A child is a reflection of their parents becoming a product of their environment. Childhood is the most crucial stage in life, for this is when a child is most impressionable. What is experienced, felt, and taught is what shapes a child into who they will become upon entering adulthood. Antoinette (Bertha) Mason from Jean Rhy’s Wide Sargasso Sea, is victim to mental injury, forced to grow up on her own, feeling out of place without the love and care of her mother.
The loneliness and hurt she felt at a young age imprisoned her to a life of unhappiness. Eventually madness took over her which mushroomed furthermore in her arranged marriage to Mr. Rochester, who unravels her already precarious mental state. He drives her to the point where Bertha decides to take her life, believing in a deluded state it is her destiny. Her tragic life reveals the importance of growing up in a stable home environment, especially in her day, and location, given her social status and race, growing up stable was not a basket of roses considering her circumstances.
Early on, we learn of Antoinette’s family life, with the absence of her father all she has is her mother and younger brother who suffers from a learning disabled state which prevents her from bonding with him. Then there is Christophine who is their servant, a black obeah woman who becomes of great influence to her, as well as Tia her brief and only childhood friend who is of African descent. Her mother is very distant with her, only paying attention to her sick brother.
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Although she was not physically abused, Antoinette suffered severe emotional abuse due to un-acceptance of others as well as neglect and lack of love from her Mother, which in some cases is more harmful because it goes unnoticed until it becomes too late. According to an article exploring the nature of victim and victimizer emotional abuse is a silent attacker. “Emotional abuse (psychological abuse, verbal abuse, and mental injury) includes acts or omissions that have caused, or could cause, serious behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or mental disorders” (Banks).
At a young age we can see Antoinette is susceptible to these symptoms. For example her mother would shove her away when shed try to get close, “calmly, coldly, without a word” as Antoinette was “useless” (Rhys 11). This lack of being loved can affect her judgment of what love truly is, because she never properly received it. According to a file in the National library of Health- NHS Evidence, Children may experience a number of different emotional disorders. Behavioral issues such as avoidance of feared activities as well as clinginess or reluctance to separate from trusted adults may arise (NHS).
At a young age we can see Antoinette is susceptible to these symptoms. As she wakes up early one morning she finds her mother’s horse dead “I ran away and did not speak of it for I thought if I told no one it might not be true. ”(Rhys 10) When faced with troubled situations, she runs away and in a cognitive state, she reasons with herself denying a current situation is not real. Burying her reality is a defense mechanism she has built and constantly uses into adulthood in order cope when faced with unsettling realities, distorting her perception, memory and judgment.
Antoinette also grows very fond of Christophine, as she is the only one who seems to genuinely care for her, Antoinette grows attached to her, feeling a security when she has christophine around because she is the only one who respects and protects the Cosways. Additionally growing up in Jamaica just after the emancipation act of 1833 during a harsh time combating slavery and rights, Antoinette found it difficult to fit in and find some sense of identity. She was a beautiful young white skinned Creole girl, daughter to ex-slave and plantation owners, surrounded by mainly blacks and few rich whites.
Although she came from a wealthy background, as she grew up her mother was not financially doing well and was fairly close to losing their plantation. Evidently her and her family was despised. She was not accepted by the black community surrounding her and underwent racism having to constantly be called a “white cockroach” (Rhys 13) by the black community. The few whites in the area also frowned upon her and her family for not being of true English descent.
So although she lived in a Calibri estate surrounded by beautiful nature and ocean sun filled days, on the inside she felt out of place, fearful and lonely. Her only childhood friend Tia betrayed her leaving her further damaged by stealing her clothes and pennies, while out one day swimming unsupervised. A child needs friends and interaction with others in order to communicate and be socially inclined. Things seem to turn around for Antoinette, when her mother marries Mr. Mason, a wealthy English man, who decides to stay and renovate Coulibri.
Unfortunately racial tensions arose among recent freed black slaves, escalading to a protest that ends in catastrophe. Their home gets burned down with torches; her brother injured fatally passes away, leading her mother to fully manifest insanity due to the event. At this point Antoinette’s life drastically changes she is injured and sick for several weeks. She is faced with death once more by the passing of her brother and loses her mother as she becomes mentally unstable and dies; Mr. Mason abandons them leaving Jamaica while traveling.
Antoinette is sent to live in a catholic convent ran by nuns. As you can imagine this was very hard for Antoinette, although she was surrounded by others she was left their isolated. In the convent she grows a fascination with death, since it is something she is used to she begins to like the dark ominous part of religion and death. I believe Antoinette suppresses all the calamities she has had to deal with till that point. Life has not been kind to her and despite of it she still manages to keep it together although she becomes a docile human being.
When she finally reaches the age of seventeen Mr. Mason visits her more and finally removes her from the convent and introduces her to his English friends. Upon this happening an arranged marriage is what is in store for Antoinette. She is married to Mr. Rochester; their marriage is more like a business pact because they do not marry on the base of love. It is apparent Mr. Rochester marries Antoinette merely for her riches. She is not in love with him but do to her docile way she becomes intoxicated with the idea of Love and having a male companion.
At first Mr. Rochester is amorous with Antoinette, upon finding out about her past, which he was not aware of his attitude and view towards Antoinette changes. His indifference towards her, affects her deeply as she becomes distressed. She looks to Christophine for help, who unknowingly makes the situation with herself and husband worse. Gradually Antoinette begins to drink more, making her act out violently. Alcohol distorts the mind and suppressed feelings she has kept hidden arise.
The fact that her husband had no real love or apathy for her austerely depressed her and made her sick, she became emotionally unstable. Due to the era they were in, divorce was not easy to achieve. Upon marrying Mr. Rochester She basically became his property along with all of her wealth. She was trapped and depended on her husband. She had no control of her life and she was going the same route her mother went. Mr. Rochester constantly called Antoinette Bertha, which affected her because it was not what she went by, this Bertha finally manifested herself in Antoinette. Mr.
Rochester’s disdain and abandonment was the climax to Antoinette’s insanity, as she was isolated and locked in an attic. Throughout her life Antoinette suffered multiple losses, her mental health got worse as she transitioned into an adult. Her mood was low and depressing, she barely ate, and she became delusional by believing in her dreams as a true reality. I think anyone in her position would go insane and prefer to die than live in such a horrible reality. As a child she had not one positive role model to look up to, primarily her mother is at fault with how Antoinette’s life came to be.
She could have been a real mother and been loving and supportive towards her daughter who always needed her. Childhood is the most vital part of life; this is when a child needs to be in a positive loving environment. Otherwise a child becomes a dysfunctional part of society as an adult, causing harm to oneself or others. Due to the treatment she received as a child, she had very low self esteem and no self worth; always accepting situations when all along she could have changed her destiny, if only she was not so weak.
Ironically she turned out weak just like her mother, unknowingly becoming mentally ill, leading to the loss of her life. The beautiful rose she was turned black as death, never fully blooming.
- Banks, Ron. Focus Adolescent Services. “Bullying What Parents and Teachers Should Know. ” EECE Publications, Digest EDO-PS-97-17 www. focusas. com
- NHS, National Electronic Library for Health. “Isolation and Mental Health” http://www. library. nhs. uk/mentalhealth/ Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (Penguin Books Ltd: Middlesex, England, 1966).
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