Wide Sargasso Sea: Part Three

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Grace Poole takes over the narration, and this part is in italics in the text. She explains to Leah that Rochester was in Jamaica when his father and brother died and he inherited everything. She explains she was taken on by Mrs Eff (Mrs Fairfax) for Rochester. Mrs Fairfax told her she knew him as a boy and a young man and he was ‘gentle, generous, brave’ and his stay in the West Indies changed him ‘out of all knowledge’. She will double Grace’s money to care for her (Antoinette) but has been told she will be dismissed if she gossips. Grace says how the house with its thick walls can be ‘big and safe’ and a shelter from the outside world, which can be ‘a black and cruel world to a woman’.


The narration is taken over by Antoinette at this point. She wonders why she has been brought here and describes how Grace sleeps in her room. At night, she sometimes sees her counting her money and keeps this in a bag around her neck. There is no looking glass here and she does not know what she looks like now. They have taken everything away and she questions who she is.


When Grace has had several drinks at night and is asleep, she takes the keys and walks ‘into their world’. She describes it as a ‘cardboard world’ and although they have told her she is in England she does not believe them. She remembers on the ship she put her arms around the neck of the young man who brought her food and asked him to help her. He told Rochester and she smashed glasses and plates.


She wakes up one morning with red swollen wrists and Grace supposes she does not remember what happened the night before. Grace tells her that a gentleman came to see her (in Jane Eyre this is Richard Mason). Antoinette remembers seeing a girl dressed in white, and says she cannot remember what happened. Grace tells her the man did not recognize her and to not run around now looking for him as he will not come back. She says Antoinette rushed at him with a knife and bit his arm when he took it away from her. She explains she flew at him when he told her he could not interfere legally between her and her husband. The word ‘legally’ was the trigger.


Antoinette remembers Richard did not recognize her and thinks he would have known her if she had been wearing her red dress. She asks for it and is told it is in the press. She goes to it and smells the scent of vetivert and frangipani, cinnamon, dust, lime trees and sun and rain. She remembers wearing a dress of this color when Sandi came to see her for the last time. He asked her to come with him and she said she would not, and they kissed.


The novel ends with a dreamlike description of Antoinette walking in the house and knocking the candles down. One of them sets light to a curtain. She drops another when she sees a woman with streaming hair (her reflection) and she runs and calls for Christophine to help her. She goes up to the battlements and the sky is red. She sees all her life is in it. She hears the parrot call ‘Qui est là? Qui est là?’ and the man who hated her was calling ‘Bertha. Bertha’


She jumps and calls ‘Tia’ and wakes up. Grace wakes up and asks “‘what was that?’” When Grace goes to bed and falls asleep again, Antoinette takes her keys and unlocks the door and takes a candle with her: ‘Now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to do.’


Analysis – Part Three

Now Antoinette is kept at Thornfield under the gaze of Grace Poole, the novel has caught up with the latter stages of Jane Eyre and readers of both works are able to compare the perspectives given of Antoinette and Jane respectively. Here, we are given the opportunity to imagine the fear and isolation of Antoinette and how her sense of displacement and exile are exacerbated by her imprisonment in this massive home in England with its cold thick walls.


Antoinette’s dislocation from reality, which is depicted in both novels, is seen in Wide Sargasso Sea to be connected to her treatment by those around her. At Thornfield, her instability appears to Grace be a part of her character, whereas the readers have been asked to see instead that she has been negatively effected by the events she has endured. Rochester’s maltreatment of her is the final act in a long line of cruelties. He has now become the man who hates her and she recognizes freedom will only come through fire and the cleansing of the past, which was attempted with the destruction of Coulibri.


It is also of note that Antoinette attacks Richard Mason after the word ‘legally’ is mentioned. This is a trigger for her as the justice system is seen to have been biased against women and non-white people and in favor of the privileged minority (of male white English aristocrats). Her violence offers a criticism of this, but is a criticism is that is only seen as a futile gesture of an irrational woman. Her lack of power is complete.

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