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Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys

Part Two, Section One

Part One, Section Four

Part Two, Section Two

Summary

Immediately after their wedding in Jamaica, Rochester and Antoinette spend several weeks in the Windward Islands at a small estate that belonged to Antoinette's mother, Annette, located near a town called Massacre. As they travel from Massacre to the honeymoon, they are caught in a downpour, driving Rochester, Antoinette, and a half-caste servant named Amelie to take shelter under a mango tree.

Antoinette recognizes a black woman named Caroline standing outside a hut on the far side of the road. Ignoring Rochester's protestations, Antoinette bolts across the street in the rain. He watches her critically and questions his hasty decision to marry a woman about whom he knows nothing. Only a month after arriving in Jamaica—three weeks of which Rochester spends in bed with fever—he finds himself with a Creole wife.

Antoinette returns to the tree where Rochester waits. She invites him to join her in her friend Caroline's house, but he refuses. Finally, the rain stops and the caravan continues on its way to Antoinette's family estate, called Granbois. Ill at ease in the strange tropical climate, Rochester concludes that "everything is too much"—too lush, too green, too fragrant. He reflects on the financial transaction that precipitated his marriage: the £30,000 that was unquestioningly paid to him. This money allows Rochester to be independent of his father and older brother in England and saves him from financial disgrace.

When they arrive at Granbois, Rochester finds the house awkward and run-down. Antoinette introduces him to the many servants, whom she greets with warmth and enthusiasm. Among the servants are Christophine, Antoinette's old nurse; Baptiste, a dignified man; and Hilda, Baptiste's perpetually giggling daughter. At his first sight of Christophine, Rochester feels her distrust.

Antoinette then leads Rochester through the empty, neglected rooms. He finds a refuge in his private dressing room, which formerly belonged to Mr. Mason. After viewing Granbois, Rochester drafts a letter to his father, assuring him that "all is well and has gone according to [his father's] plan" regarding the marriage transaction.

Analysis

Antoinette's husband remains nameless throughout Wide Sargasso Sea, but readers of Jane Eyre will recognize him as one of Brontë's characters, Rochester. Based on Brontë's hero, the English gentleman narrates almost the entirety of Part Two, giving voice to his perspective on the marriage with Antoinette and the events that lead him to lock her inhumanely in the attic. Rochester's villainous actions, while never condoned, are at least somewhat explained by his own suffering, confusion, and feelings of alienation.

Part Two opens with the ominous statement, "So it was all over." Hardly the words of a giddy newlywed, these first lines betray Rochester's immediate apprehensions regarding his hasty marriage to a woman whom he hardly knows. From his perspective, we see the idiosyncrasies of his Creole bride and the strangeness of the lush and wild tropical landscape. The trip away from Spanish Town and the honeymoon to a remote Windward Island reflects a movement away from the more colonial and "civilized" areas of the Caribbean to a more remote, pristine area of the West Indies, where nature dominates human affairs and views. As they move away from Spanish Town, Rochester's privilege as a white Englishman diminishes; he becomes an alien outsider, outnumbered by a community that is indifferent and hostile. His feeling of being watched in this section mirrors Antoinette's own paranoid fears in Part One. Here, Rochester, too, reads contempt in the faces of the black servants.

Rochester searches for traces of England in the strange world around him: he compares the red tropical land to parts of England, and finds books by Byron and Scott on the bookshelf. He tries to imagine his wife as a young English girl in an attempt to comfort himself in his decision to marry her. When Antoinette hands him a drink of water, Rochester imagines that "looking up smiling, she might have been any pretty English girl." He already wonders about the truth of her pure English descent, marveling at her interactions with the black servants and silently disapproving of her refusal to assert rank with them. He feels physically uncomfortable in the hot climate of the Indies: although mostly recovered from his fever, he still imagines that the green hills are closing in around him. From the outset of his story, Rochester often feels antagonized by a natural landscape that he associates with his wife and her Creole background.

As a small estate passed from mother to daughter, Granbois represents the Cosway women's inheritance. Significantly, it is far removed from Spanish Town, the white nexus of power in the West Indies. More intimately linked with the natural world and the Afro-Caribbean culture of magic, the Creole women in the Cosway family find their home on the outskirts of the colonial outposts. Necessarily, Rochester is an outsider in such a place. Even its very name, Granbois, which means "great forest," contributes to its atmosphere of isolation and mystery. As an allusion to Antoinette's recurring forest nightmare, the name foretells of violence and danger. That Granbois is located near the ominous-sounding Massacre further enhances its sense of threat.

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Context

by buckindisguise, March 01, 2014

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

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