"These writers explore both the social roles that confine them and the bodies that represent the confinement". In light of this quotation, compare how the writers explore gender.
'Wide Sargasso Sea', by Jean Rhys, and 'Sula' by Toni Morrison are both novels that respond to the issues of women that are confined to their social roles. Grace Nichols' book, 'The Fat Black Woman's Poems', supports and also contrasts the views of both Rhys and Morrison. All three texts question gender roles and oppression in society. While Nichols is very outspoken and doesn't let her gender confine her, the main character in Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette, is restricted by social and historical roles in her society. Characters like Sula are a threat to the rigid stereotype of the serving woman, and Morrison contrasts the role of Sula with Nel, a girl who embraces the conventional belief of society that a woman should marry and settle down and serve her family.
All three texts explore gender by emphasising the importance of a woman's voice. Nichols uses her voice to focus on her identity, and to portray her confidence. In her poem 'Love Act', she says "Her sorcery cut them, like a whip, she hide her triumph, and slowly stir the poison in". This shows that Nichols knows that women aren't weak, and have their own kind of power and intelligence, and she challenges the oppressive men that surround her. Her use of simple English and Creole reinforce her Creole identity. For example, in the poem Skin-Teeth, she says 'Massa' (Master) and in The Fat Black Woman Goes Shopping, she says 'de weather so cold'. Her use of colloquial language shows us that even though she lives in the Western world, she still speaks as they do in her homeland, and she will not change the way she speaks to conform to society’s ways. The title 'Love act' acts as an ironic euphemism for the degradation derived from forced sex with the planter, but one critic claimed that the rest of the poem shows that "this situation allows the slave to enter the Big House as the white planter’s mistress and then use the power of her African magic against the white family". The confident tone in her voice leads us to believe that despite being a slave, stuck in her role, she is battling against the social figures that confine her. Much like Nichols, Rhys also emphasises the importance of a woman's voice. She gives Antoinette a voice in her novel, even though Antoinette has a mental problem. Her pathological suffering means that her mental stability can be questioned, and Rhys gives her a voice in order for us to understand Antoinette's complex thoughts and emotions. For example, Antoinette tells Rochester, “ I hate [the place] now like I hate you, and before I die I will show you how much I hate you.” Rhys allows us to understand, through this quote, that Antoinette once loved her home. Interestingly, Antoinette and Rochester never express their love to each other, which shows Antoinette is more ready to express her love for a place than for a person. However, Rhys giving Antoinette a voice does not change the way women are treated in the reality of the novel. Antoinette is still personified as an entrapped wife. She is trapped in patriarchal social structures of exploitation; her husband takes her to England, where she is locked away in the garret room of her husband's house, under the watch of a servant. This truly portrayed Antoinette's vulnerability and confinement as Rochester's wife, and this influences how Rhys portrays women to the readers who are familiar with the restraints on women.
Nichols and Rhys use the first person narrative to reveal the character's thoughts and to give the reader an insight into the psychological and physical problems the characters encounter. For instance, in WSS, Antoinette's husband Rochester says, "I was tired of these people. I disliked their laughter and their tears, their flattery and envy, conceit and deceit. And I hated the place"(P141)....
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