Explore how far you feel Antoinette is uncertain of her own identity
The childhood that Antoinette has endured has facilitated many opportunities for one to believe that Antoinette is uncertain of her identity. Antoinette experienced great trauma in her childhood, from her father dying to eventually being forced into an arranged marriage with Rochester. These experiences were out of Antoinette’s control and one may believe this lack of control contributes to an uncertainty about her identity. The novel acts as a prequel to ‘Jane Eyre’ whereby Antoinette, known as Bertha is insane. The insanity shown towards the end of ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ and in ‘Jane Eyre’ by Antoinette/Bertha could be argued to be insane because of the uncertain feelings that she had about her identity as a child and adolescent. The lack of clarity that Antoinette experienced as a child about who she was emerged from the neglect and lack of family to ‘close ranks with when trouble comes’.
Antoinette is uncertain of her identity because of the constant and isolation that she experienced as a child. The main reason why Antoinette is so lonely is because where she lives. Antoinette is not exposed to any children her own age and she spends her days in the gardens, as she says ‘when I was safely home I sat close to the old wall at the end of the garden’. Nature seems to form a basis of Antoinette’s identity as she seeks solace in it. Antoinette has had to undergo a great deal of neglect by her mother. Mother’s play a vital role in forming one’s identity and Antoinette is aware of her mother’s disinterest in her, shown by Antoinette saying, ‘she is ashamed of me’. Children seek to please their parents and they greatly admire them, so for Antoinette to be aware at such a young age about her mother’s distaste for her, as Rhys writes, ‘she pushed me away’ is most likely terribly disheartening, and subsequently Antoinette struggles to outline what her identity is to her. The patriarchal society contributes to Antoinette’s isolation and neglect and consequently her uncertainty about her identity. Annette also neglects Antoinette, as she frequently says, ‘let me alone, oh let me alone’. Antoinette will never inherit the estate because she is a girl, her brother Pierre should, however his disabilities and subsequent death after the fire prevent it from ever happening. Antoinette has nothing to offer to her mother, as she says, ‘I was useless to her. She wanted to sit with Pierre’. The time that Annette spends with Pierre instead of Antoinette further confuses her into a deep uncertainty about her identity as she is unwanted by her mother, not only out of love but out of necessity. Antoinette’s isolation as a result of the patriarchal society prevents her from knowing how to find her identity. Antoinette has never been her own person; she has always belonged to someone, either to Mr Mason as a step-daughter or to Rochester as a husband. Antoinette seems to embrace her identity as Mr Mason’s step-daughter when she says, ‘I will write my name in fire red, Antoinette Mason, née Cosway’. The fact that she has two last names (since her mother's re-marriage), yet another indication of her split identity, does not seem to faze her as she emblazons her signature in ‘fire red,’ This uncharacteristic confidence might have something to do with the fact that she feels the convent is a kind of ‘refuge,’ a community of racially diverse women, away from the grasp of marriage-minded white English bachelors. Antoinette’s identity is somewhat maintained through her curiosity, and to a degree, practice of obeah. Antoinette sees the ‘long narrow piece of wood, with two nails stick out at the end’ as an item of superstitious protection and the practice of obeah which Christophine nurtures Antoinette to do, prevents her complete isolation, as the two have something very important in common, more than just a mother-daughter relationship.