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The Role of Annette in Wide Sargasso Sea

The Role of Annette in Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea is Jean Rhys’ novel, published in 1966. The novel explores the power of relationships between women and men. Notably, Rhys presents the reader with the character Annette, a beautiful young mother to Antoinette. She is the second wife to Mr. Mason and the first wife to Alexander Cosway. Annette’s first husband, Alexander, dies, leaving her with two kids, plus his disabled son. Faced with limited ways of supporting her kids, she gets overwhelmed and marries Mr. Mason. Annette is ostracized and discriminated against by white Jamaican women for her outsider status and beauty. Originally, Annette was from Martinique. Annette’s disembodied look throughout the novel demonstrates signs of melancholy and madness in her daughter’s earliest memories. She is often the topic of gossip and feels scared, abandoned, and persecuted. After her house burns down, Mr. Mason abandons Annette with a black couple who mock and demean her condition. Annette eventually dies when Antoinette is at the convent school. Annette plays a vital role in the Wide Sargasso Sea. She represents a strange mother-daughter relationship, psychological breakdowns in women, a symbol of white Creole discrimination, and societal seclusion.

The role of Annette in Wide Sargasso Sea depicts a strange mother-daughter relationship and how her life mirrors what befalls her daughter (Antoinette). A mother and daughter often have an exceptional bond. A mum is to be the teacher, unending source of affection, and role model for a girl child. Nonetheless, Annette and her daughter in Wide Sargasso Sea demonstrate a weird relationship. Unfortunately, Annette treats her daughter as a problem and an outsider whom she cannot eliminate. For instance, when Antoinette visits her mum at the hospital, “Antoinette insists on visiting her mother with Christophine. A colored couple is caring for her mother. When Antoinette goes to embrace her, her mother shoves her away” (Rhys, 2001, p.98). This quote confirms Antoinette’s love for her mother, and her mum’s reaction depicts a strange relationship and hatred for her daughter by shoving her away while she embraces her. Chaudhary & Pareek (2022) state that a mother shapes her daughter’s life. Thus, Antoinette’s life was categorically shaped by her mum. Antoinette’s life problems stem from the mentoring and relationship with her mother. Antoinette’s narration starts with her as a kid, and most of her interest is fixed on her mum. In the first lines, she speaks of Annette. “The Jamaican women had never approved of my mother because she is pretty like pretty self” (Rhys, 2001, p.17). This quote stresses why the Jamaican women hated and ostracized Annette.

Rhys places Antoinette as the narrator, and among the first person she speaks of is her mum; this can lead the readers to realize the essence of the mother’s role in the storyteller’s life. d’Hont (2018) says the narrative of Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea is of a daughter’s aggregated trauma, most of it carried over from her mum’s own traumatic life. The fact that Antoinette explains to the readers that her own story starts with her mum means her mum defines her. This means that Annette, Antoinette’s mum, functions in the novel as the perfect awful shadow of what will occur to her daughter. She is so unlucky in love (Riem Natale, 2020). Discriminated against for being a creole female. Manipulated by Christophine, physically attacked by her husband, is declared insane, and gets restrained for being mad. The death of Annette also occurs off-stage. Readers do not know how she dies; they only learn of her death and funeral during Antoinette’s flashback as she takes cocoa. The fact that readers fail to know how Annette’s life ends is a flash at the end of the novel, which is correspondingly reticent as to how Antoinette’s life ends.

Annette also plays a vital role in demonstrating psychological breakdown among women. It is hard to define madness because of the many interpretations. One can view madness as both a social phenomenon and a brain disorder. Zeesha (2022) states that cultural disparities in values and norms can be perceived as insanity. However, madness can also be a repercussion of societal oppression, like patriarchal oppression. Tian (2018) affirms that one never goes mad, but another can drive them to madness. This applies to Annette, who is driven into madness by others. First, the island’s people reject her; she observes her Coulibri home burnt down, and her only son dies. All these occurrences were vengeful behaviors conducted by the black community of their settlement because they hated Annette’s family as they were ex-slaveholders. All these eventually push Annette out of her senses.

Most importantly, when her son dies, Annette loses herself for some time, but she is confined (shut away). “They only tell her she is mad. They act like she is mad. Question, question, but no kind word, no her husband and friends 14 he goes off, he leaves her. They won’t let me see her. I try, but no. They won’t let Antoinette see her. In the end-mad, I don’t know to give up, she cares for nothing” (Rhys, 2001, p.101). This quote expresses the actions that result in Annette’s madness, the way people who surrounded her drove her into madness, denying her access to her daughter, and having no friend or husband after the son’s death; all these push Annette into insanity. These many traumatizing events made Annette insane because Christophine claimed she was driven to madness. It was the demise of her son that ultimately pushed her too far because she had lost both her sanity and only hope. Therefore, the author purposely uses Annette to show how psychological breakdown in women could be a social phenomenon, and other people can drive an individual to madness.

Annette’s role was to represent the Creole white’s discrimination. Annette is used in the novel as a symbol to reveal racial struggles, as her sad life results from clashes between blacks and whites (the Creole whites and European whites). The whites conceived in England often differ from the white creoles, the European descendants who stayed in the West Indies. Therefore, the worst is Annette’s beauty, as Christophine confirms, “Because she is pretty like pretty self” (Rhys, 2001, p.17). Jamaican women hate Annette and never approve of her because of her beauty. Annette was originally from Martinique, a French colony, and during this time, the English and French fought to control Dominica and other West Indies islands. This brought hatred between the Creoles and the Jamaicans.

