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JEAN RHYS'S "WIDE SARGASSO SEA" / ANTOINETTE'S STRUGGLE 
WITH RACIAL IDENTITY

By Lori S. Mohr-Corrigan, For The Paper Store 
February 1999   

   In Jean Rhys's compelling novel about racial tension amidst confusion and anxiety, the author addresses this subtext in such a way as to portray Antoinette as a product of an intolerant society. While more of an underlying theme, the character's racial inner struggles in Wide Sargasso Sea represent a significance to the story's overall flavor and intensity, being that Antoinette is torn the entire time between calling herself black or white. Who is she really, and why is she having such a difficult time coming to terms with her true identity?

  In Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette is perpetually faced with having to deal with her racial obscurity. Not only does she lack a distinct perception of herself as a human being, but she is also absent of any ability to escape ultimate self-destruction. Indeed, these two issues are critically important when assessing the reasons why Antoinette is unable -- throughout the entire novel -- to come to terms with which culture she really represents. It can be argued that the author characterizes Antoinette as decidedly more white than black, and then goes on to depict the black characters as inherently more free. This is what lays the foundation of Antoinette's identity crisis, because she is forever being given conflicting signals regarding both races. "They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks" (17).

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