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Wide Sargasso Sea | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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Why does Rochester insist on staying married to Antoinette in Part 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea despite no longer loving her?

When Rochester says he can never love Antoinette, Christophine tries to convince him to let her go in Part 2 (Rochester's Rejection of Antoinette). He can take the money and leave some for Antoinette to live on. After all, he married her for the money; now Rochester can have it and not have to worry about Antoinette. He seems to be on the verge of agreeing to this when Christophine says of Antoinette, "She marry with someone else. She forget about you and live happy." This causes Rochester to feel rage and jealousy. The only reason he holds on to her is to satisfy his own ego. He does not have good intentions toward Antoinette, as he would rather see her suffer with him than be free and potentially happy with someone else. This shows Rochester's ego and that he is more interested in power than in Antoinette. He wants to control her even if he does not love her or she him.

What is the situational irony surrounding Rochester's reaction to the young boy's tears Part 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea?

While Antoinette and Rochester are readying to leave in Part 2 (Leaving Jamaica), a young boy is crying loudly. Antoinette explains to Rochester the boy loves him and wanted to go with them. Rochester has no interest in taking the boy and wants him to shut up. Earlier in the section Rochester wants pity. He wonders why no one pities him for being married to a mad woman. In Rochester's mind he is the victim and deserves pity, yet he believes everyone is more concerned about Antoinette. The need for pity and attention also comes from Rochester's perception that his father never loved him and sent him to Jamaica to be rid of him. Rochester feels he did not get love or pity and is unable to show those emotions toward others.

How does Christophine's appearance in Rochester's and Antoinette's bedroom in Part 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea affect Rochester's opinion of Christophine?

The morning after Rochester and Antoinette consummate their marriage Christophine knocks on the couple's door to serve them coffee in Part 2 (The Honeymoon and Rochester's Regret). Rochester, who was hoping to snuggle with his new wife a little longer, is understandably put off by the intrusion. Christophine is of course aware the couple had been intimate the night before, and yet she brings them coffee bright and early just the same. She may be doing so innocently; after all, Antoinette tells him the islanders do their work early while it is cool so they can rest during the hottest part of the day. