Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 11


The novel deals with the struggle, both in America and in Africa, of women to gain
recognition as individuals who deserve fair and equal treatment. Male dominance is the
norm in both countries. As Albert says "Men s'pose to wear the pants". It takes various
forms, not least of which is sexual aggression. In the very first letter, Celie tells of the
abuse she suffers at the hands of the man she believes for a long time is her father.
Mary Agnes is raped by the white uncle whom she approaches for help to get Sofia out
of prison and Mr (Albert) also tries to force Nettie to submit to him before she leaves the
house after fighting him off.
Celie's sexual encounters with her husband, Mr- are sordid and unloving "Just do his
business, get off, go to sleep" As Shug remarks, Celie "make it sound like he going to
the toilet on you."
Physical violence also seems to be a common occurrence, even in relationships which
are quite loving, like that between Harpo and his wife Sofia. He beats her because "the
woman s'pose to mind." It is a respectable thing for a man to do to his wife, in his view.
Women are exploited very seriously, especially Celie, who is married off to Albert to look
after his children and is expected to work on the farm and submit without objection to all
of Albert's demands and those of the children. She is also meant to accept Albert's affair
with Shug Avery, which extends even to him sleeping with her under the same roof. In
fact fidelity is not seen as an important quality by men, although the same behaviour in
females is cause for comment. Notice how the preacher attacks Shug by implication
because of her loose lifestyle, but men are allowed to behave as they wish.
The novel's message is that women must stand up against the unfair treatment they
receive at the hands of men and that they must do this by helping one another. The
women in the novel, even those who have interests in the same men, nevertheless
band together to support and sustain one another throughout the novel. The bond of
sisterhood is important, both literally in the persons of Nettie and Celie, Sofia and
Odessa and metaphorically in the persons of Mary Agnes and Sofia, Albert's sister and
Celie, Tashi and Olivia and of course Shug Avery and Celie, who embody the twin roles
of sisters and lovers in their relationship.
Some of the women in the novel have learned to fight for themselves. Sofia is powerful
and physically strong. She is not subservient and has great strength of character as
well. She can and does fight for what she wants, but of course her aggression results in

her dreadful experience at the hands of the police after she dares to "talk back" to the
white mayor, and her subsequent sentence to drudgery as the mayor's servant lasts for
many years. The bond between her and Mary Agnes is stronger than their mutual claim
on Harpo's affections. Mary Agnes endures rape for Sofia's sake in order to get her
released from prison, and when Mary Agnes goes off to be a singer it is Sofia who looks
after her child.
Shug Avery is the most "liberated" of the women in the novel, although she also suffers
verbal attack from the church elders because of her lifestyle. Her career as a blues
singer enables her to experience much more freedom than the other women whose
lives are bound by home, work and child care. She is also much more sexually liberated
than many other females, having numerous affairs and enjoying her sexuality with no
restraints or false guilt.. She has, also, a strong belief in God which is unfettered by
convention and her relationship with Celie is a central theme of the novel. It is Shug who
liberates Celie in all aspects of her life, guiding her into emotional, sexual and financial
independence and combining the roles of sister, friend and lover. Snug possesses
equality because of her own integrity as a person, and she passes this on to Celie. It is
no accident that the enterprise which gains Celie her independence is, paradoxically, a
"woman's job"- sewing - but the product is trousers, for women to wear.
Masculine and feminine temperament are also addressed in the novel. Shug is
described by Albert as being "more manly than most men", but as Celie rightly points
out to him, those qualities of independence, honesty and integrity are equally valid as
womanly qualities. What the novel asserts is that PEOPLE are weak and strong, and
gender should not dictate perceptions of qualities which are essentially human.
Wide Sargasso Sea purposefully problematizes its conceptions of gender. "All women
characters in Rhys's fictions are mercilessly exposed to the financial and gendered
constraints of an imperial world" (Humm 187). This imperial world is created and
controlled by white men. While Jane too is excluded, the result for Antoinette is the
development of a forced dependency on the very world that excludes her. She
represents a particularly modernist perspective on the suffering of woman: the abstract
sense of nothingness Antoinette experiences is so much worse than the concrete and
real suffering Jane endures and can therefore deal with and even battle. For Antoinette,
even happiness is not real and elicits fear (Rhys 55). The differences between the
portrayal of each of these two women's lives significantly changes the way we as
readers understand how each novel conceives of womanhood and its associations.

Wide Sargasso Sea maintains a steady absence of faith in woman's ability to transcend
the oppression of her gender. Rhys's novel depicts the near impossibility of "success"
for a woman in a patriarchal world. This is a strikingly different kind of feminism.
Whereas Jane has developed many resources and defenses she can rely on to get her
through her tribulations, Antoinette is virtually defenseless. She rarely protects herself,
like when she visits her mother (who she knows is undependable and unloving) and
goes to her mother with love, only to be rejected yet again. She has a similar episode
with Rochester. Fully aware that he does not, she asks him if he loves her and invites
the misery his answer of, "No, I do not" brings (89).
Sex is Antoinette and Rochester's only form of communication and they are
communicating only their lust and desire for each other, not love. Sadly, Antoinette
hopes their desire for each other, which is so powerful, will develop over time into love.
But Rochester is not interested in loving Antoinette. From a feminist viewpoint, it is easy
to see Rochester as simply cold and cruel, but he too is sorry that there is a lack of
genuine communication in their relationship. As Schapiro says "Both characters are
furious at being unrealized by the other" (99). Rochester is unable to love what he sees
as an object, a possession. He is also unwilling to make the effort to get to know
Antoinette, to understand her, to love her. He begins to call her "Bertha", signaling the
beginning of his separating himself from her (ironically he tells Antoinette he likes to call
her Bertha because it is a name dear to him). As readers we are immediately made
nervous by this new name, not only do we sense Rochester's impending erasure of
Antoinette, but we associate the name Bertha with the madwoman he will lock up in the
attic of Thornfield Hall.
ide Sargasso Sea presents a more post-modern form of feminism which takes into
account the complexity of male-female interaction to find that efforts to transcend deepset gender norms are nearly hopeless. Wide Sargasso Sea also maintains a steady
absence of faith in woman's ability to get beyond the oppression of her gender. Rhys's
novel depicts the near impossibility of "success" for a woman in a patriarchal world. This
is a strikingly different kind of feminism.
Antoinette, much like Jane, grows up in a world with little love to offer her. Both women
are cared for as children by relatives, both lose their first friend, and both have a
profoundly isolated and lonely childhood. But Wide Sargasso Sea explores
the psychological condition of profound isolation and self-division. The narrative relies
upon dream-like visions, fragmented impressions, incomplete sentences, the three part
narrative - Rochester (although he is never named) and Antoinette (who will later
become the madwoman Bertha of Jane Eyre) create an unsettling overall sense of
disorientation in the reader. Because of its multitude of thematic concepts the novel has

attracted a variety of critics, from feminists to deconstructionists to post-colonial

The title of the novel comes from the marginal character of the main protagonist
Antoinette Cosway. She iscaught between England and Jamaica. She is neither colonial
nor Jamaican. However, Antoinettes distinctly white European physical appearance and
family background make it impossible for her to be accepted neither by the negro
community nor by the representatives of the colonial centre, who both call her white
cockroach and white nigger. Therefore, Antoinettes character is split between two
distinct en-US">. She knows that as a whiteCreole she is nothing. The taint of racial
impurity, coupled with the suspicion that she is mentally imbalanced bring about her
inevitable downfall. The Sargasso Sea is between Rochesters home, England and
Antoinettes home, Jamaica. She actually believes that England could be a place of
refuge. She looks at England as an alternative. But when she physically crosses the
Sargasso Sea at the end and goes to England she believes the ship had lost its way
and that she is not really in England. She completely loses her margin-bottom: 0in; textalign: justify">Thethree part narrative gives the reader insight into the cultural and
psychological clash between the two maincharacters. The husband, the dominant welleducated gentleman, who is grown up in the civilized world, gives us a disturbed and
disgusted image of Antoinette. Antoinette's voice tends to be more emotionally charged
and perhaps more contemporary and show her as the victim of racial isolation and
patriarchal oppression. We are able to view the developing madness from the outside
and the inside.
The predominant atmosphere in Wide Sargasso Sea is wild and erotic with intense
descriptions of virgin beauty, on one hand, and nightmarish scenes from the matrimonial
relation, on the other. There is a feeling of foreboding during the whole novel with
moments of mental pain and madness. This simultaneous presence of these opposite
moods creates an unusual, scary kind of beauty in this novel, where womanhood
intertwines with enslavement and madness and thus leads to deconstruction of the
stereotypical visions.

A sense of racial tension runs throughout the novel alongside the feminist issues dealt
with. Celie is the daughter of a successful Negro store owner, lynched by white men for
no other reason than his financial success. All the characters in Celie's family and the

extended family she comes into contact with through Shug and her husband's children
are the poor exploited blacks of the American South. They are almost exclusively ill
educated, badly housed, unable to travel or to better themselves. The exceptions to the
rule, Nettie's benefactors, Samuel and Corinne, are unable to progress in their
homeland, having to travel to Africa to be "successful" as missionaries. Paradoxically, of
course, they are not taken seriously by the Olinka people who they set out to evangelise
and save, being regarded by them in the same way as they see white men - interfering
and useless. When they return to Europe they are treated with suspicion and unease by
the white church elders.
All the characters are poor. When Mary Agnes dresses up to visit her uncle to try to get
Sofia released from prison, she looks "like she a white woman, only her clothes patch."
There is obviously a huge inequality in terms of education. Nettie and Celie go to school
but only while they are not needed for domestic toil. As soon a Celie is married, her
education stops. Nettie's is carried on as a result other sister's sacrifice. Most of the
characters live in sub standard housing, segregated from the white population. They
have their own cemetery; church; school and have to wait in line in stores until whites
are served. It is common for white residents to treat Negroes as though they were
animals. Deeply offensive things are said and done to them. When Nettie is going to
Africa, a white bystander remarks "Niggers going to Africa... now I have seen
The few characters in the story who manage to change their fortunes only serve to
emphasise the plight of the rest. Shug Avery is a successful blues singer with a life of
comparative luxury, able to travel and earn money. Some of this affluence comes also to
Mary Anne, and eventually to Celie when she begins her dressmaking business. Nettie
is lucky to be fostered by Samuel and Corinne and with their help achieves a career and
education, but the majority of the people have to struggle to survive from day to day,
trapped by poverty and ignorance.
Even the poorest of the whites consider themselves superior to any black, no matter
how successful. (It is worth noting that the real blues singer, Bessie Smith, upon whom
Shug Avery is loosely based, died as a result of being neglected after an accident
because she could not be treated in a white hospital) The story of Sofia is the main
episode in the novel which illustrates the hazards of being black in Georgia in the
thirties (and later) Sofia is spirited and strong, assertive and independent and yet she is
reduced to total helplessness when she dares to answer back to the mayor's wife - a
spineless creature who is herself as weak as Sofia is strong. Sofia refuses to be
patronised. She makes the mistake of "looking like somebody" - driving in a car, an
unusual thing in those days for anyone, let alone a black woman and replying to the
mayor's wife's offer of menial work with a "Hell, no" The beating she receives is out of all

