Rhys’ novel, ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ is an attempt by the novelist to humanize the racially pejorative life of a West Indian mad woman, Antoinette, who, led to lead a tumultuous life by her husband, and under the watchful eyes of a servant, is transformed from a tragic demise to one of heroism and triumph. Rhys brings to her works the experience she felt as a single woman living in a patriarchal culture. She was influenced by Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, where she thought she would give life to Bertha Mason, and it was with this in mind that Rhys created Antoinette.
What Rhys does in ‘Wide Sargasso Sea,’ is to negate the patriarchal dominance by challenging Antoinette’s husband, Rochester’s tyrannical behaviour. When Mr. Mason brushes aside the martial problem of Annette’s sister, saying that it was her story, and that he didn’t believe any part of it, Rhys, through her protagonist Antoinette, targets the bullish nature of men. Rhys, through her work, ‘Wide Sargasso Sea,’ and particularly through her characterization of Antoinette, targets the struggle of women against the dictates of patriarchy. She portrays her women to be stronger than men in the novel, ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’.
Euripides, born in Athens in 484 BC, was perhaps a rebel of his times. He was known to be a free thinker, and was critical of the religious practices and oppression of women and slaves. This made him write in support women and the oppressed lot; unheard of before him.
Euripedes’ ‘Medea,’ is about the protagonist’s conflict with despair and greed. Medea, who with Jason, settles in Corinth after a long series of trials and adventure, are respected and establish a family. However, things begin to change as Jason seeks to advance his position by marrying Glauce, the daughter of Creon, king of Corinth. This irks Medea, who voices her grievances publicly, endangering her and her children’s lives.
Jason’s claim that his remarriage would benefit everyone was seen by Medea as being patriarchal, and she plots to take revenge on Jason, Creon and Glauce. She flees for her life with the children, only to be helped by Aegeus, King of Athens, if Medea exchanged her knowledge of certain drugs that could cure his sterility. Here too we see the patriarchal attitude of the king. Medea finds ‘justice’ when she has Glauce and Creon drinking poison. She kills her children, but fails in her justice to punish Jason. She flees the scene in a dragon-pulled chariot provided by her grandfather, the Sun-God.
2.0 Patriarchal and its essence in the novel, ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’
The term patriarchal in the novel, ‘Wide Sargasso Sea,’ is analogical to the domination of men over women. The book is an attempt by Jean Rhys to hit back at male dominance, as seen in Charlotte Bronte’s, ‘Jane Eyre.’ Rhys attempts to stand up against oppression of slavery and entrapment, as seen in the incidents that take place in Wide Sargasso Sea.
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. There are quite a few incidents that transform this young, sensitive woman to what she was at the end of the novel; a raging mad woman. First of all, Antoinette grew up without a father or the love of her mother. She was married off to an Englishman by her step-brother, Richard Mason, who offered Rochester £30,000 and rights over the girl’s inheritance.
She couldn’t stand such treatment meted to her by a man without her approval. This was patriarchal, and Antoinette couldn’t forgive him for being so rude to her weakness. The second man in her mother’s life; Mr. Mason was more than dominating. He was in love with her mother’s estate than them and left them to survive in the care of a black couple who repeatedly humiliated and mocked at her. The sufferings of her mother at the hands of Mr. Mason are reflected in Antoinette’s early recollection of her, and she speaks of Annette’s signs of madness and melancholy. Antoinette was unfortunate not to meet her mother who died when Antoinette was at the convent school.
When Annette confronts Mason to ask him to intervene on behalf of her sister, he says, “That’s her story. I don’t believe it,’ a sign to show that he supported the other man, and that what women said was just a bunch of lies. These incidents revealed the male bastion of the men around Antoinette, and this led her to rebel the patriarchal treatment meted out to her. When she is married off to Rochester, and taken to England, Rochester says to himself, “No more false heavens. No more damned magic,” in support of his desire to leave the cursed family behind and lead a peaceful life in England.
