Each Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea it is Antoinette

Each of these novels centre around a female character who
has been placed in challenging circumstances which are heavily affected by her surroundings.
For Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go
it is Kathy and her sheltered existence at what is apparently a private
boarding school called “Hailsham”, while for Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea it is Antoinette and her isolation in the
newly-liberated Jamaica. Both of these women face problems which are either
caused by or reflected through their location- something which can be seen as
particularly microcosmic for the world outside of their localised experience. In
Never Let Me Go, Kathy (the protagonist) tends to restrain her emotions,
frequently assuming the role of the quiet observer, but the reader also sees
her more extroverted side through her thought processes. This is shown in
chapter two when Kathy meets Tommy on the stairs: “I felt like saying: Tommy,
why don’t you grow up? But I stopped myself and said instead: Tommy you’re
holding everyone up.” This could potentially be alluding to suffragette
behaviour through the stereotype of women appearing quiet and devoid of
substance, but actually being determined and emotionally intelligent- just as
Kathy is underneath her silent exterior.

The school
is called “Hailsham.” Which is, coincidentally or otherwise, the name of a
very prominent mid-century law lord in England, suggesting that Ishiguro meant
to invoke the weight of judicial authority.

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These two novels represent gender roles in very different
ways through their circumstances and time periods. In Never Let Me Go,
the students from Hailsham appear to internalise gender roles in an attempt to
feel connected to the outside world from which they have been so far removed.
However, this only occurs once they are staying in the cottages and realise
that their upbringing has not been ‘normal’. In the school itself however,
there are largely only female teachers, meaning that all the clones have grown
up seeing women in positions of power. This allows them to have a childhood
largely devoid of society’s different roles for boys and girls, because the
women in their lives give the girls no reason to doubt themselves with any
sexist ideologies. Alternatively, it also shows a childcare facility cared for almost
entirely by women, thus adhering to the natural gender expectation that women
are maternal carers, highlighted by the way the clones refer to their teachers
as “guardians”.
However, the teachers all treat everyone the same, regardless- for the most
part- of gender. As an example of this, we are shown that Kathy has a high sex
drive. While she is at school she is taught that all her desires are natural, mentioning
that they’re even encouraged
to engage in healthy sex (which isn’t a problem because the clones
cannot reproduce: “none of us can have babies”). This contrasts to the outside
world due to how women are usually put under more pressure in society to stay
‘pure’ while men have more sexual freedom- but this is not the case at Hailsham.
It is only when they move to the cottages and the clones are influenced by the
outside world through television and porn magazines that Ruth begins to make
Kathy feel ashamed for having sex, simply because she wants to fit in: “I
suppose you haven’t been that slow making friends with at least some
of the veterans”. This shows the entrapment of the female characters because it
presents the way Ruth and Kathy are becoming familiar with the uncomfortable
realties of the world outside of their sheltered youth as a bad thing, causing
much more harm than good, such as the many arguments between the two girls. As
well as this, the ease with which Ruth adopts these new behaviours shows how
conditioned the clones are to conform to social pressures; they aren’t
encouraged to have different sexual standards for men and women up until now,
but they do it almost automatically because they are so used to conforming that
it’s the only way they know how to act around each other.

In Wide Sargasso Sea
Antoinette’s entrapment is referenced ironically even before the novel has
begun; the title itself includes the adjective “wide”- a word which carries
connotations of separation, distance, and loneliness. This foreshadows the
continuation of the theme throughout the novel because of how it appears in the
title of the book. As well as “sea”, perhaps implying isolation and an
estrangement from people. The
Sargasso Sea is an area located in the Atlantic Ocean which is well-known for
being saturated with a thick type of seaweed called Sargassum1 which
has accumulated a reputation for being a particularly dangerous spot for ships
to pass through, as well as the lack of strong winds leading to many stranded
ships in the days before motorised engines. This therefore adds to the
sense of hopelessness and despair created by the brutal combination of “wide”
and “sea”. Alternatively, this can be interpreted as independence; the novel is
set primarily in Jamaica just after the emancipation act of 1833 has been
passed, freeing all the slaves from plantation work.2

