Wide Sargasso Sea
Part Two, Section Six
Rochester sits with Antoinette at night, drinking rum and listening to the noise of the insects. She pleads with him to stop ignoring her and asks him why he hates her. He assures her he does not hate her, that only greatly worries about her—but he admits to himself he is lying. They discuss Rochester's Christian God and Antoinette's belief in "two deaths."
When Rochester mentions his conversation with Daniel Cosway, Antoinette calls Daniel a liar and insists there is another side to the Cosway story: the "true story" of her family. Antoinette begins this story by describing her father's death and her family's ensuing poverty and isolation. She speaks of her mother's shame in her, of Christophine's loyalty, and of her own oppressive sadness.
When Antoinette describes the fire and calls Coulibri a place "sacred to the sun," Rochester begins to suspect she is lying. Perhaps sensing his doubt, she changes her subject. She describes her stay in Aunt Cora's house, where she recovered from her fever, but she glosses over Pierre's death and her mother's hatred for Mr. Mason (her mother blamed him for the fire and even tried to kill him, after which Antoinette was placed in the care of a black couple). When Antoinette recounts her harrowing last visit with her mother, at the house of the caretakers, she becomes quiet and starts murmuring, then laughing in a way that troubles Rochester.
Calling Antoinette "Bertha," Rochester questions her about her morning trip to Christophine's. He agrees with Christophine's suggestion that he and Antoinette spend time apart, which prompts Antoinette to become pensive and quiet. As they ready for bed, Rochester again calls Antoinette "Bertha," a name she hates but demurely accepts. She pours out two glasses of wine and hands one to her husband, which we later learn contains the obeah potion.
Night has now fallen at Coulibri Estate. Earlier, when Antoinette and Rochester visit the homes of Christophine and Daniel, respectively, the day's light is dazzling. Symbolic of reason and "enlightenment," the daytime setting mirrors the characters' quest for insight and guidance. The darkening night in this section symbolizes a shift towards the irrational, enigmatic world of passion and violence.
The scene opens with Rochester pushing a telescope to one end of the table to make room for a decanter of rum. Used to chart the course of the skies during transatlantic voyages, the telescope enabled European explorers to find their way to the West Indies. When Rochester pushes it aside, he symbolically rejects the European means of knowledge and colonial power. In the telescope's place he puts rum, a specifically Caribbean alcohol; he surrenders himself to the intoxications and enchantments of a foreign place. At a few points during his conversation with Antoinette, Rochester asks his wife to postpone their talk until daylight, thinking to himself, "But this is not the place or the time . . . not in this long dark veranda with the candles burning low and the watching, listening night outside." Nonetheless, Rochester continues to listen and pour rum, ceding control to the delirious effects of the night, the alcohol, and eventually, the potion.
Antoinette herself searches for truth, but cannot find it. She asks her husband to explain why he hates and ignores her, but he will not answer. Rochester evades her questions, either responding with a question of his own or answering enigmatically. When asked why he never kisses her, he says, "I have a reason," then whispers, "My God"; but Antoinette cannot understand his God. She wants a concrete answer, not an abstract reference to something she cannot feel or see. When telling Rochester of her childhood in Coulibri, Antoinette describes in detail a wrought-iron handrail, saying, "It was curved like a question mark and when I put my hand on it, the iron was warm and I was comforted." The handrail seems to pose its own question and then provides its own answer, guiding Antoinette up and down the stairs and offering support; she can hold onto its answer. Antoinette cannot, however, hold onto her husband's answers, and she finds no comfort in the floating questions about her marriage.
Antoinette's tale about her mother's demise has an eerie similarity to her own life. When she recalls seeing the black caretaker abuse her mother, she says, "Then she seemed to grow tired and sat down in the rocking-chair. I saw the man lift her up out of the chair and kiss her." Several paragraphs later, when Antoinette grows silent and limp, Rochester reenacts this scene: "I put my arms round her to help her up," he writes, "I kissed her, but she drew away." Antoinette appears to be transforming into her mother, a powerless and manhandled woman.
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