Rochester develops a relationship with Antoinette’s maid, Amelie. She openly slaps Antoinette in front of her husband, who takes no notice of this. He even offers Amelie money to as gift. Antoinette sees this as a way to get at her and show his male chauvinism. Daniel Cosway, another of Alexander Cosway’s bastard children, writes to Rochester on Antoinette’s madness. This brings to fore a quote from the book, “He has no right to that name,” said Antoinette quickly. “His real name, if he has one, is Daniel Boyd. He hates all white people, but he hates me the most. He tells lies about us and he is sure that you will believe him and not listen to the other side.”
“Is there another side?” asked Rochester.
“There is always the other side, always,” ended Antoinette. This went to show that Rochester was more inclined to believe a strange man than a woman, who was his wife.
Overall, Antoinette was fighting men for justice and thought that all men were being bossy, and thus patriarchal. She revolts in the end to fight this dominance, first biting Rochester on the arm, drawing blood. Rochester takes her to England where she is locked up in a garret. She is left there to die, looked after by a servant named Grace Poole. When Daniel came to see her, Antoinette draws a knife on him.
She follows her dream of walking out of the garret with a candle in her hand, to burn the house down with her and Rochester in it; justice delivered in the end. Annette’s pet parrot, enacted Antoinette’s own doom, when, as Antoinette recalled, “made an attempt to fly down, by the clipped wings failed him, and he fell down on fire.” Coco was left maimed, analogical to Antoinette’s own flightless dependency. This sums up the treatment meted out to Antoinette and her fall from the attic.
3.0 Patriarchal and its essence in the play, ‘Medea’
The word, Patriarchal to Medea meant greed. One sees the attitude of men towards women in their quest for power and opportune. Medea and Jason had fought bitter trials and overcome many an adventure to be together. They were well respected by all in Corinth. However, when Jason was ready to remarry for his betterment, Medea wanted to take revenge. Creon, the king of Corinth, whose daughter Jason married, heard about this, he immediately asked her to be brought to justice.
He wanted his daughter to be happy, and was not inclined to see the despair running though Medea or her children. Glauce, who knew about Medea, also showed no pity. Medea thus was forced to run for her life. She knew that she had to get justice for her grievance and plotted to kill Jason, Glace and Creon. She was fortunate to meet Aegeus, the king of Athens, who promised to protect her, provided that she gives him her knowledge of certain drugs that could cure him of his sterility.
This was also an incidence that saw Medea see men interested only in their gain. Her murder of her brother to slow the pursuers from catching them is to show that she believed that men were more worthy than women, and that the warriors would stop to give him a respected burial. She takes revenge to redeem justice for Jason’s actions. She has Glauce poisoned, and seeing his daughter dying, Creon also consumes poison and dies. Medea then kills her children; to have the pleasure of watching Jason suffer their loss. ‘Betrayal’ is what Euripides indicates as the patriarchal element in his play, ‘Medea.’
The term ‘Patriarchal’ has a wide implication in the general sense. In the context of the two works; one by Jean Rhys on, ‘Wide Sargasso Sea,’ and the other in Euripides’, ‘Medea,’ the term has distinct meanings. This can be seen in the way the plot is developed and the role of the protagonists in overcoming them. While patriarchal to Antoinette in ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ is the bullish domination of men against women, for Medea, it was betrayal for personal interest.
There is no denying the fact that both the protagonists were affected by their male partners, and had to experience hardship. But, the domination and motive to deliver ‘justice’ at the end, showed them to be more commanding and dominant in the plot. Antoinette was stronger than Daniel, her step-brother, whom she knifed, and she was more courageous in plotting to kill her, Grace and Rochester by lighting a fire to the house where she, Grace and Rochester were residing. Such mental strength was missing in the men in the novel.
Medea was powerful, and had magic to protect her. She was strong enough to kill her brother, her children, and Glause. She was definitely the stronger of the characters portrayed in the play.
Despite the background, and the consequence for the actions initiated by the protagonists, both Antoinette and Medea were the stronger characters in the respective works. Though the men did hurt their women physically and mentally, they were not strong enough to plot a murder. Rochester treated her shabbily and had her confined to a garret in the house for ages, causing mental torture. Jason was greedy for power and was not going to let Medea come in the way. He went ahead and married Glauce, much to Medea’s distraught. The women were more successful in the end in getting their ‘justice,’ proving them to be stronger.