Wide Sargasso Sea' and 'Foe' As Intertexts And Countertexts
If in Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette represents postcolonial and feminist rewriting, in Foe the feminist resistance is conveyed by the figure of Susan while the symbol of postcolonial resistance is in the tongueless figure of Friday whose voiceless self survives the ineffectual control of the dominant discourse. As Susan narrates the story of Cruso from her perspective, the patriarchal dominance of Cruso is subjected to a feminist challenge rendering Foe as a feminist intertext that upholds the woman’s discourse. This text serves as a valid postcolonial countertext by putting forth an unmistakable voice of resistance of the native spirit by its transplantation of Friday from the position of ideological subservience that he holds in the colonialist text Robinson Crusoe to one of discursive significance in Foe. The strategic twist that happens at the supposed end of the text in which Friday remains as the lone live presence decisively conveys the counter-discursive voice of the postcolonial.
Wide Sargasso Sea and Foe are deemed as postcolonial countertexts as they concern themselves with issues particular to the discourse of postcolonialism. They problematize hegemony and its variants and suggest the emergence of the figures of postcolonial awakening. They are postcolonial in their preoccupation with the language of the colonizer as a “medium through which a hierarchical structure of power is perpetuated” (Ashcroft, Griffith and Tiffin 7). These two texts celebrate the figures and characters who transform themselves into signifiers of presence from a locale of ideological absence. Friday in Foe and Antoinette and Christophine in Wide Sargasso Sea are examples. The power of the colonizer’s language is rejected at the emergence of the postcolonial voice in Wide Sargasso Sea and Foe. Another characteristic of the postcolonial voice that these texts maintain is their preoccupation with the concepts of place and displacement. Both Antoinette and Friday act as effective vehicles for the deployment of this concept of displacement. Antoinette represents alienation caused by displacement and demonstrates its resultant crisis in self-image and complexities of identity. Friday’s identity and authenticity are at stake on his removal from his island and he retains them through his total rejection of the discursive systems of the colonizer. The conflicting discourses of the colonizer and the colonized which denote a parallel theorizing of the dominating and the dominated run through these texts making them effective vantage points for the celebration of the spirit of the postcolonial decolonization, toppling hegemonic narratives in their course of development.
The ‘mis’ representation of women in literature is the means by which women’s subordination has been justified and perpetuated. “He projects upon her what he desires and what he fears, what he loves and what he hates” (de Beauvoir 229). Hence the canonical texts of the past celebrating patriarchy and its conventions have to be reread and consequently rewritten to alter this misrepresentation. Feminist intertexts, therefore, combine challenge with revision. They not only question the canon, but respond to them by writing texts that offer alternate perceptions, depicting subjective selves of women who have been displaced out of the male dominated texts. A feminist intertext is a revisionary rewriting of a hegemonic text celebrating the self of woman trying to reclaim her voice, unearthing the submerged discourse lost in the commotion of patriarchy. It is not only the male authored texts that represent women in a devious manner. Eighteenth and nineteenth century women writers also occasionally found themselves internalizing masculine values, apprehending reality the male way and creating women characters who apparently conformed to masculine norms in their works. The feminist literary movement scanned texts—both male authored ones as well as those by conforming women writers, for the omissions and gaps in them and reworked strategies, which helped them to break through the power structures and step out of their confines. Both Wide Sargasso Sea and Foe are intertexts that deconstruct the theoretical concerns of the hegemonic discourses and offer the emergent voice of women’s emancipation. These texts celebrate the reclamation of marginalized voices— both of gender and race. They challenge the dominant power structures and bring out the alternate voices of the gendered Other and the colonial Other who inhabit the mute margins of negation and exclusion. Both these texts share an intense intertextuality with their prequels by bringing out the concealed and hidden story of women who occupy either the attics or the cellars of the edifices of patriarchy. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is an attempt to validate the existence and discourse of Antoinette Cosway, who was relegated to being Bertha Mason in the dark and mysterious attic of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Foe narrates the tale of the female castaway Susan and her efforts at making her story heard. Both Wide Sargasso Sea and Foe represent the struggle of women “to come into being and the thwarting of that process” (Fayad 438) and their stubborn insistence on self-expression no matter what the cost may be. The texts also deliberate on the basic problems of the self-representation of a female in a patriarchal society.
Antoinette Cosway is not just a gendered Other; she is a colonial other as well. Hence Wide Sargasso Sea is the celebration of a fusion of voices waiting to be heard- the woman silenced within the four walls of patriarchy demanding expression and the voice of the postcolonial subjugated under the colonial masters’ thumb rule-demanding emancipation from patriarchy and colonialism. In her own words, Rhys says: “When I read Jane Eyre as a child, I thought why she (Bronte) should think Creole women are lunatics and all that. What a shame to make Rochester’s first wife Bertha, the awful mad woman…. She seemed such a poor ghost. I thought I’d try to write her a life (Letters 156).
