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Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys

Part Two, Section Seven

Part Two, Section Six

Part Two, Section Eight

Summary

Rochester wakes early the next morning feeling suffocated, having dreamt that he was buried alive. Cold and sick, he staggers to his dressing room and vomits, and he continues to vomit the rest of the day. He believes he has been poisoned. He enters Antoinette's room and hatefully watches her sleep. Detecting a smile on her lips as she dreams, he covers her face with a torn sheet, as though he were covering a dead person.

Rochester runs outside to the forest and finds himself near the ruined house he had seen on his earlier forest walk. He sleeps for several hours, waking when it is already late and chilly. He heads back to Granbois, where he shuts himself in his dressing room. The servant Amelie comes to care for Rochester, bringing him food and wine and cradling him as though he were a child. She tells him, "I am sorry for you," then begins to laugh merrily. Rochester pulls Amelie down onto the bed with him. Not until the next morning does he consider Antoinette, who has been listening to his sexual play with the servant through the thin partition between their rooms.

As Amelie dresses the next morning, Rochester offers her money, which she accepts without a word of thanks. She details her plans to leave Granbois and travel to Rio to find rich men. After Amelie exits the room, Rochester hears Antoinette leave the house on horseback.

Antoinette does not return for three days. On the third day, Rochester writes a letters to his friend in Spanish Town inquiring about Christophine, who had earlier been arrested for practicing obeah. Rochester learns that Christophine has disappeared after being released from jail, and that the local police are on the lookout for any trouble.

As Rochester sits in his hammock at dusk, Antoinette returns home and goes immediately upstairs to her room, without uttering a word to her husband. He follows her inside the house and tries to enter her room, pushing her blocked door partially open. He sees her lying in bed, furiously ringing her hand-bell as she summons Baptiste and Christophine (Rochester has already spotted Christophine in the kitchen).

When Antoinette opens the door, she looks crazed and unkempt. She grabs for a bottle of rum and accuses Rochester of being no better than the slaveholders he condemns, having slept with a servant and sent her away. Antoinette cries when Rochester calls her "Bertha," accusing him of trying to transform her through obeah magic. She says she hates him for ruining the one place she loved. When Rochester grabs Antoinette's wrist, she sinks her teeth into his arm. Ferocious and wild-eyed, she curses him, and then begins sobbing when Christophine enters the room. Rochester walks to the veranda and hears Christophine comfort his wife, speaking softly and singing.

Analysis

Ironically, the love potion that Antoinette gives her husband sends him into the arms of another woman, Amelie. A concoction brewed in the Caribbean and instilled with foreign wisdom, the potion is not compatible with Rochester's system. When he becomes violently ill, it is as though he is purging himself of any desire or compassion towards Antoinette. Indeed, he begins to hate her even more. Treating her like a corpse, he covers her with a sheet as she sleeps. He seems to enact her "first death" as described by Antoinette in an earlier conversation, when she says, "There are always two deaths, the real one and the one people know about." Rochester appears to adhere to this formula by figuratively "killing" Antoinette.

Rochester's encounter with Amelie begins benignly, with Amelie playing a maternal role. Just as Aunt Cora nursed Antoinette back to health from her childhood fever, Amelie appears, at first, as a kind of missing mother. Rochester recalls, "she cut some of the food up and sat beside me and fed me as if I were a child." However, he perverts the transaction by sleeping with and then paying the girl. Money taints Amelie and Rochester's relationship as much as it does Rochester and Antoinette's (he married Antoinette for her money). Whereas Amelie takes Rochester's money and leaves to find other rich men in Rio, Antoinette cedes to her husband all legal rights to her inheritance, becoming his financial captive. Money frees Amelie from Rochester, but it entraps Antoinette.

Antoinette's absence from Granbois leaves Rochester alone with servants who become increasingly hostile and cold. However, in England later, we see that Rochester will be the one to leave his spouse for long stretches of time at his own estate—a reversal of roles. Another later reversal involves the confinement of Antoinette. At Granbois, Antoinette shuts herself in her room, using furniture to block the door and keep her husband out. In England, she later is locked inside a room rather than actively locking others out.

As the fight escalates between the couple, Antoinette moves dangerously close to incarnating her mother's madwoman image. Just as Annette had threatened to kill Mr. Mason, so Antoinette threatens Rochester's life with a broken bottle, becoming frenzied and unruly. Rochester watches in horror as Amelie and Antoinette fight, noting, "Amelie, whose teeth were bared, seemed to be trying to bite." Antoinette fulfills Amelie's violent intentions when she sinks her teeth into Rochester's arm, satisfying the stereotypical image of the wild Caribbean woman.

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Context

by buckindisguise, March 01, 2014

'Dominica' is a Leeward Island of the Caribbean, not Windward.

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