Author Archives: Joseph Jung

Wide Sargasso Sea and the Illusion of Race

Joseph Jung

Professor Francomano

CPLT 043

15 November 2011

Wide Sargasso Sea and the Illusion of Race

Raised in a conservative Korean family, race was often discussed in my home. And while our discussions usually addressed politics and culture, I would often catch my parents’ allusions to skin pigment. My parents associated a person’s speech and bodily habits, including gestures, with his/her ethnic background, which they usually based on skin color.  Ian F. Haney Lopez attempts to eliminate this notion of linking physical traits with culture by postulating, “human interaction rather than natural differentiation must be seen as the source and continued basis for racial categorization” (969).

In “The Social Construction of Race”, Lopez uses several court cases and other historical examples to question the notion that race is tied to genealogy. In this essay, I will use Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea to prove Lopez’s postulate that race is, in fact, a man-made, social construct.

According to Lopez, race “manifests itself in our speech, dance, neighbors, and friends – ‘our very ways of talking, walking, eating and dreaming are ineluctably shaped by notions of race.’” (965). This is easily demonstrated in the way that the Europeans of Wide Sargasso Sea treat one of their own. Antoinette, though a Creole, is a woman of pure European descent. Yet, even though she has English blood flowing in her veins, her husband does not accept her as an “English or European” (61) woman. Even her own mother felt Antoinette was “growing up like a white nigger” (120). In their eyes, Antoinette’s decorum and speech resemble the blacks of the community far too much. To them, Antoinette was a girl of the Caribbean.

Lopez, too, rejects the affiliation of skin pigment with race because of its clear impracticality. Skin color, he says, “differs greatly among persons of the same race, even among Anglo-Saxons, ranging by imperceptible gradations from the fair blond to the swarthy brunette…” (968). He makes a reference to Judge Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court, who attacks the idea of policy being reduced to “a question of blood…blood, not background and environment” (968). It is clear in Wide Sargasso Sea that Antoinette’s husband and mother indeed do not use physical attributes to assess Antoinette.

Yes, it would not be a stretch to call Antoinette a Creole woman – even her Caribbean nurse calls her a “Creole girl” who has “the sun in her” (143) – however, the society that she lives in do not accept her as one. People call her “white nigger” (22) and “white cockroach” (91), referring to her as a being not suited for either the Caribbean society or the European society. Lopez would likely interpret this as a reaction to the oppression they were recently emancipated from.  He remarks that there is a “close interconnection between racial and class structures” (971). Rhys uses the simplistic language of a child to inform Antoinette that Antoinette’s family is not made up of “real white people…Real white people got gold money” (22). The black community molests Antoinette and her mother because they have no social and economic power. “Real white people…didn’t look at [the blacks], nobody see [real white people] come near [the blacks.” (22). Because Antoinette’s family was in no position to remove themselves from the black community, they faced the brunt of the blacks’ animosity. As aforementioned, Lopez would deem the blacks’ judgment inappropriate, however, he would also find it understandable.

Lopez says, “Race is neither an essence nor an illusion, but rather an ongoing, contradictory, self-reinforcing, plastic process subject to the macro forces of social and political struggle and the micro effects of daily decisions” (966), and that it is because of this whites form a social group of their own. If looking at the situation in this light, it is easier to understand why the blacks harassed a former slave-owning family. Essentially, I am arguing that the community attacked Antoinette’s family, not because they were white or poor, but because of a social construction. Antoinette’s family is persecuted even when they become wealthy because of social tension that stems from the past. The uniform trait of the blacks’ persecutors was their white skin, hence why they spite all those that bear the trait and those that associate with those with white skin – they are lumped together into a group of their own.

“Race has its genesis and maintains its vigorous strength in the realm of social beliefs.” (Lopez 972). “They are produced by myriad conflicting social forces; they overlap and…make sense only in relationship to other racial categories.” (Lopez 971).

It’s still rough around the edges! That last paragraph is not the actual conclusion, but merely the two quotes I am going to center it around.



Works Cited

Lopez, Ian F. Haney. “The Social Construction of Race.” Literary Theory: An Anthology (2004). 964-972. Print.

