In the passage, Rhys chooses to narrate the story in another point of view, allowing the reader to see the main cultural differences between the two main protagonists. Rochester is portrayed as the Englishmen who try to oppress Antoinette by bringing his English culture since he is oppressed by his lack of understanding and knowledge about the place he is in. Antoinette is portrayed as someone who is in full control but slowly looses her sense of identity due to Rochester’s Anglicisation by calling her ‘Bertha’. At this stage of Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester’s agony of being in a foreign place is presented and that he can not seem to find any comfort, elevating the mood for complexity of the two characters’ relationship.
Rhys uses the cultural difference to explore about power and how this affects each character’s dominance over the other. Rochester’s unfamiliarity with the culture leads to Antoinette’s dominance over him. When she uses imperative ‘Taste’, there is a sense of power and determinism. This creates an effect of Rochester’s weakness which is shown when he says, ‘to please her I drank’. It shows his inferiority to the lack of knowledge about the place and the culture. Not only does Antoinette dominate Rochester, but even the place itself is dominating him. When he says ‘And yet…’, his thought is lost when the nature interrupts him, ‘A bird whistled’. This displays his incompetence of being in control of himself and that the nature is more powerful than Rochester is. This signifies that Rochester is a subsidiary of all things.
When Rochester says ‘I have not bought her, she has bought me’, there is a sense of ownership between the characters’ relationship. Due to Rochester’s ignorance towards the culture, he feels Antoinette has bought him as if he was an object. The repetition of ‘bought’ implies of their marriage being a bargain, indicating Rochester’s fixed mind to English culture. This idea is further explored when Rochester says ‘I have sold my soul or you have sold it, and after all is it such a bad bargain?’ the idea of ownership is explored through the metaphorical use of money and soul. When he says ‘sold my soul’, he is exploring the money he has inherited from Antoinette, but also a sense of selling his soul to a devil. To an extent, it is suggesting his discomfort with the surroundings, but also his lack of knowledge towards the culture that the only way he could describe is through a sense of bargain, a typical English marriage.
Each character’s ability to control their own mood is affected by the cultural differences. When Rochester describes the place to be a ‘wild place. Not only wild but menacing’, shows his instability of his mood. He personifies the weather and describes it as if it was in control. This creates an effect of suffocation on him. Rochester uses hyperbole when he says, ‘wild’ then says ‘menacing’, which the reader will question his reliability as a narrator, as it seems he is finding difficulty to describe the place. This is a typical modernist writing technique, and Rhys deliberately does this to create an effect of an ambiguity and make the readers themselves to feel unstable whilst reading the story. However in comparison, Antoinette was ‘too far ahead and did no hear me’ showing her deep engagement with the culture. She is in control and feels protected showing the major difference between the two protagonists.
Another example is shown through the ways he describes the island. Rhys deliberately chooses to use the anaphora of ‘too’ in Rochester’s description. This creates an effect of him being quite unfamiliar to what he is seeing and that he is displeased. It also sounds quite rhythmical to imply Rochester’s effort to regain control but can not. It could also be interpreted as Rochester’s discomfort with the difference he is finding in the island. Rhys deliberately uses the intensifier to defect the reliability of the narrator, a typical modernist writing. This idea is further explored when he says ‘those hills would close in on you’, signifying that he is no more in control but is suffering. He feels that nothing is abiding his own will therefore allows things through by surrendering easily, rather than fighting back.
Rhys uses symbolism to determine one’s feelings. She uses ‘wreaths’ as part of her symbolism about the marriage to end up in fail. This shows a clear cultural difference. In the Caribbean, wreaths are used as a ceremonial marriage whereas in England, wreaths are used in funerals, as a sad occasion. This shows that Antoinette’s happiness can reflect on Rochester as a sad occasion. Also, when Rochester says ‘fell on the floor and as I went towards the window I stepped on it’, this reflects on about what is due to happen to the marriage. It is quite ironic as his ignorance towards the cultural differences barricades their relationship reaching towards their failure of the relationship.
Rochester’s relationships with other characters are also determined by the cultural differences. When Rochester describes Antoinette, he says ‘the woman is a stranger’ or ‘the girl is thought to be beautiful’ suggesting that he doesn’t really know who she is. One could interpret that the word ‘stranger’ is used to describe how he doesn’t really know her as their marriage was an arranged marriage by their parents. However, it could also mean that he doesn’t know her and he isn’t interested in getting to know her as she and him are from different backgrounds, therefore they won’t be able to understand each other. Rhys deliberately uses words such as ‘woman’ and ‘girl’ to reflect on his lack of knowledge about her and that their cultural difference in barricading further improvements to their relationship. When Rochester says ‘thought to be beautiful’, he uses a third person narrative, insinuating his lack of knowledge about Antoinette and all he can say about her is to repeat after what others have said.
Rochester’s acquaintance with Christophine further explores his trouble. When he says, ‘we stared at each other for quite a minute. I looked away first and she smiled to herself’, there is a sense of evil within Christophine’s character. There is a dispute between the two characters due to Rochester’s lack of understanding a person of different culture. He feels threatened as he is the only white man on the island, and there is no-one else to protect him, which shows the racial differences in England. The fact that she ‘smiled to herself’, signifies that Christophine is in control of the situation and Rochester has to follow other people’s will. He is being dominated by Christophine, who is a native to the island therefore is competent with the culture, where as he is new and doesn’t understand much.
In conclusion, Rhys portrays the cultural differences by using several different themes. She uses power to address how Rochester’s lack of knowledge and familiarity with the culture leads to other character’s dominance over him. Rhys also uses themes about relationship and people’s conveyance of mood to address how one’s relationship and mood can be affected by the cultural differences.