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Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys

Part One, Section Two

Part One, Section One

Part One, Section Three

Summary

The main figures in Antoinette's life are her mother, Pierre, Christophine, Godfrey, and the servant boy, Sass, who does, indeed leave them as Antoinette's mother had predicted. One day, a little girl follows Antoinette, calling her a "white cockroach" and singing "go away." Antoinette seeks refuge near the old wall at the end of the garden, and she moves up against its mossy surface. Christophine finds her after several hours and takes her home. The next morning, Maillotte, Christophine's friend, brings her daughter, Tia, to play with Antoinette. The two girls start meeting every morning and walking together to the bathing pool, where they play until midday. Antoinette's mother never asks where she has been.

Tia sees the pennies that Christophine has given Antoinette, and she bets three pennies that Antoinette cannot turn a somersault under water. Antoinette turns the somersault, but comes up choking, so Tia takes the pennies anyway. The girls trade insults, Antoinette calling Tia a cheat and Tia calling Antoinette's family poor and trashy. When Antoinette's back is turned, Tia disappears, taking her friend's clothes and leaving her own dirty dress in their place. Antoinette puts on her friend's dress and walks home, feeling sick and angry.

When Antoinette arrives at the house, she is surprised to find visitors—two young ladies and a gentleman. Filled with shame and awed by their beautiful clothes, Antoinette runs to her room and hides until she hears them leave. When she emerges from her room, her mother questions her about her dress and, learning it belongs to Tia, orders Christophine to burn it. Christophine finds no clean dresses for Antoinette to change into, and is able to come up with only an old muslin one. As Christophine cleans and dresses Antoinette, she tells Antoinette that the recent visitors are new neighbors, relatives of old Mr. Luttrell. Distrustful of these new people, Christophine calls them "trouble."

That evening, Antoinette's mother will not even look in her direction, which convinces Antoinette that her mother is ashamed of her. After having a nightmare about being chased in a forest, Antoinette awakes crying, and her mother scolds her for waking her brother. The next morning, Antoinette senses that their lives are about to change. Her mother somehow finds the money to buy pink and white muslin, and she has new dresses made for herself and for Antoinette. Animated and lively, Annette rides her borrowed horse every day and returns in the evening, tired from various social functions. Antoinette spends little time at the house during the day. She explores areas of the Coulibri Estate that she has never seen, preferring her solitude to the company of people.

Analysis

Persecution and refuge figure prominently in this section, most notably when Antoinette describes being followed by a young black girl who sings, "go away white cockroach, go away." Insulting refrains such as this one become lodged in Antoinette's mind and resurface in her adult life. She becomes paranoid about being followed, watched, and tracked—a fear that haunts her forest dream. Feeling persecuted, she seeks refuge from the cruel world of human beings by surrounding herself in nature's fold, curling up against the velvety moss wall of the family's garden and trying to disappear. Antoinette is fascinated with nature and is very attuned to its presence. As her elaborate descriptions suggest, nature is a central character in the story, and perhaps her only friend.

Tia's betrayal of Antoinette when they bet pennies emphasizes the importance of money and currency in the novel's central relationships. The pennies serve as a symbol of capitalism, though ironically they are gifts from Christophine—a figure seemingly far removed from such capitalism. The fact that Tia envies Antoinette's pennies, and even betrays her friend to obtain them, reveals Tia's acceptance of white ideals and the capitalist system. Money symbolizes the altered—even degraded—values of the island people, and it accounts for the kind of corrupted innocence that Antoinette recognizes in the family garden. As white people who do not have money, Antoinette and her mother can no longer command the respect of the black community, in which gold purchases allegiance. When Antoinette and Tia exchange clothing, their roles are symbolically reversed; without money, Antoinette is no longer entitled to the nicer clothing of a white Creole girl. Annette feels shame when she looks at her shabby daughter, because Antoinette represents, in that moment, the extent to which the Cosway family has fallen in social rank.

According to Christophine, the new white families who move into Mr. Luttrell's old estate bring trouble to their lives. These families further upset a tenuous social balance by highlighting the difference between prosperous English whites and poor, powerless white Creoles. Antoinette's forest dream and the heavy footsteps that she hears behind her represent the approach of new English colonials, who have come to the islands to make their wealth and to reap the rewards from the old slave owners' misfortunes. While her mother begins to re- emerge herself in this propertied society, Antoinette spends less and less time at Coulibri, feeling unsettled and apprehensive about the new arrivals.

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Context

by buckindisguise, March 01, 2014

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

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