This historical experience makes Annette a lesser being in the presence of English females on the island. Regardless, she was hopeful of identifying herself with the European community, “of course, they have their own misfortunes. Still waiting for this compensation the English promised when the Emancipation Act was passed” (Rhys, 2001). This quote explains how Annette, a Creole, was hopeful, waiting for compensation after the Emancipation Act was passed. The behavior of abandonment because of their race is what stirred the despair and anger. Consequently, Annette’s family is isolated because they are “white niggers” in the presence of white Europeans. Therefore, they become entirely secluded in Jamaican civilization.

With the idea that blacks got freedom from whites, the Liberation Act could never transform the Jamaican attitude for several years. As a matter of fact, it discharges a hatred of blacks for whites (Riem Natale, 2020). For example, Antoinette, Annette’s daughter, remembers, “I never looked at any strange Negro. They hated us. They called us white cockroaches” (Rhys, 2001, p.7). This quote demonstrates how much the Creoles were discriminated against and hated. Wilson (2002) places it differently; West Indian farms ended in a state of collapse. As a result, these white Creole enslavers were rejected by England and became overtly despised by the recently freed enslaved people. Thus, the only object that made Annette proud on the island was riding her horse each morning. Even if her riding attires were ragged, she never cared. However, the blacks stood in clusters to boo at Annette and went ahead to poison the horse. While she paced on the Coulibri’s estate verandah, the passing blacks laughed and stared at her. Another instance of discrimination was when Annette was in deep sorrow. She screamed at Mason, “Don’t touch me. I will kill you if you touch me. Coward, Hypocrite. I’II kill you” (Rhys, 2001). This quote expresses Annette’s pains after losing his son, yet Mr. Mason touched her as a result of her breaking down after this scenario. Annette was labeled as a losing wit by her husband and sent to two black caretakers without the husband realizing that the torture and discrimination made her lose her mind. When Annette dies, and Antoinette remains, she remains at the mercy of the forces her mother battled and cannot escape them but face them as well. Subhan & Turuk (2019) explain that white Creole was perceived as a twofold outcast, fated to self-realization, a sense of inevitable disparity, and disfigurement in the two cultures by whose ruling Annette often convicts herself.

Additionally, Annette was used to demonstrate societal isolation and its effects. Annette’s body replicates the agony of her separation with her hands clamped and eyes closed. A frown is seen in her black eyebrows, so intense that a blade could cut it. Consequently, she gets unfriendly, distant, and inward. She has no way out. His son Pierre is dead, which is the final thing that completely destroys her. Christophine attests that Annette was driven to madness because she was secluded by society and her husband and separated from her only child, Antoinette. Christophine narrates, “When Annette lost her son, she lost herself for some time, she was shut away, and they told her she is mad, they act like she is mad. Question after question, but no kind word, no friend. They won’t let me see her. I try, but no. they won’t let Antoinette see her. In the end, I don’t know- she gives up, she cares for nothing. That man who is in charge takes her whenever he wants….” (Rhys, 2001, p.101). This quote emphasizes the kind of seclusion Annette experienced when she lost her son and lost herself or went mad. Disappointingly, she had no friend or nobody to give her kind words; she was shut away. She was separated from her child and could not see her as she was taken to the convent school. Eventually, Annette died, seemingly due to seclusion and pain.


Remarkably, the author intentionally used Annette as a character in the novel to demonstrate a strange mother-daughter relationship and how a mother’s life reflects or mirrors what would befall her daughter. Besides, Annette played a better role in demonstrating the issues that could result in a psychological breakdown in women. Also, Annette was a representation of Creole white racial discrimination, and finally, Annette’s role was to show how isolation affected her and led to her death after she became mad.


Chaudhary, S., & Pareek, S. (2022). Subaltern perspective in Wide Sargasso Sea: An insight to the Plight of Antoinette. New Literaria3(1), 90-95.

d’Hont, C. (2018). Extreme States: The Evolution of American Transgressive Fiction 1960–2000. Routledge.

Rhys, J. (2001). Wide Sargasso Sea, London. André Deutsch.

Riem Natale, A. (2020). Partnership and the feminine in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and George Lamming’s Natives of My Person: An Ecosophy of the Soul. Partnership and the feminine in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and George Lamming’s Natives of My Person: an ecosophy of the soul, 13-38.

Subhan, A., & Turuk, D. E. (2019). Discourse on Creole identity: From ambivalence to madness post-colonial reading on Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. Indonesian Journal of English Language Studies (IJELS)5(1), 16-21.

Tian, S. (2018). George Orwell’s 1984 and Peter Weir’s The Truman Show under the perspective of Michel Foucault. Journal of Artistic Creation and Literary Research6(2), 48-64.

Wilson, A. N. (2002). The Victorians (London: Hutchinson).

Zeesha, S. (2022). Madness as Insurrection: Decolonizing the Doubly Colonized Female Self in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. NUML Journal of Critical Inquiry20(1), 61-72.


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Adapt your presentation into an essay that discusses the role of your selected character or symbol in the story Jean Rhys tells in Wide Sargasso Sea.

The Role of Annette in Wide Sargasso Sea

The Role of Annette in Wide Sargasso Sea

Please make sure you contextualize any quotations you select by describing the relevant plot points and characters. Your essay should contain at least six quotations and make a clear point about how the character or symbol is significant.

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