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  • Critical Methodology 110-111
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Feminism:

Using Feminism as a lens with which to look at this passage through, particularly focused on its smaller facets rather than its general whole, we see Antoinette's captivity not only as a result of her mental illness but also as a result of her gender. Written from a woman's perspective, this passage exemplifies Gynocentrics, in which new models of literature and structure are based on the "study of female experience, rather than to adapt to male models and theories" (Seigel, n.p.). Jean Rhys' exploration of the influence of gender in an oppressive society allows us as readers to see the abuse Antoinette endures through her eyes as a woman and a victim, as well as the juxtaposition of her's and Rochester's narrative as a form of male counter argument, showing the differences between the two. In this scene, Antoinette fixates on her red dress, which is seemingly the last thing she is able to firmly call her own. She asserts that "If I had been wearing my red dress Richard would have known me" when it was clearly her that had not known him during their confrontation that she seems to also have no memory of (Rhys,110). She takes responsibility for the lack of recognition, rather than blame her step-brother for his lack of understanding of her situation. Although the text gives a brief mention of her caretaker's, Grace's, account of her crazed attack and her step-brothers reaction of fear and distaste, we predominately see the issue through Antoinette's narrative perspective, and experience her fixation with the small amount of freedom her captivity allows. Through this we see how the approach taken by the male characters has shaped her mental state, and how her status as a woman has made her all the more susceptible to her loss of control over herself and her assets to her male counterparts; namely Richard and her Husband. Androcentrism, another small facet of the whole of feminism, is the practice, conscious or otherwise, of placing male human beings or the masculine point of view at the center of one's view of the world and its culture and history. Grace's reaction as a woman, siding against Antoinette and aiding her male oppressors, adheres to this as well as the concept of an oppressive patriarchy, which assumes that "...male norms operate through out all social institutions and become the standard to which all persons adhere" (Seigel, n.p.). Rather than being guided by her own opinions as a functioning, free woman, she acts according to patriarchal customs, and yields to male perspective; "It's just as well that you don't remember last night,' she said. 'The gentleman fainted and a fine outcry there was up here. Blood all over the place and I was blamed for letting you attack him. And the master is expected in a few days. I'll never try to help you again. You are too far gone to be helped"(Rhys,111). Grace, instead of sympathizing for Antoinette, instead chooses to dismiss her as "too far gone," all the whilst acknowledging she herself was blamed for "letting" the attack happen. She also refers to Rochester as "the Master," indicating that she has become complacent in her role beneath the men. 

 

Psychological Criticism:

From a Freudian Psychological standpoint, Antoinette becomes less and less of a reliable narrator, shown in her inability to remember the assault she committed against Richard, as well as understand why it happened. Freud's model of the psyche includes the Id, the "completely unconscious part of the psyche that serves as a storehouse of our desires, wishes, and fears," as well as the Ego, the "mostly to partially conscious part of the psyche that processes experiences and operates as a referee or mediator between the Id and superego," and the Superego, "often thought of as one's "conscience"; the superego operates "like an internal censor [encouraging] moral judgments in light of social pressures" (Seigel, n.p.). Her panic when she believes her dress was changed, "But I held the dress in my hand wondering if they had done the last and worst thing, If they had changed it when I wasn't looking. If they had changed it and it wasn't my dress at all- but how could they get the scent?", showcases her inability to grasp an understanding of an sudden onset of panic and intuition, suggesting a malfunction of the ego, her center for processing. (Rhys, 111). One could argue that she isn't fretting over her dress at all, but instead wondering if she, as a person, was different, and if any of her captors had anything to do with it. Her assertion that "if I had been wearing my red dress Richard would have known me," and her ommitance of her own actions as an assailant further suggests that she no longer is able to distinguish between right and wrong, and is therefore attempting to create explanation where there is none; believing that a small matter like her clothing choices had an unreasonable amount of influence on the situation (Rhys, 110). Antoinette's desperation for her male masters to "recognize" her and her situation, however, shows her Superego may still be functioning as she conforms her "moral judgements in light of social pressure," rather than following only her most basic psyche, her Id. Her attack on Richard most likely stemmed from her Id; aimless passion, violence, and fear (Seigel, n.p.) Her break from reality and the passage of time within the last parts of the story lead to a question of how sane Antoinette truly is; if her account of events is reliable enough for readers to trust that her narration is a credible recollection of the events in her life, or if her insanity has warped her judgement enough that only Rochester's and Grace's accounts can be relied upon for more subjective narrative. The line "Infamous daughter of an infamous mother" also suggests a hereditary answer to her slow but sure insanity (Rhys 110). Her mother was also declared insane before she died, and so Antoinette going insane could be genetic, or could be a result of the expectations placed on her to end up exactly like her mother (which she did do), trapped and untrusted. True to Freud, if Antoinette has lost touch with the Ego facet of her psyche, only able to act as she thinks she should but with no understanding of why she must do so, the reliability of her narrative of the events is at risk, and therefore cannot be naively trusted by readers.

 

 

"Psychoanalytical Criticism." Introduction to Modern Literary Theory. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

"Feminism" Introduction to Modern Literary Theory. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

Rhys, Jean, and Charlotte Brontë. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: Norton, 1992. Print.

 

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