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Wide Sargasso Sea | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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How do the opening paragraphs of Wide Sargasso Sea establish the outsider status of Antoinette?

Part 1 (The Burning of Coulibri) opens during troubled times in Jamaica after the slaves have been freed. For the white people like the Cosway family who have relied on slave labor, it is a time of upheaval and change. During such times people close ranks. However, Annette and her family have no ranks to close. The white people look down on her because she is extremely pretty and an outsider. They also do not accept her because she is a Creole. Her husband's family, whose support she needs since she is in a foreign country and has none of her own family, ignores her. They see Annette as too young and feel no connection to her as their relative's second wife. The feeling of isolation is one that will stay with Antoinette her whole life and impact her greatly.

What is surprising about Annette's response to Antoinette's question about the relatives visiting in Part 1 of Wide Sargasso Sea?

Because she feels lonely and isolated, Antoinette asks her mother in Part 1 (The Burning of Coulibri) why relatives from her father's side do not come to visit. Clearly the family is in need and Antoinette is looking for support and company. Annette lies to her and says there are issues with the roads and construction is a thing of the past. This answer shows a sensitivity to Antoinette's feelings that Annette does not show later in the book. Antoinette seeks her mother out many times in search of guidance, love, and support; however, Annette regularly turns Antoinette away, leaving her daughter feeling unsupported and not loved. This situation culminates when Antoinette visits Annette after she has gone insane. Antoinette goes to hug her mother, who pushes her away.

How does Mr. Luttrell's death in Part 1 of Wide Sargasso Sea foreshadow Rochester's treatment of Antoinette?

Mr. Luttrell kills himself in Part 1 (The Burning of Coulibri) after waiting for the British government to provide compensation, which it had promised the former slaveowners after the release of the slaves. That compensation was slow in coming and caused a hardship for the former slaveowners. Rochester comes from England and agrees to marry Antoinette after he learns how much he will be paid to do so. He barely knows her and certainly does not love her. For him the marriage is a transaction that rewards him financially. Rochester, like the British government, makes decisions advantageous to himself and promises he feels no obligation to meet.

Why is the poisoning of Annette's horse in Part 1 of Wide Sargasso Sea so distressing to her?

There are a number of deaths in the first pages of Part 1 (The Burning of Coulibri), which set a dark and ominous tone. The murder of her horse leaves Annette feeling trapped on the decaying estate, Coulibri. She is already widowed, away from her home country, and dealing with a sick child while living in a place where she is not welcomed. The murder of the horse adds to the problems and entrapment. In addition it foreshadows the burning of the house at Coulibri. Just as the horse is vulnerable and is killed as part of the simmering anger between blacks and whites, the family members themselves are vulnerable, unable to stop the mob from seeking revenge.

How does the doctor's visit to Pierre in Part 1 of Wide Sargasso Sea affect Annette?

In Part 1 (The Burning of Coulibri) readers learn that Pierre, Antoinette's little brother, has serious health issues. When a doctor visits and tells Annette that Pierre cannot be cured, something inside of her breaks. Although she has suffered greatly prior to this, the weight of the situation and her utter inability to do anything about it leaves Annette feeling helpless. The inability to help her child is the beginning of Annette's depression. She will spend the rest of her life worried about and caring for Pierre. Her worry over Pierre and his ultimate fate in the fire are what lead Annette to lose her sanity. Her obsession with Pierre also leads her to ignore Antoinette.

How do the gardens of Coulibri symbolize the Garden of Eden in Part 1 of Wide Sargasso Sea?

When Adam and Eve are thrown out of the Garden of Eden, they become aware of the difference between good and evil, their innocence is lost, and they are rendered mortal. In Part 1 (The Burning of Coulibri) Antoinette describes the gardens of Coulibri as being as beautiful as those in the Garden of Eden. However, the gardens of Coulibri have grown wild and smell of dead flowers ("mixed with the fresh living smell"). Antoinette as yet is innocent. She is young and unsullied by prejudice, greed, lust, or hatred. But she is surrounded by violence and danger nonetheless, as well as by death. Her little brother is seriously ill, her mother is emotionally distraught, and the people they live among are hostile. The imagery foreshadows Antoinette's "fall" into madness as well as her exile, first from Coulibri and later from Jamaica.

What does Annette think of the servants and their roles in the house in Part 1 of Wide Sargasso Sea?

It is clear in Part 1 (The Burning of Coulibri) that Annette does not think highly of the servants working in her house. Godfrey is more like a boarder than a servant, as he eats but does no work. Annette lets him stay because she is afraid if she tried to throw him out, he would turn around and try to force them out. Sass's mother left him there as if the house was a daycare. Now that Sass has gotten older and stronger, Annette predicts he too will leave. Slavery has ended, and the servants are running the show. Annette is not strong enough to assert her rights and insist the servants work since that is why they are there. Rather than have a confrontation, Annette accepts the situation, although she complains bitterly about it. Eventually her acceptance of the situation will not be enough to save the house.

Why does Christophine bring Tia around in Part 1 of Wide Sargasso Sea, and what does it say about her relationship with Antoinette?

In Part 1 (The Burning of Coulibri) Antoinette is teased by another child she sees in the streets. The situation bothers her so greatly that, returning home, she does not move. Christophine finds Antoinette sitting there and knows what happened without even asking. The next day Tia is at the house, and she and Antoinette become friends. Christophine appears to know what Antoinette needs without asking or being told. She senses the loneliness and isolation Antoinette is suffering from. She finds a playmate for Antoinette who, like Antoinette, is an outsider. While Annette notes that Christophine stays with them for her own reasons, she can also see that Christophine cares about and is sensitive toward the needs of Antoinette.

What is the cause of Antoinette's fight with Tia in Part 1 of Wide Sargasso Sea, and why does it hurt Antoinette so badly?

When Tia sees Antoinette has money in Part 1 (The Burning of Coulibri), she makes a bet with her. Tia bets Antoinette she cannot do a somersault under water. When Antoinette completes the somersault, Tia says it was not good enough and an argument ensues. The argument focuses on the sensitive topics of race and money. When Antoinette has her back turned, Tia takes both her money and her dress. Antoinette deals with the issues of race—which to identify with, who will accept her, and whose customs is she more comfortable with—throughout the text. At this point in the text, Antoinette and her family are poor, and they are mocked because of the state of their affairs. Even though their position will ultimately change when Annette marries Mr. Mason, Tia's reproach is so trenchant and hurts Antoinette so much it drives her even deeper into the role of victim and increases her dependence on others for validation and meaning.

How does the argument between Annette and Christophine in Part 1 of Wide Sargasso Sea show that Annette is out of touch?

Annette seems to revive when guests come, as in Part 1 (The Burning of Coulibri) when she takes notice of Antoinette, who is in a dirty dress. She insists her daughter put on a clean one and wants Christophine to help Antoinette. Christophine and Annette argue about the number of dresses Antoinette has and their state of cleanliness. It is clear Annette sees Antoinette only as a symbol of the family, part of its trappings, like the house or the property. Her insistence that the child be properly clothed shows her failure to recognize how much the family is financially struggling. She has been so despondent and focused on Pierre that the family's fortunes have fallen even further into ruin, and Antoinette is the one paying the price.

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