In Ishiguro’s Never
Let Me Go however, the
reader is given a false sense of security from the title; the wording implies a
sense of intimate care or the idea of having as strong relationship with
someone, asking them to ‘never let go’. This sets the story up to be one of
perhaps a tragic kind of love. However, it becomes apparent in the first
chapter that there is a sinister sense of being trapped woven into the
children’s lives: “the pavilion had become the place to hide out…when you
wanted to get away from Hailsham”. The children, at what seems to be a boarding
school, are so trapped that they aren’t allowed to leave the site- their only
‘escape’ is the `pavilion- still on the school grounds. This induces an
uncomfortable feeling within the reader very early in the novel, leaving the
possibility open that there is really nothing wrong with the school other than
some friendship troubles between the children themselves. Rachel Cusk says that
“Never Let Me Go, like the characters it portrays, has in the and something of
a double nature, for it both attracts and annihilates”.3 This holds
relevance here because the children are shown to feel safe in the school (“it
was a way to unwind for a while with your closest friends”) thus showing its
ability to attract, but it is also shown to ‘annihilate’ in the way that they
children are so clearly desperate for some relief from the intensity of their
school environment.

However, the entrapment of the clones is more psychological
than physical; they are eventually allowed to venture into the town around
their home and to mingle with ‘normal’ people, so theoretically it would be
possible for them to run away. However, the thought to do such a thing simply
never occurs to them. They have been brought up not to question their
situation, living in acceptance of the life that has been set out for them.
They are deliberately kept separate from the rest of society, attending only
special school such as hailsham, being sent to communal living spaces like the
cottages, and only being allowed to do jobs that do not require them to
participate in society. This isolation keeps them helplessly dependent on the
system, discouraging them from questioning the donation process entirely- they
have never known any other way of life, so therefore cannot demand better.
Whenever the system’s morality is questioned it is considered as a fantasy- not
as an uprising for their own freedom. This suggests that they are unaware of
their own autonomy.

Similarly, Antoinette
couldn’t have a conscious rebellion in Wide Sargasso Sea because she had
no identity of her own, thus potentially being the true cause of her eventual
insanity. She inherited the status of her mother and then became dependent upon
a man who didn’t love her, losing herself in the process. If Antoinette had
embraced her ‘otherness’- specifically her non-whiteness that she identified
with more- she would have had a stronger foundation of support and identity to
build on, but instead she ‘bought’ into the idea of white superiority and if
cost her everything in the end. Antoinette’s inability to develop an identity,
to choose a side, is why she’s lost. Even when she is talking to Christophine
and asking for her help with Obeah she thinks that Christophine is inferior, which
could potentially reflect the way she sees herself on some level.



Unreliable narration (due to the entrapment- perhaps the
setting includes the reader? Is her unreliable speech an extension of her
suspicious nature, now including the reader?)

Antoinette has been raised
a certain way- her mind is wired to reach questionable conclusions even if she
feels like she’s doing the right thing

Her mother’s instability

Her disabled brother’s
tragic death

Her increased sense of
paranoia and the bitter disappointment of her failing marriage unbalance hr
already precarious mental and emotional state

Part 3- she is renamed by
her husband as “bertha” and largely confined to the attic of Thornfield hall –
the great house.

Grace- the servant who has
to keep her guarded – as well as guarding her disintegrating life with mr.

Rochester makes empty
promises to see her more, but eventually starts relationships with other women-
eventually the young governess jane eyre.

Part three the book is
largely a stream of consciousness from Antoinette’s point of view


Kathy and the song- “What I’d imagine was a woman who’d
been so she couldn’t have babies, who’d really, really wanted them her whole
life. Then there’s a sort of miracle and she has a baby, and she holds this
baby very close to her and walks around singing: “Baby, never let me
go…” partly because she’s so happy, but also because she’s so afraid
something will happen”




 1 Ocean
Service, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administation website, https://oceeanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sargassosea.html,

2The National Archives, The Emancipation Act

3 Rachel Cusk, The Guardian, January 2011


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