Horror and Tragedy: The Domino Effect

Wide Sargasso Sea is a story of hardship and tragedy. Some aspects of the text, important to cover, include mental disabilities among family members and the impact that they had in the Victorian era. It wasn’t a matter of getting help, but rather a matter of avoiding the problems, where the real problem comes into play. The simple connection between the tragedy genre and the horror genre is the placements of mental health in each. The horror genre includes the concept of slasher films, the anxiety of the situation, the depression of the characters, and the mental health and PTSD that can be caused, as well as mishaps and wrong turns. The tragedy genre follows with the mentality of depression and anxiety, much like in the literature we have covered with characters such as Hamlet, Ophelia, and now Bertha and Rochester. Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea is an accurate depiction of the similarities found in tragedies and horror genres that commonly follow the domino effect. 

Antoinette’s life begins with a rocky start. And with all of the pieces falling at such a young age, it is easy to see how her life spiraled out of control, from mishaps, and unfortunate events. The domino effect finds itself, in this case, beginning when the former slaves accidentally set the house on fire while protesting. This leads to Antoinette fleeing, getting hit in the head by a rock from a person she thought she could trust, Tia, becoming ill and learning that Pierre had died, and her mother becoming consumed by her mental illness due to Pierre’s death. From this point, there is a pause, a break in Antoinette’s story as she finds herself enrolled in a convent school. Only when we are introduced to Rochester in Part two through his eyes, do we see it begin to spiral once more. 

Another horror story that can also relate, is the movie I Know What you did Last Summer directed by Jim Gillespie. I Know What you did Last Summer, is a horror movie riddled with bad decision making and this leads to faults that didn’t have to be made, creating the Domino effect that was so prominent in Wide Sargasso Sea. From hitting and killing  a pedestrian while driving, panicking and dumping his body off of a cliff, the four characters think they are in the clear for a year, until they are haunted by a letter that reads “I know what you did last summer,”. From here on out, it is a mere spiral out of control, while they are being tracked by a killer. One part in the movie that is one of the worst decisions of the movie, includes the character Helen. She finds herself running and almost to safety, when she decides to stop and look back to see if the killer is there. This is her downfall in the film for if she kept going, she would’ve made it out alive. This connects to Wide Sargasso Sea in the idea that, if so many tragic events hadn’t happened, or if the accidents and mishaps hadn’t occurred, the further tragedies could’ve been avoided.

After Rochester receives a letter mentioning a “madness” that runs in Antoinette’s blood. Taking this letter, he almost falls into the “bully” stereotype, of beating on someone who’s already down. Finding reasons to make her feel worse, or treat her terribly. Rochester, in this sense, uses his stance of power to degrade Antoinette further and further into madness. Rochester, also calls Antoinette, Bertha, a name he gave rather than calling her by her own name. Taking away a person’s name, can in some instances be thought of as taking their identity, taking who they were, and creating a new “image”. In this time period, slaves were also renamed, leaving Antoinette to be simply a slave to Rochester as his wife.

“Now they have taken everything away. What am I doing in this place and who am I?”

Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys, Part 3

In Antoinette’s early life, it is foreshadowed the events of her future. The burning of her home, the illness from the rock, it is all like a fever dream. It felt as though I was reading Jane Eyre all over again, and the tragedy of Bertha at the end of her life but through a different lens, and in Bertha’s childhood. Her mental illness portrayed through her injury after her house burned down, and ultimately the burning of her new home in Jane Eyre. It’s all a repeat. Antoinette begins with a tragic life, but she was able to stick through it.

At this point she still had some sort of mental illness, whether it be depression or a behavioral cognitive disability, it was not until her marriage to Rochester that she was consumed by it. It can be seen here that whatever little freedom she thought she had was completely taken away. The life she had was gone due to her marriage to Rochester, and his immediate inclination to make her feel as though she is inferior. In this instance the domino effect continues and leads into the tragedy further and further along. 

Two very different genres have been found to connect through plot structure and character development. The way it builds, the way it tells the story, and the character’s slow downfall. We have seen this in texts with Ophelia, Hamlet, Victor Frankenstein, and now Bertha and Rochester. Each having different causation to their tragedy, it is easy to see that no matter what’s going on. In all, horror and tragedy have commonalities, more so than we would originally think, and can be found in the most common of texts.

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