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To what extent can Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and Jamaica Kincaid's Ovando be classified as Postcolonial Gothic texts?

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Introduction

To what extent can Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and Jamaica Kincaid's Ovando be classified as Postcolonial Gothic texts? Before starting this essay, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the term 'postcolonial gothic' is quite difficult to define accurately. For the most part of this essay, I will be taking for granted the fact that these texts are essentially postcolonial in form, in so far as they are texts that have 'emerged in their present form out of the experience of colonization and asserted themselves by foregrounding the tension with imperial power.'1 It is with this certainty in mind that I will be looking more specifically at the gothic elements of the pieces, which separate the texts from other typically postcolonial works. Nevertheless, certain distinguishing postcolonial features will arise throughout the essay and this will be especially explicit when I look at the contextual aspects of the pieces. Turcotte identifies the fact that 'it is certainly possible to argue that the generic qualities of the Gothic mode lend themselves to articulating the colonial experience in as much as each emerges out of a condition of deracination and uncertainty, of the familiar transposed into unfamiliar space.'2 As such, the idea of displacement presents itself clearly though the two texts. In Wide Sargasso Sea for instance, we feel a strong sense of Rochester's alienation in Jamaica: ''Is it true,' she said, 'that England is like a dream? Because one of my friends who married an Englishman wrote and told me so. She said this place like London is like a cold dark dream sometimes. I want to wake up.' 'Well,' I answered annoyed, 'that is precisely how your beautiful island seems to me, quite unreal and like a dream.' 'But how can rivers and mountains and the sea be unreal?' And how can millions of people, their houses and their streets be unreal?' ...read more.

Middle

Morrow and McGraph acknowledge that after the 1830 and '40s the gothic became 'increasingly fascinated with the psyche of the gothic personality.'7 This is particularly obvious in Ovando, with Kincaid's in-depth exploration of the mental workings of the coloniser. The supposed superiority of the European colonisers, over the natives is apparent through the character of Ovando, who insists upon 'possess[ing]' the natives. Similarly, we have insight into the workings of the colonised people. We see their bitter retrospection at their welcoming attitude towards the colonisers: '"Ovando," I said, "Ovando," and I smiled at him and threw my arms open to embrace this stinky relic of a person. Many people have said that this was my first big mistake, and I always say, How could it be a mistake to show sympathy to another human being, on first meeting?' (3) Although this is not symbolic of the 'gothic personality' in the same way that Ovando's thoughts are, the juxtaposition of this welcoming, warm attitude highlights the deviousness of Ovando's thinking, as he deliberately takes advantage of people who were prepared to share their land with him. In Wide Sargasso Sea, there is no equally explicit demonic gothic personality as there is in Ovando. However, there are dark qualities lurking in both Antoinette and Rochester. With Antoinette, of course, her personality creates an amount of unease in the reader, particularly since we aware of the fate of the character she is rooted in from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Additionally, with Rochester's unease about the fact that 'her mother was mad' (129), the reader is constantly haunted by the notion that she will turn out like her mother. Obviously, these anxieties turn out to be justified as we see her realisation of her supposed responsibility: 'I was outside holding my candle. Now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to do.' ...read more.

Conclusion

fear of pursuit and fear of the unknown.'12 Therefore we see that the gothic genre is particularly apt for expressing the distresses caused by the process of colonisation. This process of the re-animation of traumas from people's colonial pasts is repeated in a sense through Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea. She is retelling a Gothic story that already exists in Jane Eyre, giving depth and, indeed, a life to Rochester's mad wife in the attic. Spivak recognises that Rhys takes Bronte's Jane Eyre and 'rewrites a canonical English text within the European novelistic tradition in the interest of the white Creole rather than the native.'13 This would suggest that, just as the madwoman in the attic has no voice in Jane Eyre, neither does the colonised persons in colonial and postcolonial literature. Therefore, Rhys is giving them the voice they have been deprived of. Many things point to the fact that this was her deliberate intention and we can assume that her personal reward from doing such a thing is clear when we hear other accounts of prejudice in her works: 'I had discovered that if I called myself English they would snub me haughtily: 'You're not English; you're a horrid colonial.''14 Jean Rhys was a white Creole like this character and, as such, the closeness of the character to the novelist makes it difficult to detach the two. Therefore, it is clear that the gothic genre for Rhys is an effective means of conveying the personal trauma she has experienced as a result of prejudice, stemming from colonisation. In conclusion, it is clear to see that these texts can be defined as postcolonial gothic. As postcolonial texts, they also possess many of the distinguishing features of gothic texts. The aptness of the gothic genre as a means of reiterating colonial pasts is evident throughout, as the horror and disruption that it conveys so well is symbolic of the anxiety and heartache that the process of colonisation created for those people ensnared in its progression. ...read more.

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