Posted: March 24th, 2023

Wide Sargasso Sea: The Relationship Between Displacement and Colonialism


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The novel Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is filled with tragedy and coincidences, where two personalities meet in circumstances that are not in their best interest but that of other individuals. The works of Jean Rhys reveal the experiences of females in colonial and male-controlled societies in the mid-nineteenth century. The author exposes the issues that individuals experienced in the phenomenon of colonialism, including displacement and alienation. Basing the argument on the character of Antoinette, Rhys draws attention on the manner in which the colonized individuals are totally dehumanized, silenced, and victimized in the earlier pre- and post-colonial contexts. Indeed, the novel depicts the relationship amid the oppressed (Jamaica) and the oppressor (Britain). It reveals how the heroine has become the subject of humiliation, displacement, and domination by the structures of the male-dominated and colonial oppression that is predominant and prevailing in England and Jamaica (Smilowitz 231). Therefore, the discussion will be based on the relationship between colonialism and displacement subjects in the novel Wide Sargasso Sea, through focusing on the character Antoinette as the victim and putting a lens on the discourses that shape the two subjects.

People of color face a wide range of challenges when in foreign lands. Some Western individuals usually regard them as low, outsiders, and “others,” particularly if they happen to be in the minority factions. People of color are usually displaced when they are forced to leave their country to a foreign land and are coerced into slavery (Fido 12). The postcolonial theory is a model that can be applied in the attempt to explain the impacts of colonization that was characterized by the Western countries taking control over nations with less authority like Africa and Asia. In fact, individuals have used the post-colonial theory to illustrate the frustrations, the clash of cultures, and other adverse effects of colonization on distinct societies, such as Jamaica in our current case scenario.

The subjects of colonization and displacement interrelate in the Wide Sargasso Sea novel, owing to the fact that one subject led to the other. As literature continues to develop and progress along with the advancement of history, and when the association and interconnection of the novel are analyzed in the historical milieu, it is imperative to note that Britain colonized Jamaica for two full centuries, from 1655 all through to 1855. During this time and era, the English coerced the Jamaican Aborigines and exploited their resources for their selfish interests. The psychological turmoil, diseases, and abuse that the Jamaican aborigines developed as a result of the colonization caused the population to decrease in numbers. However, more slaves were transported from the Western part of Africa in their replacement. In fact, after passing of the bill on the emancipation of slavery in the year 1834, the Jamaican and other slaves were not completely free. Not only were they forbidden from owning land, but also they became contractual servants for the white elites, whereby they were hired as slaves for a lifetime.

Since the commencement of colonization in Jamaica, there has been racial stratification in the population: the English who were the elites that had control over everything; the black Jamaicans who were coerced into slavery; and the Creoles or the Browns who were the products of the intermingling between the whites and blacks. Antoinette and her mom happened to be Creole and were torn between two races. The Britain expatriated them and despised by their Jamaican counterparts (Hogstrom 123). While the whites referred to them as white niggers, the blacks called them white cockroaches. The rejection and racial stereotypes that Antoinette and her mom went through are squarely related to the subject and experience of colonialism. In fact, their experiences were attributable to the colonialism and the social-economic as well as the political alterations that had taken place since 1655, which forms the bottom line of the relationship between colonialism and displacement in the novel Wide Sargasso Sea.

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For the sake of this essay, the concept of displacement and, hence, a displaced individual will be defined as one who leaves his or her homeland due to war and other calamities and settles in a foreign land. It also refers to moving from the familiar comfortable environments and surroundings to totally new places that are strange and unfamiliar. In these new environments, displaced individuals experience a wide range of difficulties in their attempts to assimilate or acculturate with the mainstream society. In essence, a sense of alienation and seclusion starts to develop, while the displaced individuals lack their belonging and identity, which is a factor that leads to paranoia and loneliness. In the novel Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys presents the subject of displacement in the personality and character of Antoinette. Although Antoinette was born and brought up in the Caribbean, there was no single day she felt any sense of belonging. Colonialism aspects had played a key role in her feeling of displacement. Due to her duo racial identity, the society to which she grew up treated her poorly, hence, making her become a loner. In her motherland, Antoinette felt like a stranger and threatened. Indeed, an individual experiencing a sense of not belonging and discomfort as Antoinette characterizes the notion of displacement based on the theory of post-colonialism.

After the obliteration of slavery in 1833, various socio-economic and political alterations have been taking place. Not only did the old colonizers affect their livelihood, but also the new ones who came to supplant the old ones. Thus, Antoinette and her mother were placed somewhere between a rock and a hard surface, having old colonizers who did not want to see them in their land and the new ones who came for replacement. In essence, their relationships are built within a complex and multifaceted system of both racial and social class stratification.


The two subjects that have attracted much criticism in the novel Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys are colonialism and displacement of the Creole women. The formal strategies and themes used in this novel help in understanding the manner in which the two subjects come into being and the colonialism, which is the main discourse that shapes them. The works of Rhys illuminate a complex and multifaceted social and political situation that is dependent on the structural framework of intersecting colonialism and displacement. In fact, colonialism has been the key factor that has shaped the discourses in this narrative. The aspect has caused social stratification and categorization on the basis of race and ethnicity, with whites being the social elites and the blacks coerced into slavery. As a result, Antoinette and her mom experience a sense of displacement due to the fact that they are neither blacks nor whites.


Works Cited

Fido, Elaine. “The Politics of Colours and the Politics of Writing in the Fiction of Jean Rhys.” Jean Rhys Review, 1991, vol. 4. pp. 3-12.

Hogstrom, V. “Antoinette-A Hybrid Without a Home: Hybridity in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea”. Hogskolan I Gavle. 2009.

Smilowitz, E. “Childlike Women and Paternal Men: Colonialism in Jean Rhys’s Fiction”. ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, 1984, vol. 17, no. 4         


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