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Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys

Part Two, Section Three

Part Two, Section Two

Part Two, Section Four

Summary

Rochester receives a note from a man named Daniel Cosway, one of Alexander Cosway's bastard children. The note informs Rochester of Antoinette's depraved background: her father was a detestable, wicked slave owner and her mother a spoilt woman who died a dangerous lunatic. Daniel Cosway writes that he considers it his Christian duty to warn Rochester about his new wife. Daniel advises Rochester to visit him in the nearby town of Massacre.

After reading the letter at the bathing pool, Rochester walks back to the house, sweating and trembling, and he crushes an orchid along the way. He overhears Amelie and his wife arguing. When Amelie makes a snide comment about Rochester, Antoinette slaps her; the two fight until Rochester intervenes, and then Amelie leaves the room, singing about a "white cockroach." In her anger, Antoinette tears up a bed sheet with scissors.

When Christophine enters, Antoinette asks her if what Amelie has said is indeed true—that Christophine is leaving. Christophine confirms that she is going to work with her son, leaving the estate and its unfriendly master. Amelie reenters the room, smiling mischievously at Rochester, but Christophine threatens Amelie. After both servants exit, Antoinette tries to explain to her husband how painful it is to be rejected by both the blacks and the English, but he cannot understand.

Later that day, as Rochester walks in the forest, he begins to think that his father, his brother, and Richard Mason have deliberately tricked him into marrying a lunatic, that "they all knew." As he prepares to head home, he encounters a girl who screams at the sight of him and runs away. Left alone in the chilly and dark forest, Rochester loses his way. Finally, Baptiste appears and leads Rochester back, dismissing his questions about zombies and the seemingly haunted road. Finding Antoinette's door bolted, Rochester goes to his room, where he drinks alone, reading a chapter on obeah in a book called The Glittering Coronet of Isles.

Analysis

The introduction of Daniel Cosway deepens Rhys's exploration of inherited suffering. With a white father and a black mother, Daniel represents the racially split counterpart to Antoinette's culturally split identity; he is even more dramatically torn between the races than his fully white sister. Like Antoinette, whose mother disowns and rejects her, Daniel is also rejected, as a bastard son. He also suffers the indignities of his parentage and is powerless to change his inherited stigma. As rejected children, Daniel and Antoinette share their sense of isolation, displacement, and anger.

Although Daniel claims he is motivated by a charitable Christian kindness, his letter betrays a deeply rooted spitefulness. Attacking everyone from his own family members to distant acquaintances, Daniel's letter bears the stamp of one who is alone and threatened. Not knowing what to believe, and unequipped to trust his own instinct, Rochester clings to the worst suggestion in Daniel's message, confirming his suspicion that he has been "had." Rochester, too, feels that the world is against him, and he begins to view Antoinette and Christophine as his enemies. Furthermore, Antoinette herself, like Daniel and Rochester, feels mistreated. She feels abused and abandoned by everyone, from Christophine to Amelie to Rochester. Like Mr. Mason before him, Rochester is unsympathetic to Antoinette's plight—that is, her peculiar relationship to the black community that both embraces and reviles her.

Rochester's walk into the forest echoes Antoinette's recurring nightmare. Like his wife, he feels confused and alone as he enters the woods. The landscape comes to represent his interior world as he stumbles forward on a path that he does not recognize or understand, feeling watched on all sides and cruelly deceived. The small girl who screams and runs when she spots Rochester in the woods aggravates his feelings of isolation and strange alienation. He is a terror to women, who seem to recognize evil in him. Interestingly, Rochester's own mother is never mentioned; he seems totally uninitiated into the world of women. When Rochester returns to Granbois and finds Antoinette's room bolted, it is as though he is closed off from all sides. Reading the book about obeah practices only serves to increase Rochester's feelings of persecution. We later see that, in his lunatic wife, he unknowingly creates the sort of zombie that the obeah book discusses, practicing his own magic and depriving her of her essential spirit.

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Context

by buckindisguise, March 01, 2014

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

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