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.
Slavery and Freedom Theme Icon

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 former slaves is deeply angry. As Antoinette remembers at the start of the novel, “They hated us.” Even the children threaten and enact violence on white people. A girl follows a young Antoinette singing, “White cockroach, go away, go away. Nobody want you.” Antoinette’s one-time friend Tia, a black girl, ends up hitting Antoinette in the head with a rock as the mob burns her family’s house down.

In Wide Sargasso Sea, freedom can mean abandonment or isolation, the fear of which leads many to enter complacently and sometimes even willingly into their own imprisonment. We see this with various black servants who elect or wish to stay on with their former slave masters, including, notably, one young boy who cries “loud heartbreaking sobs” because Rochester refuses to bring him to England to continue in his service. Of this boy, Antoinette tells Rochester, “He doesn’t want any money. Just to be with you.” This holds true for relationships as well. After Annette’s marriage to Alexander Cosway, which was characterized by repeated infidelities, ends in his death, she becomes preoccupied with her isolation, referring to her new status as being “marooned,” and enters into another marriage, to Mr. Mason, with restrictive and then disastrous results. When Antoinette’s marriage to Rochester first begins to deteriorate, she imagines leaving him, and is urged by Christophine to “pack up and go,” but does not. This decision leads to her literal imprisonment by Rochester.

Even if it is violent and ultimately tragic, freedom is shown to be inevitable, the necessary path to redemption in the novel on both a societal and personal level. Oppression and imprisonment are unsustainable. Antoinette ends the novel and her life by setting fire to the house in which she is imprisoned by Rochester. Her narration ends with a sense of purpose and self-knowledge that she lacked in the rest of the novel. In reference to her own emancipating destruction, she says, “Now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to do.” This fire connects her to the angry mob that, in an act of protest against their own oppression, sets fire to her family’s house early on in the novel. Both seek freedom in the flames.

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Slavery and Freedom ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Slavery and Freedom appears in each section of Wide Sargasso Sea. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Slavery and Freedom Quotes in Wide Sargasso Sea

Below you will find the important quotes in Wide Sargasso Sea related to the theme of Slavery and Freedom.
Part 1 Quotes

They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks.

Related Characters: Antoinette Cosway (speaker)
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

The Lord make no distinction between black and white. Black and white the same for Him.

Related Characters: Godfrey (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Old time white people nothing but white nigger now, and black nigger better than white nigger.

Related Characters: Tia (speaker), Antoinette Cosway
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Mason did not approve of Aunt Cora, an ex-slave-owner who had escaped misery, a flier in the face of Providence.

Related Characters: Antoinette Cosway (speaker), Mr. Mason, Aunt Cora
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

You have lived alone far too long, Annette. You imagine enmity which doesn’t exist. Always one extreme or the other. Didn’t you fly at me like a little wild cat when I said nigger. Not nigger, nor even negro. Black people I must say... they’re too damn lazy to be dangerous, I know that.’
‘They are more alive than you are, lazy or not, and they can be dangerous and cruel for reasons you wouldn’t understand.’

Related Characters: Annette (speaker), Mr. Mason (speaker)
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2 Quotes

But they are white, I am coloured. They are rich, I am poor.

Related Characters: Daniel Cosway (speaker), Antoinette Cosway, Annette, Old Cosway
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

But I cannot go. He is my husband after all.

Related Characters: Antoinette Cosway (speaker), The Husband
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Justice. I’ve heard the word. It’s a cold word. I tried it out...I wrote it down. i wrote it down several times and always it looked like a damn cold lie to me. There is no justice...My mother whom you all talk about, what justice did she have? My mother sitting in the rocking-chair speaking about dead horses and dead grooms and a black devil kissing her sad mouth.

Related Characters: Antoinette Cosway (speaker), Annette
Page Number: 146-147
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3 Quotes

The rumours I’ve heard very far from the truth. But I don’t contradict, I know better than to say a word. After all the house is big and safe, a shelter from the world outside which, say what you like, can be a black and cruel world to a woman. Maybe that’s why I stayed on...Yes, maybe that’s why we all stay Mrs Eff and Leah and me. All of us except that girl who lives in her own darkness. I’ll say one thing for her, she hasn’t lost her spirit. She’s still fierce. I don’t turn my back on her when her eyes have that look. I know it.

Related Characters: Grace Poole (speaker), Antoinette Cosway, Mrs. Eff, Leah
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis: