Wide Sargasso Sea Summary and Analysis
by Jean Rhys
Part 2, Section 4
The point-of-view then switches back to Rochester, who receives a second letter from Daniel Cosway asking him why he has not yet come to visit. Rochester questions Amelie about Daniel, but she offers only contradictory information. At first Rochester instructs Amelie to tell Daniel not to write anymore, but something she says convinces him that it might be worth his while to pay the man a visit.
Rochester goes to visit Daniel, who immediately launches into a long diatribe about the wrongdoings of the Cosway family patriarch, the man he insists was his father, Old Alexander Cosway. Mr. Cosway apparently refused to acknowledge Daniel as his son, and Daniel clearly is still holding a grudge even though many years have passed. He tells Rochester that everyone on the island - the Mason family, Christophine, Antoinette herself and all of her relations - have duped the Englishman into marrying her. He suggests that Antoinette has a family history not only of madness but also of incest. Like Amelie, Daniel implies that Antoinette has had a sexual relationship with her half-brother Sandi. He tells Rochester that for Â£500 he will keep quiet about these delicate matters. Rochester is disgusted and leaves.
Later, back at Granbois, Antoinette attempts to speak to Rochester as Christophine advised. She asks him why he hates her and he admits that he has been to see Daniel Cosway. Antoinette says that Daniel is a liar who has no right to her family's name. "I know what he told you," she tells her husband. "That my mother was mad and an infamous woman and that my little brother who died was born a cretin and that I am a mad girl too." Rochester does not deny it, but when Antoinette tries to tell him her version of the story of her family he resists, saying that he would prefer to wait until later, when she can be more "reasonable."
Antoinette tries to explain the situation at Coulibri after her father died and left the family impoverished and isolated. She speaks about how difficult it was for her beautiful mother to adjust to their new lifestyle, and says that they all would have died if not for Christophine. Rochester, of course, is skeptical. Antoinette then tells him about her feeling that her mother was ashamed of her, and further intimates that she was responsible for the events leading to her mother's breakdown. When she tells about the fire that destroyed Coulibri, Rochester begins to question whether or not there is any truth to her tale. Finally, she relates her fevered stay at Aunt Cora's, her brother's death, and her mother's hatred for Mr. Mason and eventual madness.
In narrating her past, Antoinette becomes highly emotional and Rochester suggests that it is time to retire for the night. She agrees but asks him to come into her room to wish her 'goodnight' first. When he does so, Rochester notices a white powder on the floor, which Antoinette says is to keep away the cockroaches. She then hands him a glass of wine to drink, which apparently contains the potion concocted by Christophine. Rochester says that the last thing he remembers is putting out the candles on the bedside table.
Rochester's visit to Daniel Cosway's shack takes place just after Antoinette's trip to see Christophine and the two encounters share many parallels, most notably the motif of bribery. Antoinette attempts to use her money to induce Christophine to perform an obeah ritual; Daniel tries to convince Rochester to pay him to keep silent about Antoinette's dark past. In both cases, the racial hegemony established under colonialism is radically subverted by the monetary transaction. The wealthy Englishman and his Creole wife find themselves forced to rely upon the assistance of former slaves, help that is no longer available free of charge. Daniel in particular is intent upon exercising his newfound power over those who formerly oppressed him.
Rochester fails to realize that much of the information that Daniel provides, as well as the information that others offer about him, is contradictory in nature. Daniel insists that his last name is Cosway and that his father was a white man, but Amelie says that both of his parents were black. Similarly, although she at first tells her master that Daniel is "a very superior man, always reading the Bible," mere minutes later she announces that he is "a bad man" who will "make trouble" if Rochester does not comply with his demands. Strangely, while Rochester is incapable of dealing with the irreconcilable versions of Antoinette's past, he seems experience little or no cognitive dissonance when it comes to Daniel. He is inclined to believe the worst about the woman he has married and the best about this man whom he has just met, a tendency illustrating his masculine prejudices - a hallmark of patriarchy.
Daniel tells Rochester that he is motivated by a simple sense of Christian duty, yet he is decidedly not an impartial or disinterested third party in the situation he describes. He clearly harbors a great deal of resentment for the slaveholding and womanizing Alexander Cosway, the man who refused to recognize Daniel as a son. In fact, several details indicate that Daniel's understanding of Christian values is rather depraved. Symbolically, the Biblical text "Vengeance is Mine" (Romans 12: 19-21) hangs framed on his wall and he keeps his eyes fixed upon it as he speaks. Along the same lines, he tells Rochester that his real name is Esau, like the jealous and hateful son of Isaac and Rebecca in the Bible who tries to kill his older brother Jacob.
Daniel expresses extreme jealousy of Old Mr. Cosway's other illegitimate children, Sandi and young Alexander, both of whom are lighter-skinned and more readily accepted into white social circles. Both Daniel and Amelie mention Antoinette's relationship with Sandi in a highly suggestive manner, but again these accounts contradict one another. Amelie says that she heard the two were married, but that she doesn't believe it because "Miss Antoinette a white girl with a lot of money, she won't marry with a coloured man even though he don't look like a coloured man." Daniel, meanwhile, hints at an incestuous affair between the two half-siblings. "I see them when they think nobody see them," he insinuates. Later he taunts Rochester by saying that the Englishman is not the first person to make love to Antoinette.
Antoinette, upon returning from Christophine's, confronts Rochester about his behavior. She tells him that there is always another side to every story, elucidating what is perhaps the most important idea underlying Wide Sargasso Sea. Unlike her husband, Antoinette understands that there is no absolute truth in the world, and she is capable of living with the uncertainty created by a multiplicity of possible interpretations of the same event. Rochester, meanwhile, feels the needs to impose fixed meaning on every situation he does not immediately understand. Notably, in revising Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Jean Rhys does not suggest that Antoinette's version of the story is the only legitimate one; rather, by offering the conflicting and contradictory opinions of Daniel, Rochester, and others, she opens up the possibility for several shifting - and equally valid - versions of Caribbean/British history.
Wide Sargasso Sea Essays and Related Content
- Wide Sargasso Sea: Major Themes
- Wide Sargasso Sea: Essays
- Wide Sargasso Sea: Questions
- Wide Sargasso Sea: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Jean Rhys: Biography
- Wide Sargasso Sea Summary
- 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
- What is "post-colonialism"?
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