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Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys

Part One, Section Three

Part One, Section Two

Part One, Section Four

Summary

Antoinette serves as bridesmaid when her mother weds Mr. Mason in Spanish Town. She sees smiling white guests, whom she has overheard earlier at Coulibri Estate condemning Mr. Mason's choice of bride. These guests called Antoinette's mother a penniless widow, whose first husband was a drunken lecher and whose children are either odd or idiotic—although the guests do concede that Annette is a beautiful dancer. Antoinette remembers overhearing that Mr. Mason only came to the West Indies to make money.

While her mother honeymoons in Trinidad, Antoinette and her brother stay with their Aunt Cora in Spanish Town. When they all return to Coulibri, the place looks pristine and dignified. Mr. Mason employs new servants, whom Antoinette fears for their talk of Christophine's obeah (voodoo) practices; they speak of blood, curses, and death.

After a year of marriage, Annette and Mr. Mason begin to argue about whether to leave Coulibri. Annette pleads with her husband to move because she feels hated at the Estate. He laughs, assuring her that the servants are harmless, that the blacks are too lazy to be threatening. As Antoinette explains later, Mr. Mason, an Englishman, cannot understand Creole fears and apprehensions.

One night on the glacis, Annette and Aunt Cora tell Mr. Mason that Coulibri is no longer safe, and that they must leave immediately. Again, however, he dismisses their worries. Antoinette goes to bed and awaits Christophine's goodnight, but Christophine does not come. Frightened, Antoinette wishes she still believed in her magic stick, a shingle that served as her protective talisman. She awakes in the middle of the night when her mother rushes in and orders her downstairs to the drawing room.

Downstairs, Mr. Mason tries to calm the gathering household. When he opens the door to the glacis, a roar of angry voices fills the room. Black servants congregate outside, beneath the glacis, and throw rocks at Mr. Mason when he tries to pacify them. As Annette frets over whether to leave Pierre sleeping, the servant Mannie notices smoke emerging from the children's rooms. Annette immediately runs to rescue her son, returning with Pierre in her arms and her hair partially burned. Annette had trusted Pierre to Myra's care, but the servant had left to join the protest outside. Just as Annette had feared, her servants have been disloyal—even dangerous—and she screams at Mr. Mason for his naïve trust in the blacks.

With the house in flames, the family rushes out onto the glacis to the roars of the assembled crowd. Annette, however, stays inside in order to rescue her parrot, Coco. Mr. Mason struggles with Annette, finally dragging her outside to the horses that their groom, Mannie, has prepared for a speedy escape. Suddenly, the screaming stops and Antoinette looks up to see her mother's parrot fall off the glacis railing, ablaze and attempting to fly on wings that Mr. Mason had clipped. The bird falls to a fiery death as the stunned rioters begin to disband. Scrambling to enter the carriage, the family is stopped by an angry servant, but Aunt Cora curses him and he steps aside. Turning back to look at the house, Antoinette sees Tia and Maillotte; she runs to them, hoping to stay with them at Coulibri. Tia throws a jagged rock at Antoinette, who stares at her old friends in horror as blood pours from her forehead.

Analysis

The wedding scene is one of many instances of overhearing and overseeing in the novel. By quoting bits of overheard conversation, Antoinette allows us to see her and her mother as others see them. The women at the wedding condemn the family as strange, talking of a six-foot snake they saw at the house—a symbol of the evil that resides at Coulibri.

This section also introduces us to Mr. Mason's prejudices about the blacks of the West Indies, as well as his miscomprehension of the Creole position. In the somewhat upturned Caribbean world, the servants are in control while Creole whites like the Cosways live in fear. Mr. Mason, however, misjudges the ex- slaves as harmless and childlike, and he is supremely confident that, as a white Englishman, he is safe from all harm. He cannot understand how his wife feels subject to the very people she is meant to control.

Antoinette and her mother, by contrast, have a very instinctive awareness of the rising animosity among the servants. They sense rage and danger all around, as Antoinette feels that that the "the sky and sea were on fire"—an ominous description that foreshadows the burning of the house. Indeed, on the night of the fire, Antoinette has an unsettling premonition of evil. Superstitious and greatly influenced by Christophine's lore, Antoinette yearns for her protective stick and thinks of her nurse's warning "that the glacis was not a good place when night was coming." Such superstitions reveal Antoinette's integration into her black Caribbean surroundings. Raised by Christophine, Antoinette shares the older woman's obeah sensibilities and, as a child, sees everything around her as living. This worldview contrasts sharply with the rational, logical, and scientific thinking of a man like Mr. Mason, who does not believe that the servants are a threat until they literally run him out of his house on the night of the fire.

The episode with Annette's parrot, Coco, symbolically mimics the life of Annette and her daughter. The bird symbolizes the bound captivity of both mother and daughter—the figurative clipping of their feathers by insensitive English husbands who see them as threatening free spirits. Coco's fall from the burning glacis prefigures Antoinette's fall from the battlements of Rochester's English home.

Furthermore, the question of identity arises when Antoinette runs from the house and sees her reflection in Tia's face. Just as parallels are made between the mother figures Annette and Christophine, so are Antoinette and Tia paired as closed friends, even sisters. Annette and Antoinette, seeking to define themselves, often look at their respective counterparts as reflections. When Tia throws the rock at Antoinette, she shatters the reflected image. This act metaphorically represents Antoinette's movement away from her black childhood and her eventual emergence into the white Creole world of Spanish Town.

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Context

by buckindisguise, March 01, 2014

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

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