Wide Sargasso Sea

by: Jean Rhys

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Main ideas Symbols

Birds

Coco, Annette’s pet parrot, enacts Antoinette’s own doom. With his wings clipped by Mr. Mason—notably, an Englishman—the bird is shackled and maimed, mirroring Antoinette’s own flightless dependency. As Antoinette recalls, “[Coco] made an effort to fly down but his clipped wings failed him and he fell screeching. He was all on fire.” This passage presages the apocalyptic dream that ends the novel, including Antoinette’s fiery fall from the attic. As omens and warnings, birds invite Antoinette to invest meaning and significance in the natural world. When she sees a cock crowing alongside Christophine’s house, Antoinette thinks, “That is for betrayal, but who is the traitor?” As with the parrot, the appearance of the cock portends danger.

Forests and Trees

Antoinette’s recurring forest dream introduces a cool, dark, unknown landscape that contrasts sharply with Jamaica’s colorful brightness. A nightmare that is also a premonition, the dream takes place among “tall dark trees” that lead to an enclosed stone garden. Following a sinister and faceless man, Antoinette finds herself in a foreign place that portends her future captivity in England. Another forest omen resides in the name of the honeymoon estate, Granbois, which translates into “great forest.” Like Antoinette’s dream, this name foretells her move to the cold forests of England. It is here at Granbois that her husband loses himself in the woods, stumbling upon the haunting ruins of a stone house. Rochester’s eerie experience in the forest echoes his wife’s dream; in fact, it provides the second half of her nightmarish prediction. In the forest, he seems to be gazing upon the consequences of his own actions: a ruined house in the woods, a clear image of his English estate that will be burned and abandoned.

The Garden

Antoinette compares the garden at Coulibri Estate to the biblical Garden of Eden, with its luxurious excess and lost innocence. In her own words, the garden has “gone wild,” assaulting the senses with its brilliant colors, pungent odors, and tangling overgrowth. The flowers look vaguely sinister; Antoinette describes one orchid as being “snaky looking,” recalling the biblical fall and man’s decline into greed and sensuality. The decadent Creole lifestyle as portrayed in the novel—predicated upon exploitation, wealth, and ease—finds its natural counterpart in the fallen garden.