Artboard Created with Sketch. Close Search Dialog

Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys

Part One, Section Three

Summary Part One, Section Three

Analysis

The wedding scene is one of many instances of overhearing and overseeing in the novel. By quoting bits of overheard conversation, Antoinette allows us to see her and her mother as others see them. The women at the wedding condemn the family as strange, talking of a six-foot snake they saw at the house—a symbol of the evil that resides at Coulibri.

This section also introduces us to Mr. Mason's prejudices about the blacks of the West Indies, as well as his miscomprehension of the Creole position. In the somewhat upturned Caribbean world, the servants are in control while Creole whites like the Cosways live in fear. Mr. Mason, however, misjudges the ex- slaves as harmless and childlike, and he is supremely confident that, as a white Englishman, he is safe from all harm. He cannot understand how his wife feels subject to the very people she is meant to control.

Antoinette and her mother, by contrast, have a very instinctive awareness of the rising animosity among the servants. They sense rage and danger all around, as Antoinette feels that that the "the sky and sea were on fire"—an ominous description that foreshadows the burning of the house. Indeed, on the night of the fire, Antoinette has an unsettling premonition of evil. Superstitious and greatly influenced by Christophine's lore, Antoinette yearns for her protective stick and thinks of her nurse's warning "that the glacis was not a good place when night was coming." Such superstitions reveal Antoinette's integration into her black Caribbean surroundings. Raised by Christophine, Antoinette shares the older woman's obeah sensibilities and, as a child, sees everything around her as living. This worldview contrasts sharply with the rational, logical, and scientific thinking of a man like Mr. Mason, who does not believe that the servants are a threat until they literally run him out of his house on the night of the fire.

The episode with Annette's parrot, Coco, symbolically mimics the life of Annette and her daughter. The bird symbolizes the bound captivity of both mother and daughter—the figurative clipping of their feathers by insensitive English husbands who see them as threatening free spirits. Coco's fall from the burning glacis prefigures Antoinette's fall from the battlements of Rochester's English home.

Furthermore, the question of identity arises when Antoinette runs from the house and sees her reflection in Tia's face. Just as parallels are made between the mother figures Annette and Christophine, so are Antoinette and Tia paired as closed friends, even sisters. Annette and Antoinette, seeking to define themselves, often look at their respective counterparts as reflections. When Tia throws the rock at Antoinette, she shatters the reflected image. This act metaphorically represents Antoinette's movement away from her black childhood and her eventual emergence into the white Creole world of Spanish Town.