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Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys: Summary, Analysis & Characters

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys: Summary, Analysis & Characters
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  • 0:03 Introduction to ''Wide…
  • 0:41 Characters
  • 3:47 Summary
  • 5:29 Analysis
  • 6:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

During this lesson, we'll learn about the events that occur in Jean Rhys' novel, 'Wide Sargasso Sea,' analyze the novel as a whole, and discuss the novel's characters.

Introduction to Wide Sargasso Sea

Most famous for her novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, a postcolonial novel that serves as a hypothetical prequel to Jane Eyre, Jean Rhys was born in Dominica and moved, as a teenager, to England. Due in part to her foreign accent, Rhys bounced around between a lot of different jobs, but Wide Sargasso Sea was the novel that vaulted her to fame. Rhys' experience of heartbreak and being a foreigner in England helped inform the novel, which is an unofficial prequel to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

Let's first look at the novel's characters, followed by a brief summary of the plot, and then close with an analysis of the work as a whole.

Characters in Wide Sargasso Sea

There are a lot of characters in Wide Sargasso Sea. The most important figures are listed below.

Let's first look at the Cosways:

  • Antoinette Cosway Mason Rochester - The main character. After she gets married, her husband drags her back to England where she has a mental breakdown and fulfills the expectation that she is a madwoman.

  • Annette Cosway Mason- Antoinette's mother. She is married first to Antoinette's father, Mr. Cosway, then marries Mr. Mason after Cosway dies. Annette dies when Antoinette is away at the convent school.

  • Pierre Cosway - Antoinette's younger brother. He is sickly, and after he is trapped in a fire set by angry ex-slaves, his already poor health declines and he dies.

  • Alexander Cosway - Annette's first husband.

  • Aunt Cora - A distant aunt of Antoinette's, Aunt Cora is concerned about the way Antoinette is treated when it comes to her marriage, but she has no power to intervene.

  • Daniel Boyd - One of Alexander Cosway's illegitimate sons. He is the one who tells Rochester about the mental illness that runs in Antoinette's family, although he exaggerates it. He does this because he is angry that Cosway never recognized him as a legitimate son.

  • Sandi Cosway - Antoinette calls him her cousin, but Sandi is her half-brother. He is Alexander Cosway's son. Sandi and Antoinette are close.

Now let's look at the Masons:

  • Mr. Mason - Annette's second husband. An Englishman, he has a child of his own prior to his marriage to Annette. Even when Jamaica becomes dangerous, Mason refuses to leave. When their house burns down, Annette's son is killed. It is Mason who arranges Antoinette's marriage to the unnamed English gentleman.

  • Richard Mason - Antoinette's step-brother. Mr. Mason's son from his first marriage. He does nothing when Antoinette is locked up by her husband, a fact that makes Antoinette so angry she tries to kill him when he visits.

Now let's look at Mr. Rochester and his servants:

  • The English Gentleman/Antoinette's Husband - Never explicitly referred to as such, the English gentleman who marries Antoinette is supposed to be Mr. Rochester from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

  • Grace Poole - Grace Poole appears in Jane Eyre. She is the primary servant to look after Antoinette after Rochester locks her in the attic. Sometimes she drinks too much. When she does, Antoinette seizes the opportunity to escape into the rest of the house, where she causes disorder.

Now let's look at the servants in Jamaica:

  • Christophine Dubois - Antionette's personal servant from her first marriage.

  • Mannie and Myra - Mr. Mason's servants. Mannie risks his life to assist the family when their house catches on fire, while Myra leaves Pierre to die.
  • Amélie - After she accompanies Antoinette and Rochester on their honeymoon, Amélie sleeps with Rochester and then blackmails him.

And now, let's look at the friends and neighbors in Jamaica:

  • Maillotte and Tia - Maillotte is Christophine's friend. Mailoette's daughter, Tia, is Antoinette's friend-turned-enemy. Tia steals Antoinette's clothes one day and also throws a rock at Antoinette.

Summary of Wide Sargasso Sea

An example of a postcolonial novel, meaning that it's a narrative that deals with the notions of decolonization and how it affects individuals, Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea depicts the story of a woman named Antoinette Cosway. Like Jean Rhys, Antoinette is white Creole, which means her ancestors were from Europe, but she was born in the Caribbean. Unlike Rhys, however, Antoinette is a heiress. In the novel, an English gentleman marries her. Although it is never explicitly confirmed, the English gentleman in question is supposed to be Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre.

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