Wide Sargasso Sea is a complex and intriguing adaptation, based on the backgrounds of certain characters portrayed in Jane Eyre. In the story, we see themes and events common to the West Indies in the 1830’s, in including racism, agriculture, and social structure. Let’s look at some examples from Wide Sargasso Sea, and see how they frame the 1830’s idea of race in particular.
The first example I want to dissect is at the very beginning of the book, when the horse dies. Godfrey, a black servant that stayed at Antoinette’s house, is known for being somewhat untrustworthy and morose. After the horse dies in part one, he mentions, “The Lord made no distinction between black and white, black and white, they are the same for Him” (pg. 10). At first glance, we may think he is talking about the death of the horse. Although there is argument for that, if we compare the Lord’s idea of life and death to black and white, but there may be a racial meaning behind it. There is cause to believe that he is using these words to support himself, because Annette initially backhandedly blamed him for the horse dying. His savage remark was a reminder to not hold his race inferior. Godfrey’s attitude was further proved to be very morbid towards the white people, as he later said: “ this world don’t last so long for mortal man” (pg. 10). Even though his character’s role was small, Godfrey emulates key points on racism in Wide Sargasso Sea.
The second example we are going to look at is when Antoniette makes “friends” with the little girl named Tia, who actually bullied her. As Antoniette walked home one day, Tia called her a “white cockroach” (pg. 13). This comment precedes a odd formation of friendship between the two girls, but a nasty round of comments follows at a playdate at the pool. When Tia takes Antoinette’s pennies, Antoniette snaps “Keep them then, you cheating nigger,” and Tia replies with a rant on how “Real white people, they got gold money” (pg. 14). I would have never expected such a heavily loaded conversation to happen between two children, but it reflects well on the current racial tension in the west indies in the late 1830’s. The emancipation of slavery for Jamaica was passed in 1834, so the tensions between the black people and the white people were still deflating. Instead of previous reality of the white people being able to overpower people of color, the black people were able to fight back, and often used it aggressively to expose prejudices.
Why is Wide Sargasso Sea so loaded with backhanded, racist comments? Well imagine it like this: your forefathers are stripped from their land and taken to work land not their own, and you for forced to as well. Once you are free, you can go about and say what you please about your captors. Would you not want to confront them? Ok, so now pretend you are in the opposite position: you have set your slaves free, you are both equals, and now they have stayed near you, only to give backhanded comments about you. Are either of you justified? That was Jamaica in 1830.