Dec 06, 2023
Dec 06, 2023
Before getting involved in a sexual relationship most couples will pronounce the love that they possess for each other. Many a times when sex is introduced into a relationship there can be many repercussions and consequences. In Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, a relationship between Rochester and Antoinette is established in which sex, instead of love, is a key factor in holding the marriage together. It is obvious that the marriage between Antoinette and Rochester is not an example of a desirable relationship that should exist between a husband and wife. Both Rochester and Antoinette seem to have gotten married and remained married for selfish reasons. Rhys also plays out the importance of sex in their marriage and the many other issues that are brought out through it. She depicts the bond that is created between Rochester and Antoinette through sex in the beginning of the novel, but eventually this bond is destroyed by the same element that had once held it together.
According to English common law, only the first son inherits the family fortune. Being the second son, Rochester does not obtain the right to his family's wealth and thus considers marrying Antoinette. Marrying Antoinette enables Rochester to acquire all her possessions, according to another English law, and thus as a result makes him rich. One can see the Rochester's marriage to Antoinette is somewhat similar to a business transaction: "I have not bought her, she has bought me, or so she thinks… The thirty thousand pounds have been paid to me without question or condition" (pg. 41). He has been paid thirty thousand pounds (dowry) to marry her. It appears that Rochester believes he is Antoinette's property rather than her husband. As a result of this transaction Rochester falls under the power of Antoinette and is forced to live his life so that the wishes of Antoinette are obeyed. Examples of this power include Rochester having to live in the Caribbean, where he seems to dislike it greatly.
From the aspect of Antoinette's behavior we can see how unwilling she is to marry Rochester. "She won't go through with it… She won't marry you… I've been arguing with the little fool for an hour" (pg. 46). When Rochester learns that Antoinette doesn't want to marry him, he utters to Richard, "…If she won't, she won't. She can't be dragged to the altar" (pg. 46). However in his narration, Rochester reexamines the situation: "He went out meekly and while I dressed I thought that this would indeed make a fool of me" (pg. 46).
Rochester first convinces himself that he must marry Antoinette because he doesn't want to be faced with rejection. In addition to convincing himself, he then goes ahead and convinces Antoinette of the necessity of their getting married. Antoinette tells Rochester that he doesn't know anything about her. He replies: "I'll trust you if you'll trust me. Is it a bargain"(pg. 47)? By using this statement made by Rochester to Antoinette, Rhys is playing with words. A bargain is something that is made in a business transaction. One knows that bargains, an economic term, do not exist in an emotional marriage of two people. The vitality of their relationship isn't what they give on another, but what they receive from one another. Rochester is able to gain the wealth that he yearned for and Antoinette is able to feel safe after what she had suffered through from Part One of the novel.
It seems that one quality of Antoinette that best describes her through out the novel is one of being dependent on others. From her need to have a friendship with Tia, to her marriage with Rochester. After being persuaded, Antoinette's decision to marry Rochester shows that she wants to feel safe again, after all she suffered through in Part One. Antoinette has no one; she is alone. After the burning down of her house by the slaves in Part One, her brother dies and her mother goes insane, leaving Antoinette with virtually no contact with her. She seems keen to get married so that she is no longer lonely and needs someone to protect her from the abuses that her mother suffered through as a single woman. Antoinette might have feared that like they pestered her mother, the Blacks of the Caribbean would harass her. "'You are safe,' I'd say. She'd like that-to be told 'you are safe.' Or I'd touch her face gently and touch her tears" (pg.55). This statement by Rochester reveals that Antoinette yearned for the feeling of safety; thus showing the reader her inadequate reasons for marriage.
