Wide Sargasso Sea


Jean Rhys

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Themes and Colors
Otherness and Alienation Theme Icon
Slavery and Freedom Theme Icon
Women and Power Theme Icon
Truth Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Wide Sargasso Sea, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Otherness and Alienation

The problem of otherness in the world of Wide Sargasso Sea is all-pervading and labyrinthine. The racial hierarchy in 1830’s Jamaica is shown to be complex and strained, with tension between whites born in England, creoles or people of European descent born in the Caribbean, black ex-slaves, and people of mixed race. The resentment between these groups leads to hatred and violence. Antoinette Cosway and her family are repeatedly referred to as “white cockroaches” by…

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Slavery and Freedom

Freedom in the novel is double-edged and troubled. Its ideal is presented in stark contrast, again and again, to its reality. At the start of the novel, we see that the Emancipation Act of 1833 leaves discontent and violence in its wake. Mr. Luttrell, a white former slaveowner and neighbor to the Cosways, commits suicide after Emancipation, unable to adjust to the new social and economic landscape. At Coulibri, the local population of black…

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Women and Power

The female characters in Wide Sargasso Sea must confront societal forces that prevent them from acting for and sustaining themselves, regardless of race or class. The two socially accepted ways for a woman to attain security in this world are marriage and entering the convent. Marriage ends disastrously in most cases, especially for the Cosway women. Husbands have affairs, die, ignore their wives’ wishes with tragic results, imprison them, take their money, drive them to…

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Wide Sargasso Sea is a revisionist novel, written to complicate and push up against the accepted truth of Antoinette or “Bertha” Cosway’s character as it is put forth in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre—the archetypal “madwoman in the attic.” The novel questions the very nature of truth in its premise, form, and content.

Within the novel, truth is shown to be slippery at best, difficult if not impossible to recognize and trust. Every story has…

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