was called Coco, a green parrot. He didn't talk very well, he could
say Qui est la? Qui est la? And answer himself Che Coco, Che Coco.
After Mr. Mason clipped his wings he grew very bad tempered. . . .
I opened my eyes, everybody was looking
up and pointing at Coco on the glacis railings with his feathers
alight. He made an effort to fly down but his clipped wings failed
him and he fell screeching. He was all on fire.
These two passages, along with numerous
other allusions to birds and captivity, act as premonitions and
serve to draw parallels between a highly symbolic natural world
and the characters who inhabit it. Eerie and grotesque, descriptions
of dead, rotten, and dying animals litter the first and second parts
of the novel. Annette's poisoned horse, left to rot and swarming
with flies, provides the first in a series of images that prefigure
Antoinette's tragic abandonment and violent death. Coco, Annette's
beloved parrot and the only possession that she attempts to rescue
from the fire, emerges as a key symbol of women's captivity within
the novel. Unable to "talk very well," the parrot mirrors the inability
of women to gain voice in a patriarchal society. When he does speak,
the parrot uses a French patois that aligns it with a female world
embodied by Christophine, Martinique, and natural magic. His repeated
question, "Qui est là," translates to "Who is there?" and underscores
the paranoia, persecution, and issues of identity that trouble both
Antoinette and her mother. Responding to itself, "I am Coco," the
parrot repeatedly asserts its own name and fixes it own identity,
reciting a mantra that, like an incantation, works as protection.
Mr. Mason's unexplained impulse to clip the bird's wings indicates
the white, male, English need to control.
Describing the events of the Coulibri fire, Antoinette
recalls Coco's gruesome death in vivid detail. She experiences,
perhaps, an unconscious presentiment of her own final moments, falling
from the burning battlements of Thornfield Hall. In the dream that
precedes and inspires her death, Antoinette thinks back to Coco,
imagining herself as a wild incarnation of the tropical bird: "The
wind caught my hair and it streamed out like wings. It might bear
me up, I thought, if I jumped to those hard stones." Just as the
gathered servants point and stare at the flaming bird, generations
of readers have imagined the ghoulish image of a Creole madwoman
and watched her death with a voyeuristic complacency.