The Colonizer as Zombie-Maker

8 Feb

Sandra Drake makes some really interesting observations regarding Caribbean culture and Antoinette’s “reanimation” at the end of Wide Sargasso Sea. She writes, “Antoinette’s ‘real’ death is not a demented suicide in the flames of Thornfield Hall…Her ‘real’ death is her subjugation by Rochester – by the colonizer – the long slow process of her reduction to the zombi state.” I find this fascinating, the idea that Jean Rhys not only creates an entire story for an admittedly minor but important character in Jane Eyre, but she also recreates her story so that even though she dies, Antoinette is, in fact, reborn. In class on Tuesday, we talked about what Rhys had changed about the original text in order to adapt her own; I think this may be one of the biggest changes, the idea that Antoinette may be better off in death than she was in a life that did not completely belong to her.

Drake also states that the “zombi” state, as it is known in Caribbean culture, is not permanent, but can be reversed. Drake compares being a “zombi” to being colonized – the person or group who is taken over becomes robotic and unemotional because their own culture has been taken away from them. When Antoinette sees her red dress in her prison-like room at Thornfield, then, she is reawakened to the idea that she does not have to live like that – like a prisoner in her own body.

Thinking about zombies in this way is totally different from any other type of zombie I have seen portrayed in movies or on television. The fact that the person who is “zombiefied” can still recognize aspects of his or her old self makes the whole state seem like something that can be prevented. If Antoinette had refused to be called by a name that is not hers, or if she had refused to travel to England, would she have lost her culture and, in doing so, lost herself?

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