Wide Sargasso Sea
Part Three, Section Two
One morning, Antoinette awakes with her body mysteriously aching and her wrists red and swollen. She has no memory of what happened. Grace tells Antoinette that her brother came to visit her the night before, and she scolds Antoinette for misbehaving. At first, Antoinette cannot think of who her brother is, but she then realizes Grace must mean her stepbrother, Richard Mason. Antoinette begins frantically searching for a letter that she wrote to Richard and then hid, in which she begged him to rescue her from her garret prison.
According to Grace, Richard did not recognize Antoinette when he came into the room. Almost immediately, Antoinette rushed at him with a knife, and she later bit him. Antoinette had secretly bought the knife the day before, when she had been allowed outside. Seeing trees and grass all around her, she had thought she had finally arrived in England, not understanding that she has been in England all along. When Grace fell asleep under a tree, Antoinette traded her locket for a knife.
Grace says that she warned Richard not to visit, but that he insisted. She overheard Richard saying, "I cannot interfere legally between yourself and your husband," at which point Antoinette flew at him with the knife. After the attack, Richard fainted. Antoinette begins to remember the look of shock on her brother's face when he first saw her. She insists that her brother would have recognized her had she been wearing her red dress from Jamaica, which hangs from the closet.
Suddenly pitying Antoinette, Grace asks her if she knows how long she has been held captive. Antoinette responds that time is not important. She gazes instead at her red dress and imagines she smells a bouquet of natural scents. She remembers wearing the red dress the last time she saw her cousin, Sandi, who visited her when the disapproving Mr. Mason was away. On Sandi's last visit, they kissed, which Antoinette remembers as "the life and death kiss."
That night, Antoinette dreams for the third time that she steals the keys from Grace, unlocks the door, and enters the passage to the rest of the house, carrying candles. In the dream, she goes downstairs and enters a red room that reminds her of a church. When she lights all her candles, she thinks of Aunt Cora's house and becomes suddenly angry, knocking a candle into the drapes.
Soon, in the dream, there is a wall of flames behind her. Moving away from the flames and the sounds of yelling, Antoinette goes back upstairs and out to the battlements, where she watches the red sky and sees fragments of her life pass before her. She dreams she hears Rochester crying the name "Bertha"; looking to the ground, imagines the bathing pool at Coulibri. She sees Tia taunting her from the ground and coaxing her to jump. As Antoinette is about to jump, she wakes, screaming, from her dream. Feeling that she must enact the dream, she steals Grace's keys and heads down the passage with a candle in her hand.
Rhys has adapted the scene of Richard Mason's visit from Jane Eyre, but has altered the perspective. No longer is the scene from the viewpoint of Jane, the young English girl to whom the captive woman is a frightening monster; instead, Rhys allows Antoinette to speak. Antoinette reveals just how confused and dislocated she feels. That she does not remember attacking Richard Mason suggests the extent of her fragmentation: it seems that she and the raving madwoman are two distinct entities, locked in combat over the woman's identity.
What troubles Antoinette most about Richard Mason's visit is that he does not recognize her. Without a mirror in the attic, Antoinette can no longer view her reflection and confirm her own identity. She has slowly become Rochester's creation, renamed "Bertha Mason" and transformed into a madwoman. Richard's non- recognition of Antoinette recalls Antoinette's own non-recognition of her mother when she visited her mother at the house of the caretakers. Richard's look of horror confirms that Antoinette has followed in her mother's footsteps.
Antoinette's attachment to her red dress is particularly poignant. She clings to the dress as a reminder of her past, believing she can smell the Caribbean landscape in its folds. It is by touching and staring at the dress that she loses herself in to her sensory, organic world of memories. Significantly, the dress is red—a color that symbolizes the passion and destruction that led to her current captivity.
For Antoinette, money and time have no meaning. Never concerned or interested in money, Antoinette has lost all of her own wealth ever since Rochester assumed control of her finances. Rather than buy the knife, Antoinette barters for it with her locket, reverting to a more primitive system of exchange. Like money, time has no relevance for Antoinette; she says that it is does not matter. Both time and money are constructs that have little bearing on her world of images or on the Caribbean sights and sounds for which she longs.
In forestalling Antoinette's fatal jump foretold by Brontë's novel, Rhys grants her protagonist a final moment of triumph. Antoinette appears active and defiant, about to enact her dream. She is finally allowed to speak, and Rochester must listen: the fire is her voice of rage.
Rhys's novel suggests that Antoinette's paranoia about being followed and watched is legitimate. The reader of Jane Eyre becomes complicit in the watching; Antoinette feels these eyes upon her, viewing her as a ferocious lunatic. Even Antoinette watches herself in horror, as she dreams that she looks at herself in the mirror and sees not herself but a ghost. Rhys thus constructs a world of scrutiny, as we spy Antoinette from all different angles: from Grace Poole's viewpoint, from Rochester's, from Antoinette's own—and also from our own, as readers of Jane Eyre. Like a mirror reflected an infinite number of times, Rhys's narrative web continues to grow outward, incorporating a multiplicity of voices and competing perspectives. She thus confirms Antoinette's anxiety that eyes are always upon her.
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