Bertha Mason never gets to present her point of view in Jane Eyre. She is viewed from all angles except the direct one. Considered as “the wild beast or the fiend in yonder side den…” (Jane Eyre 243), she was stifled by the discourse of patriarchy. In a world that moves by the yardsticks of patriarchy, Bertha is cast into the bestial mould till redeemed by Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea. “The total effacement of Bertha Mason as a woman and as a person prompted Rhys to give a ‘voice’ to her unsaid part, suppressed under her savage, snarling sounds and fearful shrieks in Jane Eyre” (Walia 43). Rhys’ novel writes back to the canonical conforming protagonist Jane by going beyond the location assigned to Bertha, by liberating her from the attic of Thornfield Hall and by deconstructing not only the literary structure but also the structures of patriarchy which have imprisoned her. Wide Sargasso Sea tries to answer the questions left unanswered in Jane Eyre and writes back to the signifying systems of the earlier text, interrogating the dialectical claims of the male centred world of patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism. The signifier may be the same. But the signifieds have changed. Bertha, the unseen lunatic in the attic of Thornfield Hall, is not the Antoinette of Wide Sargasso Sea. Antoinette is strong in the recognition that it is her story that is being told. She is placed in her own land in her story and it is the Rochester figure who serves as a link between the pre-determinant text and the one which follows it.
The tale of Antoinette is a feminist saga of resistance which traces her negated and neglected presence at the beginning of the text to one of self discovery and powerful presence at the end of the text. It also retraces her history, deviously rendered in the earlier text. Occupying only a subhuman level of existence in the patriarchal narrative, Antoinette/ Bertha’s identity was reduced to being “a monster” (Jane Eyre 351) and her feelings were “the antipodes of the Creole” (353). Wide Sargasso Sea is a feminist text because of the way it changes the subjectivity of Antoinette. It is an intertext because it presents the point of view of “a previously peripheral” (Kubitschek 24) character who had been denied a voice in the earlier narrative. Coetzee addresses the feminist issue in Foe through the character of Susan, who gets to narrate the story of Cruso and his island episode. Susan challenges the erasure and absence of women from the discourse of patriarchy, and is a symbolic representative of the feminist challenge, serving as a site for addressing other ideological issues connected with woman’s discourse. She is a counter-discursive figure in questioning the canonical text and the discursive universe associated with it. She serves as a space for the inculcation and stabilization of imperial ideologies by keeping a relationship of complicity with the dominant ideologies. Susan also serves the role of the liberal feminist in her efforts to civilize Friday. Used as the vehicle for addressing the ambivalent position of Coetzee in South Africa, Susan problematizes the question of authority and control in the narrative.
Patriarchy receives a jolt with the incursion of Barton into the life of Cruso and the author Foe. By invading Foe’s premises and appropriating it for self, Barton offers a proclamation of the woman toppling the patriarchal premises. In turn it becomes a tug of war for dominance in narrative. As Foe is the deconstructed Defoe of the colonial England, invasion of his creative arena is a resistance to the theories of colonial and patriarchal ideological structure which ‘writes and reads’ woman as it pleases. The woman not only claims to rewrite the canon but also wants to be the author of the story. The author’s position is one of authority. Susan desires to be “shaping and reshaping” (Foe 131) destinies just like man, God, authors and imperialists do. She wants to be the wielder of words which control discourse, and as the pen is power she wants to be the one to manipulate rather than be manipulated.
Susan defies the ideological expectation of patriarchy and is a representation of an enlightened woman. She does what men generally do, and what a woman is not expected to do. Cruso’s story of the island at her disposal becomes her story, with all power invested in her to make any amends that she would like therein. Story telling invests the teller with power and authority, and this politics of narration is what Susan aspires for. She wants to be the subject of the discourse and not its Other. After Cruso’s death, she is decided on making her island experience into a narrative that people will pay attention to. It shows her aspiration to be part of the world that forms discourses, the ideologies that create and perpetrate subjectivities, and not be its objects, its mutilated parts.
The postcolonial countertextual aspect of the novel brings about the complicity between the male author and the female resistant figure united culturally while treating the postcolonial as the Other. The cultural unification is caused by the racial similarity of both the author Foe and Susan as white Europeans who share a similar sense of domination and control.
Foe is the tale of a woman’s regeneration, her battle, quest and its culmination. This woman is capable of rewriting the entire history and the story of patriarchy, of kingship and the power of Robinson Crusoe. Susan is as much dominating as Cruso. Foe speaks the language of patriarchy when he tells Susan that “there comes a time when we must give reckoning of ourselves to the world and then forever be content to hold our peace” (124), by which he seems to imply that she as a woman should be satisfied to have been at least given a chance to relate the story.
Both Wide Sargasso Sea and Foe are intertexts that address the woman’s discourse in its diversity. Primarily, they serve as feminist intertexts of the canonical narratives which they interrogate. The voice of the feminist is brought out in rendering the point of view of the women narrators in both the texts. These women narrators occupy not only the feminist stand but other significant textual positions as well. Antoinette Cosway in Wide Sargasso Sea and Susan Barton in Foe are figures of challenge and subversion.
Both Wide Sargasso Sea and Foe represent the emancipated and empowered experience of womanhood and the feminist voice of self-assertion through the chief women characters who signify the indomitable will to survive in a man’s world with their narratives intact.
Cite this Essay
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below