Wide Sargasso Sea: Part One continued (II)

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That night Antoinette’s mother wakes her and tells her to dress and come down quickly. She goes to the dining room and her step-father says there is no reason to be alarmed and there is only a handful of “‘drunken negroes’”. He goes outside and horrible noises swell up and stones are thrown. He comes back and looks pale and tries and fails to smile. He bolts the door and says there are more “‘of them’” than he thought. Antoinette’s mother twists her hands together and her ring falls off.


Mannie stoops to retrieve the ring and notices smoke coming under the Antoinette’s bedroom door. He says they must have set fire to the back of the house. Antoinette’s mother runs off and comes back with Pierre and her loose hair smells burnt. Mr Mason says to her that her hands are also burnt and she does not respond. She says instead that Pierre was alone and Myra should have been with him, and his crib was on fire. She starts screaming at her husband and calls him a “‘grinning hypocrite’” for sneering at her and not listening.


Mannie and Sass throw water in the bedroom and Christophine reports the other side of the house has also been set fire to. Aunt Cora and Christophine take Antoinette and Pierre out by the terrace and Mr Mason drags Antoinette’s mother but she wants to go back for her parrot, Coco, which has grown bad tempered since Mr Mason had his wings clipped. She stops struggling when Aunt Cora says “‘do not allow them to laugh at you’”.


There are many people outside but Antoinette recognizes nobody and sees the same faces repeated. People in the crowd notice Mannie and Sass bringing the horses and carriage round. The crowd shout “‘damn white niggers’” and a stone is thrown at Mannie. Mr Mason prays and the yells stop. Antoinette opens her eyes and looks where everybody else is looking. They are looking and pointing at Coco who is on the railings of the terrace and his feathers are alight. He tries to fly but cannot because of his clipped wings. He falls screeching and is ‘all on fire’. Antoinette cries and Aunt Cora tells her to not look.


The crowd disperses and somebody says it is very unlucky to kill a parrot, or even to see one die. Antoinette and her family go to the carriage and none of them look back.


A group of men and a few women try to stop them and one of the men has a machete. Mannie is told to run away, like the boy, and Aunt Cora insists they be allowed to leave and says Pierre is badly hurt. She threatens the man, who threatens her, with hell and he eventually backs away. Before they leave, Antoinette turns to see the house burn and knows she will not see Coulibri again, including the garden, the furniture and the painting of the Miller’s Daughter. All that will be left is blackened walls and the ‘mounting stone’ ‘that could not be stolen or burned’.


She sees Tia and her mother and runs to Tia, ‘for she was all that was left of my life as it had been’. As she gets closer, she sees the jagged stone in Tia’s hand, but she does not see her throw it. She only feels something wet her face and looks at Tia and sees her cry. They stare at each other and she compares it to looking in a mirror.


Analysis – Part One continued

The death of the bird, who has had his wings clipped on Mr Mason’s orders, points us to seeing his the fatal consequences of his lack of judgement. The clipping of wings is also a metaphor for imprisonment, which as readers of Jane Eyre know is an inevitable outcome for Antoinette in this prequel. Her mother has also had to encounter a form of imprisonment in that she has had to stay at Coulibri when she would prefer to leave.


The restriction of freedom is also, of course, evident in the history of slavery that permeates Antoinette’s past. As Christophine points out in earlier pages, slavery has not ended – it has simply been replaced with law and so-called justice.


Identity and lack of belonging is also an aspect of this section and is articulated in the image of Antoinette and Tia staring at each other as though looking in a mirror. The use of mirrors to indicate a preoccupation with identity is also to be found in Jane Eyre, as when Jane sees Bertha (Antoinette) looking in the mirror. In The Madwoman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar argue that Bertha may be read as Jane’s alter ego in Jane Eyre, and similarly we are invited to read here that Tia and Antoinette share conditions such as isolation and subjection.

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