Wide Sargasso Sea Summary and Analysis
by Jean Rhys
Part 1, Section 2
Time apparently passes and circumstances seem to have improved even more dramatically for the Cosway family when Antoinette takes up her narrative again. She recommences the tale by stating that she was a bridesmaid when her mother married an Englishman by the name of Mr. Mason. While their mother and stepfather are away on their honeymoon, Antoinette and Pierre stay with their Aunt Cora in Spanish Town.
By the time the family returns to Coulibri, the estate is "clean and tidy, no grass between the flagstones, no leaks." Mr. Mason evidently has money and has paid for the necessary repairs. He engages a group of new servants, including Mannie and Myra, to attend to the chores. Antoinette dislikes their gossip about Christophine's obeah practices, which causes her to become afraid of what she will find if she looks around the woman's room; she is certain there is "a dead man's dried hand, white chicken feathers, [and] a cock with its throat cut" hidden somewhere just out of sight.
After Annette and Mr. Mason have been married for about a year, they begin to have regular arguments. Annette wants to leave Coulibri, alone if necessary, believing that the Jamaican people hate her more than ever now that she is wealthy once again. Mr. Mason, however, believes that everything is and will be fine now that he has rescued the family from poverty. He refuses to accept that the ex-slaves might be still harboring vindictive resentment toward them, and goes about making plans to import laborers from the East Indies since the black people on the island refuse to work. Aunt Cora warns him not to speak of such things in front of the servants, but he fails to heed the warning. He insists that the blacks are "too damn lazy to be dangerous."
Then one night Antoinette goes to bed waiting for Christophine, who does not come. Antoinette has a premonition that something is wrong and wishes for the weapon she obtained for self-protection after her mother's horse was killed - "a long narrow piece of wood, with two nails sticking out at the end, a shingle, perhaps." When she awakens again, it is still night and her mother is standing in the room with her. She gets up and goes downstairs to find that a mob of angry black servants has gathered outside. Mr. Mason maintains that the crowd is merely a "handful of drunken negroes," but when he ventures onto the glacis and attempts to pacify them, he is pelted with stones.
Suddenly Mannie notices that the mob has set fire to the back of the house, where Pierre still lies asleep in his bedroom. Annette, who had entrusted the care of her son to Myra, rushes off to rescue him and returns badly burned but carrying the practically lifeless boy in her arms. It quickly becomes clear to everyone that Myra has betrayed the family and gone off to join in the rioting protest. Annette berates her husband for his naÃ¯vetÃ© in believing the black servants to be as harmless as children.
While the remaining loyal servants struggle to put out the flames, Aunt Cora announces that the mob has set fire to the other side of the house. The family must get out immediately or risk burning alive, but Annette wants to go back into the house for her beloved parrot Coco. Mr. Mason forbids it and drags her out of the building, where they are brought face-to-face with the loud and angry mob. Mannie and Sass have saddled the horses for escape, but it seems as though the crowd will not allow it. Mr. Mason begins to pray, and just then the crowd falls silent at the sight of the parrot falling to a fiery death, his clipped wings ablaze. The group begins to break up, and some members seem to be having second thoughts about their behavior. The family and their loyal servants scramble to enter the carriage, as Aunt Cora and Mr. Mason exchange heated words with some of the ringleaders. Antoinette turns back for one last glimpse of the house and sees Tia and her mother standing a little way off. She breaks away and begins to run toward them, but Tia stops her in her tracks by throwing a jagged rock at her forehead.
Superficially, life seems to improve for the Cosway family with Annette's marriage to the wealthy Mr. Mason. Overheard conversational fragments relayed by the young Antoinette, however, suggest that their newfound happiness is only temporary. Hidden away in the overgrown garden of Coulibri, Antoinette is able to listen in on what the other islanders - many of them the same white people who previously shunned the family - are saying about them, and this gossip is far from flattering. Through Antoinette's ears we hear their predictions that Mason will live to regret his union with the rather unstable Annette, a marriage which none of the rumormongers can seem understand. Someone hints that the wedding is only happening because of Christophine has used her obeah magic to put a spell on the groom. Another person comments that Pierre is "an idiot kept out of sight and mind," and further intimates that Antoinette is "going the same way."
For her part, Antoinette seems to be ambivalent in her attitude toward her new stepfather. She is pleased that he has brought her mother back to life again, but at the same time she cannot help but feel that he does not understand their way of life. This becomes clear when he questions Antoinette about why her Aunt Cora did not do more to help the family during their time of need. Antoinette tries to explain that her aunt had no money of her own; under English law everything belonged to Cora's husband who "hated the West Indies" and disliked the family. This detail is significant because Antoinette will find herself in the same financially dependent position as her aunt after she marries (Mr. Rochester). Mason, however, doesn't seem to understand the extent to which women are subjugated in his society.
Mason also fails to understand the complexities of race and class on the island. He laughs when Annette tells him that she wishes to leave Jamaica because the family is more hated than ever by blacks and white alike now that they are wealthy again. He believes that no harm will come to the family because the blacks on the island are "too damn lazy to be dangerous." Staunch in his insistence that the former slaves are like "children [who] wouldn't hurt a fly," Mason continues with his plans to make money by importing laborers from the East Indies. Aunt Cora, whom he considers a "frivolous woman," warns him not to speak of these things in front of the servants, but of course he does not listen.
Mason's naivetÃ© almost costs the family their lives. Even when an angry mob assembles outside the house, he maintains that it is just a "handful of drunken negroes" who will "repent in the morning." Again, the women of the house - especially Christophine and Aunt Cora - know better. In a purposeful preview of the fire that will inevitably conclude the novella, the mob torches Coulibri until there is "nothing left but blackened walls and mounting stone." The blaze clearly makes a big impression on Antoinette, who will later use precisely the same tactic to assert herself after she is imprisoned in Rochester's attic.
The fire scene brings about the complete mental breakdown of Annette, an event that has been building for a long time. Annette turns on her husband, telling him that he "ought not to live." This too foreshadows Antoinette's own psychological demise and the downfall of her marriage to Rochester. Both mother and daughter suffer because of the patriarchal society in which they live, a world in which the feelings and opinions of women do not matter. The tragic fates of Annette and Antoinette are symbolized by the fiery death of the parrot Coco, who cannot fly to safety because Mason has clipped his wings and thus made him a prisoner in the house.
Wide Sargasso Sea Essays and Related Content
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- Jean Rhys: Biography
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- About Wide Sargasso Sea
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Part 1, Section 1
- Summary and Analysis of Part 1, Section 2
- Summary and Analysis of Part 1, Section 3
- Summary and Analysis of Part 2, Section 1
- Summary and Analysis of Part 2, Section 2
- Summary and Analysis of Part 2, Section 3
- Summary and Analysis of Part 2, Section 4
- Summary and Analysis of Part 2, Section 5
- Summary and Analysis of Part 3
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