Colonialism and the Archive

Part III of Wide Sargasso Sea (I almost typed Jane Eyre while writing this) intersects the themes of archive, colonialism, and silenced voices/memories that speaks to the broader implications of the role of colonization in the archiving of history. Rochester's removal of Antoniette and his sequestering of her into the attic, seperate from the spaces and people she once knew, is both a physical and metaphorical act of Rochester "archiving" Antoniette, placing her in a restricted area where she exists to him as a memory rather than his wife. She even has an archon watching over her in the form of Grace Poole, charged with ensuring that Antoniette remains safely locked away in the attic of Thornfield. 

I read this final scene of Antoniette in the attic as a rumination on how history and the archive is impacted by colonialism. Rochester turns the very living Antoniette into an archival object by removing her from the contexts of her life (the people and places of Dominica) and thus silencing her prescence in his own history. This leaves Antoniette in a state of timeless, fragmented understanding as she is severed and placed away in the "archive" of the attic where her own history is almost completely separated from herself: "What am I doing in this place and who am I?" (107). What ultimately helps her to make sense of her displaced history is her ability to reinteract with her past in the form of the red dress: "Time has no meaning. But something you can touch and hold like my red dress, that has a meaning" (109). The attic as an archive thus represents both the dangers and positive posibilities of the archive--it can not only be used to silence histories, but it can also reconnect subjects with a history that may have been lost to them. 

I think about this scene in the context of colonialism and that "victors write the history." Our archives are shaped by colonial practices of deciding what histories and materials are kept, whether consented or unconsented by the individuals whose history is being placed in the archive. Rochester's "archive" of the attic certainly stands in as a colonial appratus, completely organized around the subjugation of people in response to the possibilities of monetary gain (Grace is also complicit in these colonial practices as she contributes to and gains from the economic systems of Rochester's colonialism: "At night I sometimes see her sitting at the table counting money. She holds a gold piece in her hand and smiles" (106)). Antoninette's continued physical existence while being silenced by these archival practices is a reminder that the archive continues to do this today; one of the most popular examples of this is the myth of the "vanishing Indian," where the prescence of Native Americans is skewed to be linked to the past even though they continue thriving and advocating for their rights as First Nations to this day. But as Antoniette demonstrates, the archive also provides the opportunity to reverse this temporal trajectory by reconnecting the past with the present to reinvograte the agency of the colonized individual caught between these archival dangers and their own present experience that is influenced and effected by these archival practices.