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1966. Print.


Cloud reading – Rough draft


Hey, guys! This paper is in a REALLY rough state; in fact, I don’t even have an introduction for it yet. I am requesting for you guys to comment on my ideas and concepts rather than grammar and mechanics. Do you think my points are valid? Are the arguments I’m making seem valid? Which of them seem weak and lacking? In which sections do I seem to be making claims that are too broad and bold? Thanks a bunch!

– Joe



Joseph Jung

Professor Francomano

CPLT 043

21 October 2011

Cloud readings

If ideas are dreams, then works of literature are their manifestations, or rather the means by which the dreamer, in this case the writer, chooses to share them. Freud says that “you are aware that the dream seems foreign and strange to the dreamer himself; how much more so to an outsider to whom his personality is unknown” (194).  For Freud dreams are the keys to opening the doors to the dreamers’ sub consciousness.  When dreams are supported with information, such as “the personality of the dreamer, the conditions under which he lives, [and] the impressions in his mind after which his dream occurred”(158), we are given the position to “translate it at sight” (158). A reader can try to deduce elements in a written work and find messages and symbols that indicate a writer’s political views and social constraints, or lack thereof. And, in fact, when one sees that all of one’s deductions seem to connect smoothly, one believes that one can truly interpret a text; however, what would happen if one finds another with a different “flawless” conclusion? And what if that one found another? And another? Tens of hundreds interpretations could sprout and all of them would be right, or would they?

“The custom among the ancients…was to speak quite obscurely…So that those who were to come after and study them might gloss the letter and supply its significance” (v. 9-16). Marie de France, through the prologue of her Lais, instructs her readers to delve into great depths when analyzing her texts, for there is deep meaning and significance within it. Essentially, she clearly says that there are symbols and messages waiting to be found.

Bisclavret, France’s twist on the traditional werewolf story, is a seemingly standard story of betrayal and revenge. A renowned nobleman is introduced with the mythical ability to transform into a wolf. Upon discovering her husband’s abnormal transformation, she becomes disgusted and recruits an accomplice to ruin the husband. Ultimately, the nobleman attains revenge by killing the accomplice and tearing off his wife’s nose. As you can tell, it is a typical story with a simple plot line. Looking close enough, however, you find details that seem to be far from apolitical. Perhaps the nobleman’s transformation represents men’s freedom. In spite, others may try to strip men of it, but men will suppress those that deny them their God-given right. In a sense, France enforces the idea that righteousness will prevail. Using Freud’s psychoanalytic means of addressing the story, we may see the story as a conflict between the two genders. The nobleman’s transformation may refer to men’s beastly nature. They run and “hunt” as they please without remorse or consideration for their counterparts, who are expected to accept the men’s adulterous tendencies. When the woman of the story attempts to persecute her husband for his atrocious acts and acquire a lover of her own, the nobleman castrates her pseudo-phallus, namely her nose.  One can find the likeness between these examples, but one can just as easily identify the differences in them. Is one more right than another?

Freud explains to his readers that we “think that the translating of the symbols is the ideal method of interpretation” (196); however, he commands us to “clear our minds of so pernicious an error” (196), for “nor everything with which an object or an occurrence can be compared appears in dreams as symbolic of it, and, on the other hand, dreams do not employ symbolism for anything and everything…” (195). Many of our deductions are meanings we desire, meanings that prove our theories and teach grand lessons that we have already subconsciously formed for ourselves. In fact, Freud suggests that our perception “approaches closely to allusion” (159). And though this is a rather discouraging suggestion, it should not be taken as mockery or scoff.  In his Book of Good Love Juan Ruiz welcomes the interpretative mind, and opens his text to readers. He leaves room for addition and correction to those that “know how to write well”. In essence, Ruiz admits that written works do not only belong to the writer but to their readers as well. A man can look at a cloud and find the outline of a ice cream, but another may find a star in the same cloud. Does it matter what nature intended for it to look like, if were to portray anything at all?


Endnotes: Do you guys mind if I send you both a more polished version via email so that I can get more in-depth feedback?