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Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys

Part Two, Section Two

Part Two, Section One

Part Two, Section Three

Summary

Rochester recalls his brief courtship with Antoinette, when he played the part of an admiring suitor although he felt no love at all. No one seemed to detect the falsehood except the black servants. Rochester remembers little of the actual wedding ceremony except for the cold marble of the church and the corresponding chill in Antoinette's hand. At the party afterward, the servant women eyed him with cold suspicion.

Rochester dozes off with these memories and then wakes to dine with his wife, who has dressed elegantly for dinner. All through the meal, Rochester is struck by Antoinette's beauty. Moths and beetles continually fly into the candle flames and burn to death as the couple eats. Antoinette asks Rochester about England, referring to a Creole woman's claim that London "is like a cold dark dream." The couple argues about which place is more "unreal" and "dreamlike," England or the West Indies. After dinner, Antoinette and Rochester take a moonlit walk on the veranda. She tells him about one frightful night she spent at Granbois as a girl, when she awoke to find two huge rats staring at her from her windowsill.

The next morning, Christophine serves Rochester and Antoinette breakfast in bed. Rochester complains to Antoinette about Christophine's blunt, aggressive manner of speaking, but Antoinette defends her. Rochester then reaches over to touch the petals of a pink rose, which drop from the plant as he comments on the short life of beautiful things.

Several weeks of fine weather pass, and Rochester begins to forget his misgivings. He spends his days at the bathing pool, and in the afternoons Antoinette joins him. The couple watches the sunset every evening from a thatched shelter. Antoinette describes the history of Granbois, praising its overseer, Baptiste, who is a native of the island. Rochester knows better than to voice his distrust of the servants whom his wife so ardently protects.

At night, Rochester often lies awake looking at Antoinette. Sometimes she awakes and whispers tales of her unhappy childhood. In the daylight hours, she is happy and playful, looking in the mirror and singing Christophine's songs. At night, however, Antoinette talks about death and tells Rochester that, if he told her to die, his words would kill her. She submits to him sexually and begins to hunger for sex as much as he. Afterward, Antoinette seems more lost, crying when Rochester whispers, "You are safe." He feels no real tenderness for her, only lust, and he tries to ignore her morbid preoccupations and her naïve incomprehension of a world beyond the islands.

Summary

In this section, dreams and deceptions muddle reality, forcing us to ask what is real and what is not. Both feelings and the physical landscape deceive. At the wedding, deceit reigns, as Rochester feigns his love for Antoinette. He fools everyone except the servants with his mask of congeniality, love, and admiration. Like these feelings, the physical landscape is false, at least for Rochester. When he and Antoinette argue about which land is more "real," England or the West Indies, he says that the West Indies is a dreamlike and unreal place. He feels like a zombie or sleepwalker in this land, much like Antoinette's own mother during her final days at Coulibri. Reality seems elusive and ungrounded, tangled with dreams and deceit.

Animals and plants dominate the imagery of this section, a glimpse of the natural world that offers insight into Rhys's principal characters. Antoinette's story about rats, for example, manifests her fear of being watched and followed. The repeated images of petals falling from blooming flowers reflect the fragility of Antoinette's beauty and the quick collapse that one careless touch might cause. The moths and beetles that fly into the candle flames during the couple's first dinner at Granbois recall the feverish state of both characters: both Rochester and Antoinette have suffered near-fatal fevers in the past, as if to represent their emotional volatility and their inability to cope with a strange and menacing outside world. These images of death by fire also echo Coco the parrot's fate at Coulibri and presage Antoinette's own death at the close of the novel.

Antoinette and Rochester both appear overwhelmed by the lush tropical world. Rochester, who is not used to the powerful sights and scents of a living natural environment, feels particularly assaulted by its onslaught. The night, with its bright stars and fragrant flowers, operates to heighten the mood of mystery and sensuality that marks the couple's first nights together. As they begin to hunger for one another physically, Rochester and Antoinette succumb to the powerful and primitive atmosphere of their isolated surroundings. Sexually free, Antoinette also feels emotionally free as she explores her inner gloom. It is only at night that Antoinette whispers her secret sadness to her husband, hiding behind the safety of darkness.

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Context

by buckindisguise, March 01, 2014

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

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