Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)


Author's Biography:


Rhys, Jean: (1890-1979) the pen name of Dominica’s most famous author who was born in Roseau on 24 August 1890 and was christened Ella Gwendolen Rees Williams. She was educated at the Convent School and left for England when she was sixteen years old. She went into the theatre for a short time but began writing in earnest in 1922, publishing her first book in 1927 Her literary triumph was the novel “Wide Sargasso Sea” published in 1966, which won literary awards and which like parts of her other books, drew on her memories of Dominica. She died in Devon, England, on 14 May 1979.


Meaning of the title:


The Sargasso Sea is a large difficult to define area in the central North Atlantic, northeast of the West Indies. The title “Wide Sargasso Sea” comes from this geography. However there is more than that. The Sargasso Sea is characterized as an area of eerie calmness and tangled sargassum (floating seaweed). All around it are the swirling currents of the Atlantic.


Characters list:

Major Characters:

*Antoinette: She is the main character and narrator of Parts One and Three of the story. She is based on Charlotte Bronte’s character, Bertha, the madwoman who lives in Rochester’s attic in the novel Jane Eyre

*Antoinette’s husband: He is the unsympathetic Englishman who marries Antoinette. We know his name (Rochester) from Bronte’s novel; he is not named in this story, only referred to as “the man” or “husband”.

*Christophine: A servant given to Annette as a wedding present by her first husband, Alexander Cosway.

Minor Characters:

 *Annette: She is Antoinette’s mother.


*Tia: She is the daughter of a servant.


*Mr. Mason: He is the Englishman who marries Annette for her beauty and her estate.

*Aunt Cora: She is Antoinette’s Aunt who is the widow of a wealthy former slave owner.


Plot Summary:

The novel is set a short while after the emancipation of the slaves in British owned Jamaica. The protagonist Antoinette conveys the story of her life from childhood to her arranged marriage to Mr. Rochester. As she realizes that Mr. Rochester does not love her, Antoinette (whom he renames Bertha) descends into madness. The novel ends in England, with Bertha's fateful decision to burn down the estate and jump off the roof.



*The Oppression of Slavery and Entrapment: The specter of slavery and entrapment pervades Wide Sargasso Sea. The ex-slaves who worked on the sugar plantations of wealthy Creoles figure prominently in Part One of the novel, which is set in the West Indies in the early nineteenth century

*The Complexity of Racial Identity:  Subtleties of race and the intricacies of Jamaica’s social hierarchy play an important role in the development of the novel’s main themes.


*Birds: Coco, Annette’s pet parrot, enacts Antoinette’s own doom.

*Forests and Trees: Antoinette’s recurring forest dream introduces a cool, dark, unknown landscape that contrasts sharply with Jamaica’s colorful brightness.

*The Garden: Antoinette compares the garden at Coulibri Estate to the biblical Garden of Eden, with its luxurious excess and lost innocence.





Hiba Ahmad Akar