Character presentation in Wide Sargasso Sea

The two main methods of character presentation are:

  • Direct definition
  • Indirect presentation

Direct definition

Direct definition is the term used when an authoritative narrator describes a character in a way which is clear, explicit and closed. An example would be these opening lines from Jane Austen's Emma:

‘Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence'.

Like many other modern writers, Jean Rhys preferred a more suggestive and open representation of character. Her readers have to do more work themselves in making up their minds about the characters.

Wide Sargasso Sea, however, has more than one narrator and they offer different impressions of the characters and central relationship. So readers do not have a sense of stable authority and firm judgement. This is discussed in more detail in Narrative in Wide Sargasso Sea.

First person narration

Antoinette and Rochester, the two main narrators in Wide Sargasso Sea tell their version of events in the first person.

This means that:

  • Characters external to the narrator are largely seen from one point of view
  • We have to rely on their descriptions for our impressions of other characters.

However, as there are more than one, these narrations may offer different, conflicting impressions of the same character. For more on this see Narrative in Wide Sargasso Sea .

Investigating direct presentation

  • In the early sections of part one Antoinette describes Christophine
    • What details does she select?
    • What is the tone of her description?
  • How do these help us to understand
    • The importance of Christophine to the child?
    • Her role and significance in the novel generally?
  • Early in part two Rochester describes his first impressions of Christophine
    • What details does he select?
    • What is the tone of his description?
  • How and why does this differ from Antoinette's presentation of this character?

Indirect presentation

Indirect methods for presenting character include:

  • Action - what the character does or plans to do or what they don't do. For example, Rochester's failure to provide Antoinette with income of her own shows a mercenary aspect of his personality that is evident elsewhere in his behaviour
  • Dialogue - a dramatic method for representing character in fiction because we hear the voice of the character directly, unmediated by the narrator. The voice, its vocabulary, tone and rhythms as well as what is actually said, will convey a great deal about the character.

Investigating indirect presentation

  • Locate the confrontation scene between Rochester and Christophine (part two, section 16)
    • Make notes on
      • The way in which Christophine speaks
      • What she is speaking about
    • How does this develop her personality?
  • Contrast her style of speech with Rochester's responses
    • What does he say?
    • What does he think?
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