proportion to the offence she committed but the white ruling class shows no mercy to an
"uppity nigger". The fact that all of her friends accept what has happened to her shows
the extent of the madness of the society of the time. They are able to save her from the
prison sentence by a trick, but it does not condone the fact that there was no
justification at all for the severity of what was done to her in the first place, or the ten
years domestic service she endures being ordered about and patronised every single
day. The incident of the Christmas visit home shows how ignorant the whites really are,
since Miss Millie has no idea that she is being unfair when she insists on being driven
home. Slavery in fact was abolished after the Civil war but it lived on in all but name for
almost a century.
In the character of Eleanor Jane, Alice Walker manages to show that it is possible for
black and white to mend relationships and begin to understand and accept one another.
By the end of the novel Eleanor Jane and Sofia are able to relate like equal women
rather than black servant and mistress, but only after Sofia has been brutally honest
with the younger woman about the reality of the way she feels about her and her child.
Eleanor Jane begins to realise that Sofia is a woman, not a faceless black person like
all the rest of her race and even turns on her own parents, demanding to know how a
woman like Sofia could work for "trash". The main point to note about the racial
prejudice shown by whites to blacks is that it is very often unconscious and all the more
insidious because of that.
All Nettie's experiences as a missionary in West Africa take up a large part of the novel.
Initially she is excited at the prospect of returning to her roots in order to convert her
ethnic brothers and sisters. A series of disappointments and disillusionments follow, as
she realises that they are uninterested in slavery, the black experience in America, or
really in the religion which the missionaries have brought them. Paradoxically, Corinne,
Samuel and Nettie are alien outsiders among their own original people. There is no
racial unity between the three of them and the Olinkas despite the colour of their skins
and their common heritage.
Olinka society is at first fascinating and alluring but as the time progresses Nettie begins
to realise that it has deeply disturbing customs. Women are treated abominably, not
allowed education or independence and are under the "protection" of men. this
protection is no better than dominance and subservience. Nettie, like many of the
women in Georgia is not accepted by the men of the Olinka because they mistrust her
independence and spirit. Only Tashi comes round to her way of thinking and she is
ostracised and leaves the tribe to marry Adam travelling back to America with Nettie and
Celie's children.

The practice of female circumcision and facial scarring is also revolting to Nettie, who
regards it as degrading but understands it to be a custom which enables the Olinka to
cling on to its tribal identity in a changing world. It is a barbaric custom and Nettie feels
helpless to influence the tribe or to help the victims.
The saddest part of the African experience is the way in which the people of the tribe
are exploited by the white traders who drive their roads into the interior obliterating
ancient settlements and destroying lifestyles which have lasted for centuries. The Olinka
are hospitable and give the builders food while they destroy the village and the roof leaf
supplies. Alice Walker gives us a sad portrait of a dying lifestyle and an obsolete people.
There is a strong sense of outrage that people are driven out of their rightful homes for
foreign (white) economic gain, forced to pay for the privilege of living in corrugated huts
and becoming prey to disease because their yam crops are destroyed Ultimately
Samuel and Nettie are forced to leave and return to America. The link between the
people in Georgia and the Africans is that both are victims of white oppression, but
tragically, despite their common heritage, they can be of no help to one another.
As good postcolonialist Shmoopers, we can't mention Jane Eyre without bringing up
Jean Rhys' retelling of Bertha Mason's story, Wide Sargasso Sea. And honestly, what's
more postcolonial than a novel that attempts not just to re-write a canonical English
novel, but also to re-frame that very novel with its suppressed colonialist roots?
Wide Sargasso Sea takes Bertha and gives her a voice, a history, heckan entirely
new name (in Rhys' version, Antoinette is Bertha's real name; Rochester renames her
as just one of his acts of unpleasantness). In Rhys' novel, Antoinette/Bertha enters what
is more or less an arranged marriage, a contractual agreement between Rochester's
family and hers. You also get to see how Rochester really just doesn't get the Caribbean
or Antoinette, even though he's totally willing to sleep with their black servant.
But it's not all from Antoinette's/Bertha's point of view. The novellike so many
contemporary novels (Rhys was way ahead of her time)switches between Antoinette's
and Rochester's perspectives. Adding Rochester's perspective not only allows Rhys to
avoid "'suppressing"' a character (as Bronte did with Bertha); it lets Rhys toggle back
and forth between the "'oppressor"' (Rochester) and the "'oppressed"' (Antoinette and
the other women in the novel).
They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were
not in their ranks. The Jamaican ladies had never approved of my mother, 'because she
pretty like pretty self' Christophine said.

