Depiction Of Women In Wide Sargasso Sea And Feminine Gospels

Both Jean Rhys’ novel Wide Sargasso Sea and Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry show a multitude of unfortunate circumstances, with the women being presented at fault. Throughout Antionette’s journey we see a lack of equality drawn out through the character of Rochester as well as objectification categorically of women. Similarly but less so in ‘Feminine Gospels’ Duffy highlights women’s problems occurring in her society from differing perspectives, all collectively being at fault of their misery suggesting to some extent that women are victims of their own misfortune. I disagree with this quote as the women have become victims of their situations majority not due to their own actions.

Colour imagery is used in both texts to help visualise to the readers the objectification women go through and their emotions towards their situations more effectively. Rochester persuades Antoinette to marry him through reduction to body shown to assert dominance over Antoinette he took “her arms and kissed her” an action enforced singularly by Rochester as he takes advantage of Antoinette with lack of empathy to her consent. Rochester then becomes trapped in a brief moment of appreciation of Antionette’s beauty as he “could see the red and gold in her hair” an image of power and wealth; the red visualising strength but also pain through the resemblance of blood. Red is an important colour throughout the novel as it symbolises the signature colour of the Caribbean culture through its expressive links to passion, pain and life. The use of Gold stating hierarchy in this situation as it visualises through the metaphorical language a sense of money and rarity. Rochester sees this wealth as she means something of value at least due to her body. This section portrays Antoinette to be the victim to Rochester as she is presented with little control even when mentioned as she’s only spoken about not to. In defence of these actions Elaine Savory protests that “Rochester is, in his way… a victim of Englands implacable desire to raise upper-class men to… take no emotional risks” suggesting social pressures have manipulated him into the objectification of Antoinette. Today’s interpretation would see Rochester as arrogant and only manipulated by his own lust. By the end of the book we see flame imagery giving power to Antoinette as she starts the fire burning the house, colour imagery reimbursing her with power through her ability to cause harm. Ann Duffy’s use of Colour Imagery present in ‘The Long Queen’ during the mention of childbirth for all women is seen as more victorious as Duffy states “the room screamed scarlet” a disturbing image of pain and death endured to create life and beauty, the sibilance only further more enhancing its brutality. This action and imagery suggests woman are at fault for the pain endured in labour symbolised through the lack of man present. Arguably there is a power in childbirth through the ability to reproduce. The poem is based on Queen Elizabeth 1st also known as ‘The Virgin Queen’ giving an innocence to the poem and showing a lasting effect of patriarchal women as she was the last monarch of the Tudor reign.

In Wide Sargasso Sea Antionette begs Christophine to help Rochester love her, showing how Antionette’s mistake of forcing love through lust results in her misfortune. Christophine expresses modern feminist views through her reaction to this; Antionette wanted Rochester for one night as she could make him fall in love with her however Christophine disagrees with Antoinette’s reduction to body as she acknowledges Antoinette wants to sleep with Rochester making him see her as a sexual object. Christophine draws out the writer’s intentions of expressing Antionette’s self destruction and her own misfortune as she warns Antoinette by saying “Afterward he hate you”putting the status back onto the man through the use of emotional manipulation. This lack of understanding “leads the couple to a loveless marriage” as stated by Helena Sabri. Instead of love Rochester rejects Antoinette due to her actions as he remarks her eyes to be “Long, sad, dark alien eyes. Creole of pure English descent she may be, but they are not English or European either” a racist and even taxonomical remark giving himself superiority as she has been dehumanised to have alien features. We see a complementary similarity of self destruction in Duffy’s ‘The Diet’ through the societal expectations of women’s body (as society’s expectation for Antoinette to have a strong relationship with Rochester) being completely overpowering and turning the woman in the poem into an illness. Sandra Lee Bartky’s essay “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernisation of Patriarchal Power” expresses the grossness of society’s expectations of women saying that “Today, massiveness, power, or abundance in a woman’s body is met with distaste… Since the innocent need of the organism for food will not be denied, the body becomes one’s enemy”. This account is disturbing as it acknowledges the enormity of these struggles. This interpretation draws on society’s disapproval towards anything other than thin. Suggesting that all women need to diet in order to be accepted. Through use of the word “abundance” Bartky acknowledges a similar theme within Wide Sargasso Sea where Rochester sees her as “a doll” suggesting he approves of her perfect appearance and size but can also manipulate her as he reduces her to an object. The poem draws out this conclusion through the example of this women’s dieting working “like a dream” suggesting it is idealistic and wanted which is ironic due to its severity. The poem continues to mention the women becomes just “skin and bone” and ends up suggesting she was sleeping with men to further her desire of approval. This extreme similarity of the need of men’s love disturbs me due to the personal objectification of both women as they give their bodies to these men for solely their love or approval. Duffy’s poem is a metaphor of anorexia as a wider societal issue of women reducing themselves in order to be loved as Antoinette does without having an eating disorder, not her own misfortunes, but being a victim of societies misfortunes

