Wide Sargasso Sea

by: Jean Rhys

Part Three, Section Two

Summary Part Three, Section Two

Analysis

Rhys has adapted the scene of Richard Mason's visit from Jane Eyre, but has altered the perspective. No longer is the scene from the viewpoint of Jane, the young English girl to whom the captive woman is a frightening monster; instead, Rhys allows Antoinette to speak. Antoinette reveals just how confused and dislocated she feels. That she does not remember attacking Richard Mason suggests the extent of her fragmentation: it seems that she and the raving madwoman are two distinct entities, locked in combat over the woman's identity.

What troubles Antoinette most about Richard Mason's visit is that he does not recognize her. Without a mirror in the attic, Antoinette can no longer view her reflection and confirm her own identity. She has slowly become Rochester's creation, renamed "Bertha Mason" and transformed into a madwoman. Richard's non- recognition of Antoinette recalls Antoinette's own non-recognition of her mother when she visited her mother at the house of the caretakers. Richard's look of horror confirms that Antoinette has followed in her mother's footsteps.

Antoinette's attachment to her red dress is particularly poignant. She clings to the dress as a reminder of her past, believing she can smell the Caribbean landscape in its folds. It is by touching and staring at the dress that she loses herself in to her sensory, organic world of memories. Significantly, the dress is red—a color that symbolizes the passion and destruction that led to her current captivity.

For Antoinette, money and time have no meaning. Never concerned or interested in money, Antoinette has lost all of her own wealth ever since Rochester assumed control of her finances. Rather than buy the knife, Antoinette barters for it with her locket, reverting to a more primitive system of exchange. Like money, time has no relevance for Antoinette; she says that it is does not matter. Both time and money are constructs that have little bearing on her world of images or on the Caribbean sights and sounds for which she longs.

In forestalling Antoinette's fatal jump foretold by Brontë's novel, Rhys grants her protagonist a final moment of triumph. Antoinette appears active and defiant, about to enact her dream. She is finally allowed to speak, and Rochester must listen: the fire is her voice of rage.

Rhys's novel suggests that Antoinette's paranoia about being followed and watched is legitimate. The reader of Jane Eyre becomes complicit in the watching; Antoinette feels these eyes upon her, viewing her as a ferocious lunatic. Even Antoinette watches herself in horror, as she dreams that she looks at herself in the mirror and sees not herself but a ghost. Rhys thus constructs a world of scrutiny, as we spy Antoinette from all different angles: from Grace Poole's viewpoint, from Rochester's, from Antoinette's own—and also from our own, as readers of Jane Eyre. Like a mirror reflected an infinite number of times, Rhys's narrative web continues to grow outward, incorporating a multiplicity of voices and competing perspectives. She thus confirms Antoinette's anxiety that eyes are always upon her.