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The Male Suppression of Female Power: Antoinettes Downfall in Wide Sargasso Sea

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Introduction

Lauren Gallegos Professor Boscagli English 114WR April 20, 2011 The Male Suppression of Female Power: Antoinette's Downfall in Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea is much more then an appropriation of the classic novel Jane Eyre. It evokes poignancy because it serves as a metaphor for female oppression in patriarchal society. Set in the Victorian era, and written during the first wave feminist movement, Wide Sargasso Sea explores the destructive control that civilization pressures men to posses over women. Forced to marry someone subordinate to himself and rely on her economically, Mr. Rochester suppresses Antoinette in order to regain his sense of power and identity. The control driven relationship between Antoinette and Mr. Rochester juxtaposes the two characters' antithetical philosophies, forming Rhys' main leitmotif-the potency of despotic power and its interconnection to sex and culture. Through Rochester's anguish over Antoinette' s economic and sexual dominance, Rhys examines the male tendency to reduce powerful women to objects, stripping them of all emotion, in order to regain their "mandatory" feeling of superiority. Almost immediately upon his arrival at Granbois, Rochester begins to question his hasty and financially motivated marriage to Antoinette. Threatened by the lack of power he holds in his new home, Rochester begins to resent his overwhelming reliance on Antoinette. ...read more.

Middle

" Die then! Die!' I watched her die many times. In my way, not in hers...more lost and drowned than before" (Rhys 92). By Rochester stressing that Antoinette's "death" is "in [his] way" his dominance over her is completely apparent. Even something as personal as death is under his control, making Antoinette a puppet in Rochester's full control. Antoinette's obsession with being loved also creates an increase in her sexual desire. In the novel, Rochester is clearly afraid of Antoinette's sexuality, which at first attracts him but ultimately, after time begins to repel him. Since men are suppose to desire a sexual relationship more than women, Antoinette's stronger sexual appetite, is yet another threatening aspect to Rochester's need for male dominance. Wanting her to be like "any other pretty English girl" (Rhys 50), Rochester tries to suppress her sexual nature in order to make her more conservative and victorian. While Antoinette sees her sexual connection to Rochester as a substitution for the love she desires . Rochester on the other hand views sex as a way to rob Antoinette of her love and emotions. Rochester uses sex with a maid, Am�lie to once again assert his dominance and weaken the sanity of Antoinette. ...read more.

Conclusion

Cooped up in room, separated from her childhood land, Antoinette eventually loses the will to live. In a final act to regain power over her oppressive husband, "knowing what [she] has to do" Antoinette sets fire to Rochester's estate, killing herself in the process. While Antoinette sees her death as an escape and revitalization of her stolen dominance. Her death signifies the overwhelming control Rochester possessed over her. Just like her mother Antoinette's only escape from patriarchal suppression is death. Since society trains men to associate women with death in order to control them, Antoinette's death can be seen as Rochester's complete control over her. Although in the end, Rochester appears to be the more powerful being in his marriage, he is ultimately incomplete. Abandoned by his family, full of shame, Rochester's constant need for control only highlights his extreme inferiority complex. The reason Rochester feels a need to be dominate over Antoinette is because he realizes what a strong, powerful, unique woman she is. Taught that woman should never embody any of those qualities, Rochester submits to his patriarchal culture by breaking down the only person who can understand his pain and abandonment. By purposely breaking down a powerful woman because of his own impotence, Rochester should be seen as the weakest and most cowardly character in Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea. ...read more.

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