Dialogue in Isolation

Sasha Khmelnik '06, English 156, Brown University, 2004

By choosing to narrate the story of Wide Sargasso Sea through the voices of alternating characters, Rhys places particular emphasis on each individual's sense of isolation, largely obscuring any objective notion of their relationships to each other. The fates of each of these characters are, however, guided primarily by those relationships, Antoinette's arranged marriage being the central relationship of the novel. Although the relationship is undoubtedly a disastrous one, Rhys's dialogue makes us aware of a certain redemptive potential of the unhappy union:

"I never wished to live before I knew you. I always thought it would be better if I died. Such a long time to wait before it's over."

"And did you ever tell anyone this?"

"There was no one to tell, no one to listen. Oh you can't imagine Coulibri."

"But after Coulibri."

"After Coulibri it was too late. I did not change." [p. 91]


To what extent do we trust that Antoinette is telling the truth? What about her manner of speaking makes her seem more or less trustworthy? Do we trust her as a narrator in the parts of the novel that are told through her voice?

Although Antoinette seems to be saying that her marriage has given her something to live for, there pervades a sense of desperation and even of an inevitable unhappiness, as also conveyed in her recurring dreams. Why? Is there something about one's past that dooms one for a lifetime, as Antoinette suggests?

How does Antoinette's desire for death echo Helen Burns's martyrdom? In what ways are they different? Where would Jane fit in that dynamic?

Although the above conversation can be read as a moment of intimacy, it is not recognized as such in the narrative. Instead every such exchange is portrayed by Antoinette's husband as an example of something else strange and surreal about his situation. What prevents the couple from salvaging all they can of their situation? How much of their hopelessness is a question of prejudice and how much a question of true discord?


Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). New York: W. W. Norton, 1982.

Main Web Page Caribbean Jean Rhys Discussion questions

Last modified 9 January 2004