Difference: gender, race and identity

The centrality of difference and Otherness

Wide Sargasso Sea is organised into a series of contrasts and oppositions so the notion of difference is central to the novel. It is an idea that draws together the novel's three main themes; gender, race and identity. They are deeply interconnected and this, in itself, is one of the most important ideas in the book.

A related idea you may come across is Otherness. This term comes from ideas about the way in which we construct a sense of our personal identity (who we are) by dividing what we think is ourself from what is not ourself, i.e. the Other(s).

These ideas of difference and otherness have been applied to aspects of culture:

  • Gender: in a patriarchy where men are dominant, women are defined as ‘not men' or Other
  • Race: in cultures dominated by colonialism or other forms of oppression, those who dominate define the subject race as different, not them – as Other.

Definition of the Other

Defining a group as ‘Other' usually involves:

  • Fearing the Other because they are different
  • Setting up a hierarchy in which the Other is inferior (and not simply different)
  • Projecting onto the Other things that ‘we' are not. This may say more about the dominant group than it does about their subjects. Men, for example, may feel that emotions and intuition are not ‘masculine'. Thus they may project irrationality and intuition onto their notions of women as Other.
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