Loneliness as a Theme in Wide Sargasso Sea
The setting is early 19th Century Jamaica and the Emancipation Act has just freed all slaves by law. One of the protagonists, Antoinette, is a Creole, meaning that she has mixed European and African descent. The implications of these two facts mean that the young girl is resented by the Jamaican community for being part of a white, former plantation-owning family, and she is not completely accepted by the European community either, due to the fact that she is not entirely European. Since her birth, it would seem that Antoinette was fated to live a lonely life. At a young age, her father drank himself to death and she was left to the care of her mother. She later loses her younger brother to a fire and she essentially loses her mother soon after to madness. Antoinette is perpetually alone and often has dreams of being in hell, but the truth is that her reality is hell. Her husband later marries her as an arrangement for money and the dominoes continue to fall. Mr. Rochester has a difficult time relating to Antoinette due to the difference in culture and family history. Rochester then begins to suspect that Antoinette has madness in her blood and projects that image onto her, even arbitrarily calling her Bertha. Antoinette has now lost her husband at this point and is beginning to internalize the madness that was projected onto her. The truly sad part of the adaptation is the fact that the reader gets the impression that Rochester does not want Antoinette, yet he is also not willing to free her from the marriage.
Characterized as a feminist novel, “Wide Sargasso Sea” veered off from traditional feminist works of its time. It is true that Rhys demonstrated that Bertha was multi-faceted and had a deep and troubling childhood, but the relationship between womanhood and madness is still present. Antoinette did not give me the impression that she was strong and independent, rather I received the impression that society can alienate women and men attempt to control them. Certainly a strong take on the status of society, but much can be said about the message of Rhys. Loneliness, control, and alienation can all have detrimental effects on the psyche. It is important to be cognizant of the implications that our actions can have on people and we must understand that everybody has a past that has shaped them into who they are today.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the Ackland Museum of Art and was able to see how mediums, besides novels, can be examples of adaptations and intertextuality. Some of the works that stood out to me in this context, were the depictions of Adam and Eve in The Garden of Eden. Looking at the different aspects of the paintings such as colors, settings, objects and the size of objects, we can gather what the message of the creator was. In the first depiction, there were trees, animals, a woman, a man, and a snake. They were barely clothed and it was easy to recognize the story that the creator was trying to recreate. These items were copied in the second depiction but there were certain nuances that helped to change the story in a drastic way. The main difference was that there was not a man in the second painting. This may change the meaning of the story but the important part is that the story itself is still recognizable. Why the painter did not include a man in the second painting is up to interpretation; some say that it highlights the fall of the woman by only including her in a story that is about the fall of mankind. This is an example of why I believe that artwork, namely paintings in this circumstance, are harder to interpret than novels. The volume of information, in my opinion, is just greater for written works. One explanation as to why I hold this opinion could be a simple fact that I am not trained to evaluate art. I do not have that much experience when it comes to art and therefore I am probably missing key details such as brush strokes, the type of paint used, the timing of the paint, etc.
Since this course is about adaptation, I feel as if I must address the ambiguities that come along with the term. An adaptation is a composition that reframes or modifies another work. The reason that I believe the definition of an adaptation is ambiguous is because it is extremely difficult to create something completely original. In fact, everything has an origin and takes themes from someplace else, even if the author unknowingly did it. Frankenstein in Baghdad would be considered an easy adaptation to identify, but if the title was different, there would be an argument to be made that it’s an original work. The theme of somebody putting body parts together and causing it to come to life is broad enough to not warrant an intellectual patent.
The trip to Wilson library was both entertaining and educational. I enjoyed being able to hold and read books that can be both rare and historical at the same time. Among my favorites were the Jane Eyre books and the large Frankenstein book. The reason that those two stood out to me was because of the age of the Jane Eyre books and the craftsmanship of the Frankenstein novel.
It is always interesting why some novels pass the test of time and are constantly adapted and I think the answer is multi-faceted. The first reason that comes to mind for most people is that the book must be a good read and well-written. In response to that, I believe it is a matter of opinion and therefore not a sufficient enough answer for our question. There are plenty of interesting stories, written by incredibly talented authors that do not become classics. Another reason why a novel becomes popular and transcendent is due to the timing and politics at the time in which it was written. An example of this would be Jane Eyre where the author, Charlotte Brontë, had to use the pen name of Currer Bell because female authors were simply not as accepted as male authors at the time. Since female authors did not have the same credibility as their male counterparts, Brontë was able to enter the market of male readers as well as female. An incredibly written novel that gave the perspective of a female was a demand that Brontë was able to fulfill. The same demand cannot be said the modern day as women have made much progress in this area already. While it is simply speculation, if Jane Eyre were to come out today, I do not believe that it would be nearly as popular because I do not think that it was fulfilling a need or interest in current society.
An example of an adaptation that fulfilled a need in society is Marvel’s “The Black Panther”. This was one of the largest grossing movies of all time, not just because of the effects, script writing, and acting, but also because it addressed an important social issue as well. Just as Brontë was a female writer during a time of male dominance in the field, Chadwick Boseman played the lead role of a superhero during a time where that was traditionally reserved for white males. The movie also exposed other racial and socio-economic issues as well during a period of massive partisanship and divide in the United States. The timing and political events that the movie was created under helped it to become a massively successful movie and potentially a historic one as well.
“Today we love what tomorrow we hate; today we seek what tomorrow we shun; today we desire what tomorrow we fear”
This quotation from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe essentially embodies the narrative of the protagonist, Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe’s desire for adventure led him away from a stable and prosperous lifestyle, both in England and in his Brazilian plantation. This desire to get away from his normal routine immediately fades away on the island and he craves his normal life again. He craves to see humans, civilization, and his family; the very things he attempted to get away from. Crusoe desired adventure and wanted to travel around the globe, yet he remained on one section of an island for a very long time and had periods of times where he did not want to leave his hut and cave. This is not a knock toward the character of Robinson Crusoe, but it is a reality and one that I believe Defoe wanted the reader to acknowledge.
Crusoe’s desire for adventure was not the only thing that flipped in the novel; his belief in god and religion were also susceptible to such changes as well. Prior to getting stuck on an island, Crusoe was not very religious, in fact, there were not even many references towards god at all. Despair combined with the fact that a bible was the only reading material that survived the wreck, led our protagonist to believe and worship a higher power. Throughout his time on the island, Crusoe struggled with his faith, often questioning why he survived the shipwreck and must struggle alone. It was interesting though that his curses also seemed to be his blessings; the fact that he survived that wreck could be construed as a blessing instead of a curse and Crusoe also got the adventure that he had been seeking as well. He also had a lot of luck with finding materials and supplies for surviving and the island itself offered much in terms of food and shelter. When Crusoe made it off of the island, his faith was not nearly as present and he even debated converting to a different religion just to live in Brazil.
While on the island, Crusoe craved human attention, and rightfully so. It is very difficult and even dangerous for a human to live alone for such an extended period of time, but his desire to see another human began to vanish when he considered the threat of cannibals. This fear prevented him from leaving his shelter some days and he hid from the humans that came on the island as well. As the quotation goes, what he sought yesterday, he no longer seeks today.