She was my father's second wife, far too young for him they thought, and, worse still, a
Martinique girl. When I asked her why so few people came to see us, she told me that
the road from Spanish Town to Coulibri Estate where we lived was very bad and that
road repairing was now a thing of the past. (My father, visitors, horses, feeling safe in
bedall belonged to the past.)
Another day I heard her talking to Mr. Luttrell, our neighbour and her only friend. 'Of
course they have their own misfortunes. Still waiting for this compensation the English
promised when the Emancipation Act was passed. Some will wait for a long time.'
This is a super-important passage and not just because it's taken from the beginning of
the novel (although that helps). In these paragraphs, Rhys shows you the root of
Antoinette's troubles. Yeah sure, it's the colonial past, but it's more than that, too.
It's the fact that Antoinette and her familyespecially her mother, who's Creoleexist in
this weird netherworld, without a community. They're lower than the whites ("'We were
not in their ranks"') and they don't belong with the blacks, as their Jamaican black
servant Christophine insinuates when she makes a small dig at Antoinette's "'pretty"'
From Antoinette's mother, we also learn that it's been some time since the Emancipation
Act, or the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, and the English are supposed to compensate
ex-slaveowners for their financial "'loss"' (aka, their freed slaves) but haven't done
anything about it yet. What's more, we get that Antoinette, her mother and the rest of
her family arelike their neighbor Mr. Luttrellpart of the fading, colonial order, when
they used to own plantations and slaves
We know what you're thinkingaren't Antoinette/Bertha and her mother supposed to
represent the "'colonized"'? How can they be both the "'colonized"' and the "'colonizer"'?
See, this is why postcolonialists like this book: it shows how labels like "'colonizer"' and
"'colonized"' really aren't that simple. You can have someone like Antoinette's mother
who'sboth because of her mixed ancestry. Take that for complexity, Miss Bront!
So that brings us to the whole idea of colonial mimicry a la Homi Bhabha: Antoinette's
mother is perfectly poised to be that character who's "'almost the same, but not quite"'
(so, for that matter, is Antoinette.) Her mother speaks in perfect Queen's English to Mr.
Luttrell, but what she says highlights her outsider status. She speaks about the explantation owners as "'they"' and doesn't include herself or Mr. Luttrell in that "'they,"'
even though they were both part of the plantation business (she married into it; Mr.
Luttrell was a plantation owner too). As a result, she compels us to view the other slave
owners as pitiablefirst, because they're actually waiting for compensation, and
second, because the whole system has turned on them.

But, of course, we're not really supposed to pity them. What's interesting is Antoinette's
mother's tone: how she acts as if she's above all these "'misfortunes."' A Creole woman
who acts superior to white slave-owners? How dare she! Who does she think she is? A

Setting: Purple
Rural Georgia in the Early 20th Century; Western Africa in a Small Village in the Early
20th Century
The book begins about 30 years before World War II. It covers the first half of the 20th
century, as we follow Celie through thirty or forty years of her life. The setting of Celies
story is unmistakably among poor blacks in rural areas of the South. As a poor black
woman in the rural South, Celies bad treatment is largely ignored. Having very little
exposure to education or the outside world, Celie lives most of her life very isolated and
Celie starts to learn more about herself and the world from people who enter into her life
from very different settings than her own. Shug Avery comes from the cityMemphis,
Tennesseewhere she lives a much more liberated life than Celie. Shug owns her own
home, has a car, wears fashionable clothing, is outspoken, and thinks life is meant to be
enjoyed. When Celie leaves home and joins Shug in Memphis, Celie also becomes
more liberated. Whereas before Celie had never even dreamed of wearing pants (to
her, they were mens clothes), she now starts a company making pants for both men
and women. She also learns to speak up for herself.
Celies world is also dramatically expanded as a result of her sisters travels in Africa.
Living a poor, downtrodden life in the South, Celie had never stopped to consider her
African heritage until Nettie sends letters describing the West African village shes living