The context of the book Wide Sargasso Sea shows identity and inequality that arose as a result of French and British colonisation in the Caribbean. We can see these issues due to the protagonists view in the book from Antoinette’s treatment but also mental stability. The book shows the clear downfall of Antoinette from phases such as her drugging of Rochester which leads him to sleep with Amelie who then prostitutes herself to escape her life. In this section we see the extreme lengths Antoinette is going to to make Rochester love her only through objectifying herself but then the objectification of Amelie by Rochester as he uses her body for sex to get back at Antoinette. Amelie “wanted to go to Rio. There were Rich Men in Rio” suggesting she would flee to give an ownership of her body to the men of Rio due to her misfortune and mistake of sleeping with Rochester. We get a similar sense of guilt in Ann Duffy’s “Beautiful” as we see in Marilyn Monroe’s section a clear knowledge of her attraction as she sees “beauty is fame”. The poem says “she turned into a cloud and floated home, falling there like rain, or tears, upon her husbands face” which made me link guilt to Wide Sargasso Sea as this stanza gives an emotional breakdown and sense of urgency for forgiveness as the objectification of her as a cloud represents how she would have been objectified by men but how in the end she feels a guilt to her husband as her emotions literally fall onto him.

We see a clear discomfort in Antoinette during the start of the book before her descent as she was born into a culture which would have been heavily spilt. She was mixed race but was hated by the community as her parents ran a slaving business. She is also not accepted by the white people due to her mixed ethnicity. This starts her character with a sense she doesn’t belong anywhere which is why she feels uncomfortable in Jamaica and moves to England further on in the novel. This gives the readers a sense that her downfall was inevitable due to her upbringing rather than her own mistakes. At the start of the book Antoinette states that “The Jamaican Ladies had never approved of my mother” foreshadowing the disapproval of her they would have due to the similarities seen between Antoinette and her mother. By Antoinette saying only the Ladies disapproved of her mother shows how she doesn’t fit into the community as the women you would expect her to get along with disapprove of her showing a denial of subjectivity to Annette. By not mentioning the men in the community makes them seem of higher status as they wouldn’t associate with the women in general furthermore making the women seem like victims especially Antoinette and her family as they are seen as bellow everyone else. The similarities of Antoinette and Annette, her mother’s name, shows again a subtle foregrounding due to the similar names.

Antoinette has a decent of madness in the book shown as she slowly deteriorated as the book gets more complicated. We see a descent of madness similar in Ann Duffy’s poem The Diet. The poem is based on a girl who stops eating then through metaphorical language we learn of her isolation and perception of herself during her madness. The theme of beauty links to Wide Sargasso Sea as both Antoinette and the girl in this poem strive to be beautiful to for-fill men’s desires as the girl in the poem during her madness “floated into the barman’s eyes” showing his attraction and objectification of her. By using the word “floated” gives appreciation to the fact that the girl wasn’t in the right mindset but also that she was delicate like something that would float. We presume by following language that they slept together but get the sense that this for-fills her as she “slept for hours” giving the barman a instrumentality towards her. At the end of the poem Ann gives the imagery of how she’s stuck in a “a fat woman now, trying to get out” showing the comparison between the two texts as at the end of the play Antoinette is locked in a room but also it shows how neither woman is ever happy due to her misfortunes and how characters around them influence their lives.

Jean Rhys shows the protagonists suffering and downfall through flowing and vivid imagery as did Ann Duffy throughout her poems. In Helenus’ essay she states “she manages to break free from the suffering by making her last act of self-determination. With this last step, Rhys turns her ‘madwoman’ into the symbol of female liberation.” This statement was the essential enhancement that topped the book off as it shows the rebellion to the objectification. Although the poems as a whole do not have such a promising ending, majority of them give a sense of pride in being a woman. In The Long queen we see the poem as a dedication and although it’s clear women didn’t have the same power as men, Queen Elizabeth is seen to be as good a queen as possible for a woman of that time. The map-woman gives a sense of body and self-appreciation as the persona acknowledges her flaws that society doesn’t accept but continues and tells us how they make her her giving female empowerment. Beautiful gives recognition to four famous women of history giving a sense of strength in the recognisability of them as they are women. The diet in an optimistic lighting shows how although the persona of the poem is never fully satisfied with herself due to societies expectations, it’s clear that by the end of the poem her madness has subsided and is under more control due to the stability of her eating being more nutritious. Finally in The Woman Who Shopped we see them overcoming “misfortunes” and empowering their gender especially in the second half as it encourages women to view how how society sees them and encourages them to change that view before its too late. Overall these women have clearly had misfortunes and although have many similarities we see that plenty of their misfortunes are due to them being victims but some of their actions ultimately cause the reactions such as these misfortunes. In comparison I am glad that the texts find ultimately ways in which to rid themselves of these tribulations.

16 August 2021
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