We constantly see sex play a major factor in the relationship of the two. Rochester openly admits to the reader that he did not love Antoinette but merely had a desire for her. He admits that he has given her worse than giving her nothing: "As for the happiness I gave her, that was worse than nothing. I did not love her. I was thirsty for her, but that is not love. I felt very little tenderness for her, she was a stranger to me, a stranger who did not think or feel as I did" (pg. 55). Rochester and Antoinette differ on their feelings towards each other; Rochester lusts for her, while Antoinette seems to fall in love with him. Although Antoinette later falls in love Rochester, she seems to crave sex in the beginning of their relationship, showing again the importance of sex. In one of his letters to his father, Rochester questions the constant desire of Antoinette wanting to have sex with him: "Her pleading expression annoys me" (pg.41). The constant disagreement on topics such as where to live and views of slavery, also show the lack of understanding and common ground the two strangers have (as Rochester had stated). This disagreement will be an important factor in their breakup.
The relationship the two share again is affiliated with sex. In his letter to Rochester, Daniel Cosway, son of Antoinette's biological father from a different woman, explains to Rochester the history of Antoinette. He warns Rochester of the evil within Antoinette, which she allegedly gets genetically from her mother and first father: "Then it seems to me that it is my Christian duty to warn the gentleman that she is no girl to marry with the bad blood she have from both sides" (pg. 58). Cosway, in his letter, also insinuates a sexual relationship between Antoinette and Mr. Mason: "But old Mason take a great fancy for the girl Antoinette and give her half his money when he die" (pg.58). Why would Mr. Mason want to give half of his money to Antoinette, his stepdaughter? By saying that Mr. Mason gave half his money to Antoinette, Cosway is suggesting that Mr. Mason and Antoinette have had sexual relationships. By the manner in which Antoinette signs her name, borrowing the linguistic structure of marriage names, suggests a kind of symbolic lack of "virginity" on her part. "Underneath, I will write my name in fire red, Antoinette Mason, nee Cosway…"(pg.31)
The confrontation between Daniel Cosway and Rochester reveals that Antoinette may not be pure, not a virgin and perhaps had sexual relations prior to meeting Rochester: "You are not the first to kiss her pretty face. Pretty face, soft skin, pretty colour-not yellow like me" (pg.76). By this revelation, Rochester seems to become further alienated from Antoinette.
Again sexual relations play an important factor by arriving at yet another issue. The issue of trust is played out between them. We know that at the start of their relationship they did not trust one another. Rochester especially does not show signs of trust greatly because of the fact that he does not trust the place of Antoinette's residence itself. He is mistrustful of Jamaica and Dominica and that mistrust is transferred over to Antoinette. Rochester's reaction clearly shows that he believes Cosway's claim and still doesn't trust her. Rochester doesn't even want to hear Antoinette's explanation. "Will you listen to me for God's sake…" (pg.76), in this begging statement she tries to make Rochester understand by clarifying Cosway's claim. However, he still doesn't seem to change the way he feels. "…'I have said all I want to say. I have tried to make you understand. But nothing has changed.' She laughed" (pg.81). Antoinette's statement here shows the hopelessness she has in trying to get Rochester to understand her past.
After realizing that nothing seems to convince Rochester, Antoinette demonstrates the importance of sex in their relationship, yet again asking Christophine for help. "Yes you can, I know you can. That is what I wish and that is why I came here. You can make people love or hate. Or …or die…" (pg.76) This plea by Antoinette to Christophine then brings out the issue of voodoo. Antoinette believes that by the power of voodoo, Christophine can get Rochester to sleep with her. "…Christophine, if he, my husband, could come to me one night. Once more, I would make him love me." (pg.68) She feels she can get Rochester to love her by having sex with him one more time. One can see that Antoinette feels that sex is the only thing that can bind them together.
Finally we see sex, which at one time was the element that bound the relationship of Antoinette and Rochester together, become the cause of the termination of their relationship. The affair between Rochester and Amelie results in the ending of the so-called love Antoinette felt for Rochester. Again we see the emergence of sex in their relationship. However this time it is not the glue that binds them together, but is the root of the breakdown of their relationship.
By unveiling the relationship between Rochester and Antoinette, Rhys shows that factors other than sex are essential to maintain the bond of marriage. She shows the necessity of a marriage consisting of love and trust. In a subtle manner, Rhys provides, in her Wide Sargasso Sea, the reader with the many complicated implications and other relations that can originate from sex.
More by : Dimpy Chowdhry