In the light of these two critical readings, discus the presentation of the unnamed Rochester in 'Wide Sargasso Sea'.

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In the light of these two critical readings, discus the presentation of the unnamed Rochester in ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’.

Is he really a character that ‘wields’ ‘economic and legal power, uninformed by compassion’ or is he ‘not portrayed as an evil tyrant but as a proud and bigoted younger brother betrayed by his family into a loveless marriage’?

Rhys’ novel presents the opportunity for an alternative account of Rochester’s marriage to be presented.  Rhys gives Antoinette Cosway the chance to present her feelings and views and confronts the unexplored issues from ‘Jane Eyre’ liberating all that is contained, to give an alternative view and make the reasoning behind Bertha evident.  In not naming Rochester Rhys refuses him an identity as he later refuses Antoinette.  It distances him from the reader and from Rhys’ own opinion forcing us to form our own and weigh up his actions to see whether he is vindictive or victimised.

The novel neglects the linear autobiographical narrative, preferring the trisect form where parts one and three are attributed to Antoinette and part two is Rochester’s which dominates the novel.  The disjointed narrative juxtaposes the conflicting opinions to create an overall impression of Rochester’s marriage. These allows Rhys to open out the narrow views of events in ‘Jane Eyre’ and gives the reader an awareness of cultural differences and have sympathy for both characters.  By interrupting Antoinette narrative the full effect of their relationship is starkly evident.  We see Antoinette as simple and childlike and Rochester as deliberate, educated with an imperial and proud tone as he comments that one of the women is ‘blacker than most’.  However he should not be ascertained in this light without consideration to his social position and the effects the marriage and his new surroundings and customs have on his psyche.  

The presentation of Rochester is ambiguous and therefore we are unable to form a clear and definite opinion of him.  Neither a sympathetic or unsympathetic view is dictated to us.  Rhys guides us through the novel and allows us to see the arrogant and proud side of Rochester as well as his vulnerability, which we may sympathise with.  We must form our own opinion of the character, disregarding some of the things they say, as a person telling their own story can be considered unreliable.  We must also infer some things from the text.

Rochester could be distinguished as a victim due to his powerlessness and lack of comprehension about his fathers plan.  It is possible, here to agree with Erika Pugh, who suggests that Rochester had a ‘lack of understanding’ about the arrangements made on his behalf.  As the younger son he only had two paths open to him; join the clergy or marry into money in order to survive.  He realises this and acknowledges that he ‘must play the part he was expected to play’.  He knows his place and carries on as to not cause any disruption.  It is possible to see Rochester as a victim as suggested by Jayachandran, who says that he is a ‘worthless son to his father’.  He has been shunned and forced into a new way of life, which was commonplace. Rochester had no choice but to acquiesce and commit as now he is married ‘for better of for worse’.  

At the very beginning we see that he has his doubts and hesitations but now he no chose but to honour the vows that he has made Antoinette and protect his pride.    These doubts don’t exude happiness and it interesting that he keeps these doubts to himself.  From this we can deduce that he is unhappy and lonely, uncomfortable with those around him.  These feelings come in waves moving ‘stealthily forwards and backwards’ as he tries to convince himself that there is potential to be happy.  The word ‘stealthily’ makes the feeling sound sly and unwelcome.

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We sympathise with him and understand some of his ill feeling and bitterness as he informs us of al that he has agreed to.  He was on the island one month prior to marrying, during which he was ill with fever for three weeks.  When the reader realises he has been sold into this marriage we can no longer vilify him as we would expect to and sympathy is extended towards him.  The suppressed letter to his father forms the ‘correct’ explanation of part of the tragedy in ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ as ‘he has sold Rochester’s soul’.  The Faustian ...

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