Wide Sargasso Sea

by: Jean Rhys

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 1

There is no looking glass here and I don't know what I am like now. I remember watching myself brush my hair and how my eyes looked back at me. The girl I saw was myself yet not quite myself. Long ago when I was a child and very lonely I tried to kiss her. But the glass was between us—hard, cold and misted over with my breath. Now they have taken everything away. What am I doing in this place and who am I?

This passage, narrated by Antoinette in Part Three, reflects several significant themes regarding her captivity in Thornfield Hall. Delivered in the present tense, these lines suggest the immediacy of Antoinette's situation and place us within the attic alongside Rhys's heroine. While Antoniette is unable to follow the passage of time, she remains acutely perceptive about her immediate surroundings, maintaining a lucidity that often breaks the surface of her madness. For instance, she notices the absence of a mirror, as it would provide her with a reflection of herself and a reassurance of her existence. An important motif throughout the novel, mirrors underscore the important questions of identity that pull at Rhys's central characters. Annette, Antoinette's mother, constantly looked for her own reflection—a habit adopted by her daughter, and one that indicates their shared need to be visible in a world that neither accepts nor invites them. By putting Antoinette in a mirrorless prison, alone save for a taciturn guard, Rochester exacerbates her feeling of disconnection. He has already deprived her of her name, calling her Bertha and effectively erasing her existence as Antoinette. Without a name, she does not know what to call herself; without a face, she becomes a ghost. As a child, Antoinette tried to kiss her reflected image, uniting the two halves of her split cultural identity, but she came up against the hard, separating glass. Antoinette's lifelong desire to close this gap—to become a visible, accepted member of any community—informs this passage and accounts for her inability to grasp and master reality.