Wide Sargasso Sea: Part One continued (III)

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The narrative cuts to Antoinette telling Aunt Cora that she has seen her plait cut off and placed in the chest of drawers, and had thought it was a snake. Her aunt says she has been ill and is safe with her now. Pierre is dead, which is what Antoinette presumes, and her mother is in the country ‘resting’ and getting well. Antoinette has been ill for nearly six weeks, but has heard her mother scream the words of Coco (‘Qui est là? Qui est là?’) and other things such as “‘Coward. Hypocrite. I’ll kill you’”, but does not mention it. She asks her aunt to sing to her, the song ‘Before I Was Set Free’, and falls asleep.


The narrative shifts to Antoinette visiting her mother and insists on Christophine coming with her. Her mother hugs her tightly, but pushes her away when she realizes Pierre is dead.


There is a further narrative shift to Antoinette and her first day at the convent. She is followed by two children who taunt her. The girl says she is crazy like her mother and that her mother has eyes like a zombie. The boy tells her he will catch her alone one day. They jostle her and a boy runs over. The children run off and Antoinette does too. She drops a book and he catches up with her to give it to her. She recognizes him as Sandi, Alexander Cosway’s son. At one time, she would have called him her cousin, but Mr Mason’s lecturing ‘had made me shy about my coloured relatives’. Sandi chases after the boy to stop him bothering Antoinette again, and she rings and rings the convent bell to be let in.


She collapses and cries once allowed in and her eyes are wiped. She is asked her name and she says (for the first time in the novel) that her name is Antoinette.


That this is a memory is highlighted in the narrative when she narrates the following: ‘Quickly while I can, I must remember the hot classroom.’ She is sewing and her needle is sticky. They are cross-stitching silk roses and they can color them as they choose. Antoinette’s are green, blue and purple and she decides to write her name, address and date in ‘fire red’. As they sew, Mother St Justine reads them stories from the lives of the Saints and these are all beautiful, wealthy, and loved by rich and handsome young men. 


No one speaks of her mother now that Christophine is with her son and her step-father is often away for months. In July, her aunt says she is going to England for a year and asks if she will be lonely. Antoinette says no and thinks of the hours and hours her aunt spent working on the patchwork counterpane.


The convent is her refuge and during her stay there of 18 months her step-father often comes to see her. The last time he visits he says how she will come to live with him, her Aunt Cora and his son, Richard (his son from his first marriage). She is dismayed and he notices and makes her laugh and asks how she would like to live in England. He says he wants her to be happy and secure. Before he leaves the convent, he says he has asked some English friends to visit next winter and she asks if he thinks they will come. She feels dismay again when he says one of them will certainly do so. She thinks if she says nothing it might not be true, as with the time she saw the dead horse.


She thinks of the other girls as being safe and has her dream for the second time. Here, she has left the house at Coulibri at night and is walking toward the forest. She is wearing a beautiful white dress and follows a man who is with her. She is frightened but makes no effort to save herself. His face is black with hatred and she cries on seeing this and stops holding on to her dress to stop it getting dirty. She goes up some steps and clings on to a tree. She hears a strange voice say, “‘here, in here’” and the tree stops swaying and jerking.


She tells Sister Marie Augustine that she has dreamed she was in hell and the Sister tells her to put it from her mind and drink her hot chocolate. Antoinette remembers her mother’s funeral and how they drank hot chocolate and ate cakes. She died the year before and nobody said how and she did not ask. Christophine and Mr Mason were the only other ones there.


Analysis – Part One continued

The significance of dreams as a form of prophecy in Jane Eyre also find a place here as Antoinette has a nightmare about marriage, as represented by her white dress and the frightening dominant man. The safety offered by the convent is threatened by the outside world and this fear is introduced with Mr Mason’s intimations that a man is keen to meet her.


Antoinette’s vulnerability is reiterated and her outsider status is often re-affirmed by others, such as the two children who bully her on the first day at the convent. It is only inside that she finds a refuge and never again recovers this form of sanctuary.

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