The portrayal of Antoinette in Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and Bertha Mason in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre as a Liminal persona
This paper analyses the liminal existence of Antoinette in Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and Bertha Mason in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The paper analyses the condition of the characters, especially the creole heiress in both of these novels, under the light of Victor Turner’s theory of Liminality. In doing so, it aims to highlight the importance of a sense of belonging and a foothold in shaping a person’s identity and sanity.
Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel to Bronte’s Jane Eyre, is Jean Rhys’ attempt to give voice to the voiceless “mad woman” of Jane Eyre. Rhys’ rewriting of Jane Eyre highlights the orientalist perception of Bronte of the West Indies. Jean Rhys once said that throught her childhood she had been fascinated with the mad woman of Jane Eyre and she always wanted to give her a narrative, which she accomplished in her last novel (qtd in. Bsudlr).
The novel begins in 1834 in Coulibri, the slaves have been granted emancipation. In this novel Rhys chose the timeline to be a year after the emancipation act which makes it easy to highlight the racial tensions and the hatred the former slaves held for the white colonizers. In this novel we are provided with the childhood details of Antoinette/Bertha’s life so that we could to terms with her madness at the end which has already been written by Bronte. In Jane Eyer she is portrayed as just a mad woman living in the attic but in Rhys’ novel she is a daughter, wife, and lover hence a human who deserves happiness but who has ruthlessly been deprived off. When the world around her tries to isolate her or to impose an identity on her she unconsciously creates a bubble around her in which she lives happily so liminality or her liminal existence is her escapist strategy.
The term “liminality” gained popularity in the twentieth century through the works of Victor Turner who expanded Van Gennep’s idea concept in his work. Turner in his “Liminality and Communitas” describes liminality as “passage”, “movement” and “shift in and out of time”. He defined liminal individuals as “neither here and there; they are betwixt and between positions assigned and arrayed by laws, customs ,conventions and ceremony” (359). Liminality is linked with “, invisibility, darkness, wilderness and to an eclipse of the sun and moon” (359) all these things are evident in Bertha’s character in Jane Eyre she looms as an invisible ghost throughout the novel. At time when she is not physically present in the novel her presence can be felt by the reader, outside, as well as the characters, inside the novel. In addition to this the connection of wilderness and the eclipse of the moon is easily visible in the book. She has been escribe by Bronte as a dark colored creole.
Liminal entites are described by Turner as “may be disguised as monsters, wear only strip of clothing or even go naked to demonstrate that as liminal being they have no status , property, secular clothing , insignia…”(359). This description of a liminal entity is easily visible in Antoinette’s character in Wide Sargasso Sea, for Rochester she behaves as a monster when she learns that Rochester slept with the Amelia when he tries to stop her she bites his wrist and throws several bottles of rum on the wall. In addition to this the incident when Tia took all her clothes away she stripped her not only of her clothes but her status, property all the illusions, about herself she had in her mind.
Turner describes the phases of a liminal experience: “ the first phase requires the child to go through a separation from his family; this involves his/her death as a child, as childhood is effectively left behind. In the second stage ,initiate, between childhood and adulthood, the child requires to pass a test to prove that he is ready for adulthood. If he succeeds , the third stage involves a celebration of new birth of the adulthood and the welcoming of the being back into the society” (qtd in. Chakraborty). If we analyse Antoinette under the light of the aforementioned theory one can make a conclusion that she got herself stuck in her own bubble of liminality as she never succeeded to the third phase of liminality but she surely experience the first two. She was never a child in her entire childhood but the specks of childhood left in her were officially robbed off her when the natives set fire to her house, killing her brother and driving her mother into insanity. The second stage is reflected, in the second part of the novel, in the form of her marriage which shows that she has ascended from childhood to adulthood, the predicament of her marriage is another entire story but the very act of marriage is reflective of the second phase of liminality.
In “ Liminality and Communitas”, Turner has explained certain attributes of the liminal entities. I will be examining the characters, especially Antoinette, in the novel under the light of those attributes. In liminality the invisible becomes visible or the underdog becomes important in other words the roles of master and slaves are reverted inside the liminal world. “The supreme political authority is portrayed as a slave” (364). In the novel the formerly subjugated slaves get their freedom and it is shown in almost the entire that they are the ones pulling the strings of their so called former masters. If we critically analyse the entire episode of Danial Cosway and, the nameless, Rochester it seems as if he is pulling the strings of Rochester and Rochester is dancing to his tunes, but this is the case of a freed slave if we analyse the relation of Christophine and Annette it is Christophine who is more authoritative here mot the master but the slave. At one point Annette accepts her authority when she says, “ I dare say we would have died if she’d turned against us” (Rhys 7). In one scene Chritophine literary shouts at Annette. Then there is Antoinette and Amelia. Amelia though being a servant irritates Antoinette by saying that Rochester is getting “tired of their sweet honeymoon” (Rhys). She even dares to sleep with her master’s husband to irritate her.
The next attribute is “Silence and Submissiveness” (364). This attribute is highlighted in the novel when at first Antoinette enters the convent as a part of an ideal woman’s upbringing these attributes are infused into her personality. Secondly it is highlighted in the novel is at the time to Antoinette’s marriage, to a man whom she accepted with silence and submission but when she tried to rebel and refuse the marriage she is again humbled and silenced by Rochester through his techniques of an ideal man who will bring “peace”( Rhys 57) to her life. She marries him and then the actual silence and submissiveness begins. When Christophine tries to talk her out her marriage she says that “ I am not rich now, I have no money of my own at all, everything I had belongs to him” (Rhys 83). She could have rebelled but it appears as if she has internalized this silenced and submissive existence of hers. She even tries to save her marriage through magic as if love can be poured into one’s heart. It just shows the extent to which she is incapable of standing for herself. Even after Rochester sleeps with Amelia and begin to hate Antoinette she ends up in his house in England submissive and silenced.
The next attribute of a liminal entity is that he/she is a “blank slate” i.e, “ they have to be shown that in themselves they are clay or dust mere matter whose form is impressed upon by the society” (364). The episode of Tia robbing off Antoinette of her identity shows the process of her becoming a blank slate. She returns home in Tia’s, a servant’s, clothes and is immediately rejected by her own mother in her own words “ it was after that day that everything changed” (Rhys 45). Also the episode of Amelia taking Antoinette place in Rochester’s bed again snatches the illusion she has impressed upon her. Again she starts becoming a blank slate but this time she ends up in Rochester’s attic as the famous “mad woman” of Bronte.
- Quote paper
- Inbisat Shuja (Author), 2017, The portrayal of Antoinette in "Wide Sargasso Sea" and Bertha Mason in "Jane Eyre" as a Liminal Persona, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/366398