Wide Sargasso Sea Summary and Analysis
by Jean Rhys
Part 2, Section 1
The second part of the novella, which comprises the majority of the pages of the work, starts out from the point-of-view of (Mr. Rochester), although he is not named specifically at any point in the text. When his segment of the narrative begins, Rochester has just married Antoinette, and the two are about to spend several weeks honeymooning at a small estate in the Windward Islands that used to belong to her mother. As they travel to the honeymoon site, the couple and their attending servants are caught in a downpour and forced to take shelter. Rochester refuses to go indoors with his wife, and takes the opportunity to brood alone and reflect on all that has transpired in the past month since he arrived in Jamaica.
The marriage was apparently a very hasty affair. Rochester mentally composes a missive to his father detailing what has taken place, and we learn that he spent the first three weeks of his visit in bed with fever and now seems to be questioning his decision to wed a Creole woman he barely knows. Still, he muses, there was a great financial incentive for him to do so - Richard Mason, the son of the recently-deceased Mr. Mason, has apparently paid him Â£30,000 "without question or condition" to marry Antoinette. Evidently the money has saved Rochester from disgraceful ruin and dependence on his older brother.
When the rain ceases, the caravan continues on its way to Granbois, which is the name of Antoinette's inherited property. They climb upward through verdant vegetation and breathtaking beauty of the natural landscape, but Rochester thinks it is all "too much... [too] much blue, too much purple, too much green... [the] flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near." Finally they arrive at the house, where Rochester is introduced to the servants, including Christophine. Immediately he senses her distrust and asks Antoinette if she is afraid of the older woman.
Antoinette then leads him around the house, which he finds neglected, deserted, and generally run-down. She hands him a glass of rum and toasts their happiness. She seems to sense that her new husband is not pleased with the estate and attempts to reassure him by saying, "This is my place and everything is on our side." Rochester then takes refuge in his dressing-room, which formerly belonged to Mr. Mason. He sits down and writes the letter to his father explaining that the marriage transaction has gone according to plan.
Rochester then lapses into reminiscences about his whirlwind courtship of and marriage to Antoinette. He reflects that he must have "played the part" of the besotted lover perfectly, even though every though he found every action to be an agonizing effort. Moreover, he says that he barely recalls the wedding ceremony and subsequent celebration, except that he thought he detected pity and scorn on the faces of some of the guests. He does remember that on the morning the nuptials were scheduled to take place, Richard. Mason burst into his chamber and announced that Antoinette was refusing to go through with it. Rochester then went to speak with her about her misgivings and ultimately convinced her that he would provide her with "peace, happiness, [and] safety."
He falls asleep in the midst of these thoughts, and when he awakens it is the dinner hour. Antoinette has dressed up for the meal, and Rochester repeatedly remarks that she looks beautiful. As they eat, moths and beetles fly into the candle flames and burn to death. The couple discusses their respective homelands - Rochester's England and Antoinette's Jamaica - and argue about which is more "unreal" and "dreamlike." Rochester believes in that reality lies in the people, houses, and streets of the city, while Antoinette finds it in the rivers, mountains, and waters of nature. Leaving the argument unresolved, they take a walk on the veranda. Antoinette tells Rochester about an earlier visit to Granbois when she slept outside in the moonlight, angering Christophine.
The next morning, Rochester awakes for find Antoinette staring at him. Christophine comes in with their breakfast, and Rochester expresses his displeasure with certain aspects of her demeanor - the way her skirt drags on the floor, the way she speaks, and the way she carries herself in general. Antoinette tells him that he does not understand their way of life.
With the change in perspective from Antoinette to Rochester, the work's tone grows noticeably darker in this section. Even the opening lines of Rochester's narration are laden with a sense of foreboding. "So it was all over, the advance and retreat, the doubts and hesitations. Everything finished, for better or for worse," he states, hardly sounding like a man about to embark on his honeymoon. Notably, he depicts the courtship with Antoinette as a sort of war of the wills - a series of strategic "advance[s] and retreat[s]" on his part, calculated to overcome her "doubts and hesitations" as quickly as possible. His assertion that "everything [is] finished, for better or for worse" sounds like a parody of the traditional marriage vows, and moreover suggests that Antoinette's fate is sealed once and for all.
Both Antoinette and Rochester clearly harbor misgivings about their union. In fact, we learn that Antoinette got cold feet on the morning of the nuptials and almost refused to go through with it. When questioned, she says she's "afraid of what [might] happen" because the two know so little about each other. Rochester manages to convince her that, as his wife, she will have no reason to be afraid; he promises to keep her safe. Yet although he is kind and patient with her, his interior monologue reveals that his behavior is motivated by powerful self-interest rather than genuine concern for her welfare. "I did not relish going back to England in the role of rejected suitor jilted by this Creole girl," he explains.
Rochester views Antoinette as a conquest, and in this respect his pursuit of her can be read as a recapitulation of British colonialist impulses in the West Indies. More than anything else he desires her wealth, and only after he possesses it - and her - does he actually begin to question his hasty decision to marry. His doubts emerge as soon as he embarks on his honeymoon; for the first time he remarks that she looks more like a Creole than an Englishwoman. "And when did I begin to notice all this about my wife Antoinette?" he asks himself. "After we left Spanish Town I suppose. Or did I notice it before and refuse to admit what I saw?" Paranoid that others are looking upon him with pity and ridicule, he tries to convince himself that he is blessed with good fortune in the form of a wealthy and beautiful wife.
To an even greater extent than Mr. Mason, Rochester seems to incapable of understanding the way of life on the island. At Granbois he feels overwhelmed by the scenery and uncomfortable in the presence of the servants, especially Christophine. Perhaps most poignantly, when Antoinette discloses how afraid she used to be in the days right after Emancipation, he does not comprehend why. She tries to convey to him how difficult life used to be for her family, but he tells her that he would prefer not to hear such a "sad story."
Again, many of the details from this section foreshadow the events to come, the conclusion to Antoinette's tale as already written by Charlotte Brontë. Ominously, the honeymoon house is located near a village by the name of "Massacre." Rochester tramples one of the ceremonial frangipani wreaths set out for the wedding celebration, and moths fly into the candle flames and fall dead on the table during the dinner. Later, Rochester touches a rose and its petals fall to the ground. "Have all beautiful things sad destinies?" he muses aloud.
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