing her name, Rochester also seeks to change Antoinette’s language, further fragmenting her identity. Antoinette’s language contains remnants of her Creole heritage, a heritage that Rochester believes to be inferior. When Antoinette speaks to him, Rochester is reminded of her “inferior” background. To him, not only is Antoinette Creole, she is also the wrong type of Creole. When Antoinette speaks, she does so by “chattering in patois,” the patios a blend of the language of the colonizing with the colonized. Antoinette’s heritage stems from Martinique, a country colonized by the French. Thus her language is a combination of French and a native tongue, twice removed from Rochester’s English.
Rochester devises a plan to move Antoinette to England, in order to further suppress her Creole heritage. In a move that symbolizes the influence of white English men over the Caribbean people, Rochester takes ultimate control of Antoinette by locking her in attic for the rest of her life. He sees Antoinette as a source of madness, and hopes that by locking her away in England, he will be able to put her aside and forget about her. Antoinette is rejected by the blacks on the island for being too white, and by her husband for being too Creole. Her fragmented identity and struggle for finding a sense of place leads to her eventual madness at the end of the novel.