in. Nettie describes her first experiences in Africa as "magical." For the first time, Celie
(via Netties letters) comes to see black people not as downtrodden, but as beautiful,
noble, and proud. Celie learns that the first humans in the world were black people,
originating in Africa. She also learns that Africans had an extremely rich culture and
thriving civilizations far before Europeans did. The Olinkan village where Nettie lives is
eventually destroyed by Europeans, but through the African setting, both she and Celie
begin to feel that their black heritage is a source of pride rather than a cause for shame.
They learn that though black people are currently oppressed, that wasnt always the
case, and therefore it need not be the case in the future.
Eventually, Celie returns back to her home in Georgia from Memphis, taking with her
what she has learned from Memphis and Africa. She goes home, but brings a sense of
freshness and the lessons she has learned. In addition, she no longer lives in
somebody elses home: not Pas home, not Mr.__s home, and not even Shugs home.
Celie now has her own house, which she inherited from her mother, in which she can
live life as she chooses.
Setting: Sea
1830s Coulibri, near Spanish Town, Jamaica; 1840s Granbois, near Massacre,
Dominica; and Thornfield Hall, England
While the novel never gives us the exact year, we know that the novel is set in Jamaica
at some point after 1834. (By the end of Part I, Antoinette mentions that she enters the
convent in 1839 [I.2.4.1].) While in Jane Eyre the events take place in the 1800s, Rhys
moves the events up thirty years during a time of social and political upheaval in
Jamaica, which is at the time a British colony.
The novel opens a few years after Britain passed the Emancipation Act of 1833, which
went into effect a year later (fifteen years before the French, and nearly thirty years
before the Americans, we should add). While slaveholders were promised
compensation for freeing their slaves, many slaveholders, like Antoinette's father, Mr.
Cosway, and her neighbor, Mr. Luttrell, never received payment and were ruined. The
newly freed slaves, on the other hand, are stuck in an apprenticeship system for four
years following the act which is just as bad as slavery: they're forced to apprentice for
their former owners, and the punishment for escaping was just as bad as the
punishment under slavery. Not surprisingly, the former slaves continue to bear a major
grudge against their former owners, and riots are common. Because so many
plantations go under, many English investors arrive at the island seeking a good deal
people like the Luttrells and Mr. Mason, and, indirectly, Rochester. It's tough to pity the
former slaveholders, we know, and one important question is whether you feel that
Rhys's novel seems at all nostalgic for that period in Jamaican history.

In Part II, the novel moves to Granbois, the Cosway estate outside Massacre, Dominica.
Unlike Jamaica, Dominica has flip-flopped between British and French imperial control
over the years. At the time, it is also known as a stronghold of the Caribs, an indigenous
Caribbean people. In the past, the Caribs have periodically staged insurgencies against
the British and the French. The name of the town "Massacre" refers to a particularly
bloody massacre of the Caribs, but nobody who lives there remembers the massacre
itself. It's just another creepy name, as far as they're concerned. (Learn more.) The
name "Granbois," meaning "big tree" or "big wood," underscores the creepiness of the
locale. There's nothing wrong with big trees in general, but in the novel, big trees echo
the dark forests of Antoinette's nightmares.
The novel ends in Thornfield Hall, England, Rochester's home. Unlike Parts I and II,
where we get lush descriptions of the Caribbean, we don't see much of England since
most of it is from Antoinette's point of view, who's locked up in the attic. It's no wonder
that she thinks she's stuck in a world made of cardboard, and not in England. Her belief
that she's living in a world made of paper is a not-so-subtle hint that the novel has
returned to the primary landscape of Jane Eyre, the Victorian novel which it freely

Centres d'intérêt liés