Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea Summary and Analysis of Part 1, Section 3


More time has passed, and when the story continues Antoinette is just waking up after an illness of almost six weeks, apparently brought on by the traumatic flight from Coulibri. She is at the home of her Aunt Cora in Spanish Town. Her aunt assures her that she is recovering nicely, but tells her that her brother Pierre died in transit on that fateful night, and that her mother has been sent to the country to rest. Antoinette recalls waking up in her feverish delirium and hearing her mother screaming and shouting obscenities. Still, she insists on going to visit her mother as soon as possible. She and Christophine make the journey, but Antoinette's mother once again rejects her upon learning that Pierre has died.

Aunt Cora decides to enroll Antoinette at the local school at Mount Calvary Convent. As she walks there on the first day, Antoinette is followed and harassed by two bullies. They taunt her for being crazy like her mother and push her around, but then run away when a tall boy comes to her rescue. She recognizes him as her "cousin Sandi" - one of her father's colored, illegitimate children and therefore her half-brother. While Sandi pursues her tormentors, Antoinette proceeds to the convent. Once inside, she breaks down in tears and the nuns attempt to comfort her. They introduce her to Louise de Plana, another student who, along with her sisters Hélène and Germaine, are heralded as examples of "impeccable deportment."

At the convent, Antoinette learns lessons about the manners and virtues a lady must possess, while simultaneously being inculcated in the beliefs and rituals of the Catholic Church. She spends a lot of time agonizing over the notions of sin, and she frequently wonders about and prays for her mother, although no one will tell her what has become of Annette. Christophine, meanwhile, has left to live with her son, and Aunt Cora too has departed for England. For a while Antoinette seldom sees her stepfather, but as she grows older his visits become more frequent. He always brings her an extravagant gift, and when she turns seventeen he announces that it is time for her to leave the convent, live with him, and be presented to society. He tells her that he has asked a group of English friends to come and spend the following winter in Jamaica; he says that he knows for sure at least one of them will accept.

That night, for the second time in her life, Antoinette dreams that she is walking in the forest with someone who hates her. She awakens and tells one of the nuns that she has dreamed she was in hell. The sister gives her some hot chocolate to drink and instructs her to put the nightmare out of her mind. Antoinette then remembers that her mother has died, although no one told her how it happened. She asks why such terrible things happen, but the nun tells her only that soon it will be morning.


Once again time has passed and we learn about important developments in the plot only after they have already happened off the page. When Antoinette regains consciousness, Aunt Cora explains what took place on the night of the fire and tells her that Pierre is dead and her mother is "resting in the country." This is a euphemistic way of saying that Annette has lost her mind, but Antoinette is not fooled. She remembers, through the fog of feverish semi-consciousness, hearing her mother scream "Qui est là? Qui est là?" in emulation of dead parrot Coco and threatening to kill Mr. Mason.

Antoinette remarks that her forehead is bandaged from where Tia hit her with the jagged rock. She asks if she will have a scar and Aunt Cora maintains that the wound will not spoil her wedding day, a statement that foreshadows Antoinette's disastrous marriage to Rochester in the next section. Even though the rock does not leave a mark on her forehead, Antoinette is still emotionally scarred by the traumatic late-night flight from Coulibri and this, in some sense, will ruin her wedding day. She says as much to Rochester later in the work: "I think it did spoil me for my wedding day and all the other days and nights."

Another violent incident, Antoinette's encounter with the bullies, introduces the character of her half-brother Sandi onto the page for the first and only time. Like so many important moments in the novella, their meeting is only described briefly and thus its significance is easily missed. In fact, Antoinette does not even mention specifically that he is her father's illegitimate son. "I knew who he was, his name was Sandi, Alexander Cosway's son," Antoinette admits, electing to refer to her father by his full name in this one instance. The complex familial relationships grow even murkier when she continues, declaring "Once I would have said 'my cousin Sandi' but Mr. Mason's lectures had made me shy about my coloured relatives." It is left to the reader to draw the connections between these various bits of information and to reach the conclusion that Sandi is the result of one of Old Mr. Cosway's affairs with a slave woman. Rhys does not make this explicit until Daniel's letter much later in the work.

Something strange happens during Antoinette's narration of her time spent at the convent. Since the beginning of the work she has been using the past tense but here she inexplicably switches to the present and then to the future. "My needle is sticky, and creaks as it goes in and out of the canvas... Underneath, I will write my name in fire red, Antoinette Mason, née Cosway, Mount Calvary Convent, Spanish Town, Jamaica, 1839," she relates. Still, despite these shifts in tense, Antoinette maintains that the incidents she is describing are memories, incidents that occurred in the past. "Quickly, while I can, I must remember the hot classroom," she begins, suggesting that perhaps something will impede her ability to continue to tell the story. Such examples of narrative breakdown become increasingly common as Antoinette starts to lose her mind, but this is the first such incident in the text.

Other details from this section portend Antoinette's tragic fate and the novella's inevitable conclusion. After Mr. Mason's visit, in which he intimates that he is going to arrange for her to marry, she has a nightmare that she is wearing a white dress and following an unknown man deep into the forest. The bullies taunt her by saying that Aunt Cora is sending her to be locked up in the convent because she is crazy like her mother. Finally, the "fire red" thread she uses to sign her sampler prefigures the blaze that will destroy Thornfield Hall. Rhys's deliberate and heavy-handed foreshadowing makes Antoinette's trajectory a virtual certainty.