The idea of mental oppression/entrapment

An alternative aspect of oppression that is explored by Rhys and Gilman is the idea of mental oppression/entrapment that is caused by patriarchy. In “wide Sargasso Sea”, Antoinette is ultimately driven to madness by Rochester’s patriarchal male superiority. David Cooper writes, “One simply does not go mad but is driven mad by others” (Foucault viii), and this seems to be the consequence for Antoinette. The “madness” that somewhat derives from Antoinette is seemingly due to her restraint to act upon the Victorian norms of repressed female sexuality; thus he ascribes to her qualities of “madness”.

These cultural differences in norms and values derive from colonialism as well; her British husband who tries to alienate her from herself and from her own culture colonizes Antoinette.1. The idea of social norms is equally explored by Gilman as Jane slowly accepts her psychological abnormality to be a delusion because society tells her to. According to Gilbert and Gubar, Jane is “mad” only by society’s standards, and, more importantly, that she is, in fact, moving into “the open spaces of her own authority” (91).

This interpretation touches upon the inherent ignorance that is displayed by John, as he prefers society’s depiction of depression being merely an illusion. Indeed, male-dominated opinion was accepted over Jane’s delusions, for her, in desperation claims “John laughs at me about this wallpaper” (Gilman 803).). It is clear that John’s ignorance is seen as acceptable, because as a physician, he is ‘so wise’. Gilman equally displays John’s prevalent male-voice through Jane’s language, as she refers to her depression as a “nervous condition”, thus, creating the impression that her narrator is convinced over John’s words.

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The theme of patriarchy is also reflected through Antoinette’s dictation of Rochester’s despotism with the effect of supposed madness. Whilst locked up on Thorn field hall, Antoinette narrates, “There is no looking-glass here and I don’t know what I am like now [·] the girl I saw was myself not quite myself”.

Ultimately, Antoinette’s deprivation of identity can be perceived in this instance, as Rochester has completed his ultimate dominance over her whilst removing the mirrors any sense of identification. Antoinette’s sense of self- alienation could perhaps also indicate a psychological abnormality, indeed similar to that of Jane’s, for instance Rhys’ utilisation of interrogatives such as “who am I?” further proves Antoinette’s lack of basic principle and sense of reality. As readers, we are urged to question whether she is truly mad, or more so, read her emotions in a way that Rochester never could.

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