The Archive and Taxonomy in Wide Sargasso Sea

'Bertha,' I said.

'Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. I know, that's obeah, too.' (88)

In Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, the colonialist urge to preserve and understand the Unknown is expressed in an oppressive form of archiving. The act of archiving becomes a taxonomy of Creole history, or "its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness" (103). Particularly in Part II, Mr. Rochester's obsession with Antoinette's renaming is described as a process of creating a zombie, forcefully bringing the past and present of the island into the palatable zone of language that he can understand. Like the prophet characters from Eliot's The Waste Land, Antoinette does not belong to any of the linear time since trauma in Jamaica's history hinders her from clearly cutting the past experience from the present and moving on to the future. The history of Antoinette's family narrative, as well as the island's scar after the Slavery Abolition in 1833, becomes a simple passage of the past glory of the British Empire in Rochester's language. Opposed to Antionette's double-vision of British colonialization, his desire to stipulate the reality of complex regional and personal chronology into a simple matter of 'justice' or 'madness' reflects the colonial Subject's obstinateness: "For she belongs to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it" (103).

The novel provides an interesting juxtaposition with Jane Eyre, the "original" novel of Wide Sargasso Sea. Charlotte Brontë's novel focuses more on how feminine subjectivity is established from the ash of masculine subjectivity collapsed. In contrast, this novel delves into the question of from which base colonial subjectivity is founded. The blindness of Rochester at the end of Jane Eyre enables him to see Jane as who she is, giving a new perspective and insight, but in the shadow of the epiphany, exists the candlelight of Antoinette, a buried archive of Creole history.