Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea Summary and Analysis of Part 2, Section 2


More time passes, and after being at Granbois for several weeks Rochester begins to forget his misgivings about marrying Antoinette. The weather is nice and he spends his days in the bathing pool, where Antoinette joins him in the afternoons. Each evening, they watch the sunset and Antoinette tells him about the history of the place. She speaks highly of the overseer, Baptiste, but Rochester inwardly maintains that he does not trust any of the black servants.

Rochester notices that Antoinette has two very different sides. During the day she smiles and converses with him openly, but at night she grows somber and melancholy, telling her husband how unhappy she was throughout her lonely childhood. "I never wished to live before I knew you. I always thought it would be better if I died," she says at one point. Another time she tells him that she is afraid of the happiness he has brought to her life, afraid that one day he will take it away again. He assures her that he would be foolish to do so, and finally they consummate their marriage. Both soon become constantly hungry for sex.

One day Rochester receives a letter from a man by the name of Daniel Cosway. Daniel explains that he is Antoinette's half-brother, another of Mr. Cosway's illegitimate children. He says he feels it is his moral obligation to inform Rochester that the Mason family has horribly duped him into marriage. According to Daniel, Old Mr. Cosway died "raving like his father before him," Annette Cosway-Mason has to be "shut away" for trying to kill her second husband, and their son Pierre was "an idiot from birth." With such a history of madness - "and worse" - in the family, Daniel intimates, Antoinette is sure to go the same way, and that is why Richard Mason was willing to pay Rochester such a tidy sum to marry her. Daniel insists that he has no reason to lie about these things, and instructs Rochester to visit him so that they can discuss the situation in more detail. Rochester believes everything he reads.

When he goes back to the house, Rochester finds Antoinette arguing with the servant Amelie, who tells her mistress that Christophine is planning to leave. Amelie then slyly suggests that Rochester is growing "tired of the sweet honeymoon." Antoinette responds by slapping her across the face, and the two get into a tussle. Rochester intervenes, and then Christophine arrives and acknowledges that she is indeed planning to leave, largely because she does not like the new master of the house.

Rochester goes to take a nap and then a walk in the forest. As he walks, he angrily thinks about the contents of the letter and how he has been cruelly tricked. In the woods, he comes across the ruins of a stone house. Then he happens upon a young girl carrying a basket on her head; she screams when she sees him and runs away sobbing hysterically. Rochester wanders around in circles for a while and is beginning to get scared when he runs into Baptiste, who leads him back to the house, brushing off his questions about ghosts haunting the area. Rochester will not be so easily dismissed, however; alone in his room that night he picks up a book about obeah and begins to read.


At this point in the narrative, we begin to notice the substantial alterations that Rhys makes to the character of Rochester, changes that play up the aspect of cruelty implicit in Brontë's depiction of him in Jane Eyre. Brontë portrays him as a cold and reserved gentleman with a mysterious past. Rhys imagines what that past might have been like and emphasizes that his aloof demeanor results not from shyness but from heartlessness. Some critics consider it odd that, in what is ostensibly Antoinette's story, Rochester is allocated the majority of pages of narration. Yet by giving us unprecedented access to Rochester's brutal thoughts Rhys actually enables us empathize with Antoinette's plight to a much greater degree. "I did not love her," Rochester freely admits, continuing "I felt very little tenderness for her."

Nevertheless, Rochester does desire Antoinette and the newlyweds consummate their marriage in this section. Although Rhys does not describe the scene in graphic detail - indeed, the fact that the two are having intercourse might easily be missed - it is still highly disturbing because of the obvious imbalance of power between them. Late one night Antoinette asks her husband why he has made her want to live; he responds by saying that he simply wished it. She then wonders what will happen when he doesn't wish it any longer, insisting that she will die if he commands her to do so. "Die then! Die!" he orders, and remarks that she does so "many times. In my way, not in hers." Here Rhys uses death in the conventional poetical sense as a metaphor for sexual orgasm, a substitution that effectively underscores the element of sadomasochism in Antoinette and Rochester's interactions.

There is a painful contrast between what Rochester likes to say during intercourse and what Antoinette likes to hear afterwards. He commands her to "die" and then brings her back to life by telling her that she is "safe." She clearly yearns for the security she never had as a child, and Rochester pretends to provide it, all the while admitting to himself that "[i]t was not a safe game to play - in that place." He further acknowledges that there were several times she came very close to dying in her sense of the word.

In the scene at the bathing pool Antoinette mentions her half-brother Sandi to Rochester in a casual and offhand way. When Rochester asks her who taught her how to throw so well, she responds by saying simply, "Oh, Sandi taught me, a boy you never met." Once again she fails to explain either to the reader or to Rochester how she and Sandi are related. The savvy reader should have already divined their relationship and will wonder why she is so reticent to speak of it when she seems so willing to tell her new husband about everything else in her past. We are led to wonder if she is merely ashamed to admit her father's transgressions with slave women, or if she is trying to hide some other aspect of their relationship.

Among other things, Daniel's missive suggests that there has been an incestuous relationship between Antoinette and Sandi. It is never true whether or not this is the case, but his letter is effective because it confirms all of Rochester's doubts and suspicions. Since his marriage he has questioned the motives of the Mason family and has continually been plagued by the feeling that there is something wrong with his new wife. Daniel tells Rochester exactly what the Englishman has been expecting to hear, and although this unknown man also gives multiple reasons why he ought not to be trusted, Rochester believes his every word.