Wide Sargasso Sea | Study Guide

Jean Rhys

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Wide Sargasso Sea | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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What leads Antoinette to have her second dream in Part 1 of Wide Sargasso Sea, and what is the significance of it?

In Part 1 (Antoinette's Schooling), Antoinette is content in the convent, but Mr. Mason wants more for her. Antoinette is afraid of leaving, and she envies the others who do not seem to understand the outside and its pitfalls. Sensing trouble and living in fear of the unknown, Antoinette dreams she is in hell. In the dream she is in a forest and is forced to follow a man whom she describes as having a face black with hatred. Her stepfather, Mr. Mason, has already failed once at protecting her, laughing off the ire of the townspeople and exposing her family to their violence. Now she is being asked to follow him outside of the convent into society, and she is reminded of the anger of the townspeople. The dream also foreshadows her destiny at Mr. Mason's hands. He will in effect sell her to a man who will lead her far away from her home and punish her for simply being herself. It is not surprising she would prefer to cling to the safe walls of the convent.

How does the first paragraph of Part 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea establish the character of Rochester?

In Part 2 (The Honeymoon and Rochester's Regret), Rochester complains about being duped and never feeling completely comfortable in Jamaica. He is concerned primarily about himself, not his new wife or the family they could form. His first words are, "So it was all over ... Everything finished, for better or for worse." While this is the language of the wedding vow, these are not the words of a happy newlywed excited to spend time with his wife. His words signal an ending, not a beginning. Rochester has luggage, in which his belongings, the trappings of England, reside. However, the luggage is far away from Rochester and the others as they wait out a rainstorm. It is a burden and a nuisance to the couple, clearly out of place in the island's landscape.

How does Rochester react to that which he does not understand in Part 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea?

While Rochester, Antoinette, and their caravan are headed to Granbois in Part 2 (The Honeymoon and Rochester's Regret), they pass through mountains and flowers. When seeing the colors and the natural beauty, Rochester does not appreciate it. Instead he says, "Everything is too much." Rochester is critical of that which he does not understand or cannot control. He shows this annoyance toward the servants, their patois language, and mostly Antoinette. Rochester likes things to be just as he feels they should be. When he believes things are out of order, he is annoyed and expresses it. His intolerance and lack of flexibility prevent him from truly appreciating the landscape and ultimately Antoinette.

What are the implications of the letter Rochester writes to his father in Part 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea?

Rochester reports to his father in Part 2 (Meeting and Marriage) what has transpired since he arrived in Jamaica: being paid £30,000 with no strings attached as a dowry to marry Antoinette. He notes Antoinette is beautiful and assures his father he will be "no longer a disgrace to you or to my dear brother the son you love." He also adds he has sold his soul. The information reveals much about Rochester's character. He clearly desires the approval of his father and brother and is resentful of his father's preference. He resents also being sent to Jamaica on an errand he thinks is beneath him, that of finding a wife who will give him the financial status he requires to make his way in the world. Her beauty is his only solace, and it is a poor one he cannot even fully appreciate.

Why does Rochester have negative feelings toward Christophine when they first meet in Part 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea?

Rochester attempts to stare down Christophine when they first meet in Part 2 (The Honeymoon and Rochester's Regret); he has deemed her insignificant and tries to establish dominance. However, it is Rochester, not Christophine, who looks away first. Rochester is embarrassed by his show of weakness and angered by this servant who he thinks views herself as his equal or even his superior. Christophine will not be dominated or intimidated by Rochester. She is an independent woman and will do as she pleases. She will also support and encourage Antoinette to whatever degree she can. When Antoinette needs help, it is to Christophine she will turn to for help: Christophine supersedes Rochester.

Why does Rochester's claim of being duped into marrying Antoinette ring hollow in Part 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea?

On many occasions Rochester claims he was forced into marrying Antoinette and was duped. However, Rochester's letters to his father, both the ones he actually writes and the ones he composes in his head, make it clear he came to Jamaica with the intention of finding a bride with a large dowry. He certainly cannot have been surprised when he found exactly that. In addition Rochester makes it clear he is the one faking his feelings for Antoinette. She tries to call off the marriage after she hears him laughing about keeping her safe, and he begs her to reconsider. During the wedding party in Part 2 (Meeting and Marriage), Rochester says he fakes his smiles and contentment and no one notices except the former slaves. Rochester is the one duping Antoinette. He has no interest in marrying her and feels nothing for her. Rochester marries Antoinette for money. The marriage for him is a transaction and a way to gain wealth. Love is not part of the equation.

Why does Rochester promise Antoinette peace, happiness, and safety—but not love—when he asks her to marry him in Part 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea?

From the moment Rhys introduces Antoinette, it is clear the girl is uncomfortable and feels like an outsider. This outsider status causes Antoinette much harm, including having her house burned down, and she begins to live in fear. After her violent and cruel childhood, she wants peace, safety, and happiness. The only times she feels these things is in the convent school, which is one of her happiest times growing up and which she does not want to leave. Antoinette does not dream of love. She never experiences it on any sustained level or during any period of her life. She wants what she has had during the best part of her life. Rochester is shrewd enough to promise her those things.

In Part 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea, what do the moths and beetles flying into the candles symbolize?

In Part 2 (Sexual Longing) Rochester and Antoinette have been having relations with each other and finally arrive at a point where they lust for each other. Rochester says, "I was thirsty for her." For a time this lust passes as happiness for Rochester and something even deeper for Antoinette. However, a relationship built solely on attraction and intercourse is not one that will endure. The moths and beetles are attracted to the light of the fire, symbolizing passion or lust, pursuing this attraction to their death. The relationship between Antoinette and Rochester is similarly doomed to burn out and fail. The symbol is particularly poignant because of the role fire plays in the destruction of the poor creatures.

How do Rochester's and Antoinette's views of each other's countries contribute to their misunderstanding of each other in Part 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea?

Antoinette knows of England only through pictures. She is intrigued by England but says the country seems unreal to her. Rochester says similar things about Jamaica and calls it a dream. The two of them are from far different worlds, and their views and outlooks on life differ greatly, but they share this sense of unreality on which they could build if they tried. Antoinette, for example, shows him how the color of the earth is red, teaches him to rest during the hottest part of the day, and tells him where to go bathing. Although Rochester grows to appreciate Jamaica's beauty in Part 2 (Sexual Longing), he never seems completely comfortable there. He questions the servants and is overwhelmed by the weather. His discomfort with Jamaica enhances his discomfort with Antoinette. Part of his misunderstanding of her comes from not appreciating or recognizing her background and how she has grown up. Yet another part comes from his desire for control, which he can fully realize only in England.

Why does Antoinette in Part 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea say she loves Granbois "more than a person"?

Antoinette has always felt a tie to nature. During her lonely and unhappy times growing up, Antoinette would wander the gardens of Coulibri. She felt comfortable there, free of judgment and fear, and her outsider status was irrelevant. She feels this same ease in Granbois in Part 2 (Sexual Longing) and in nature in general. It is people who have let her down, caused her harm, and made her feel threatened. When Antoinette is left to enjoy the beautiful aspects of nature, she is content. As time passes, Rochester begins to enjoy the beauty at Granbois as well. He notes it can be intoxicating. Rather than bringing him peace, it magnifies his lust.

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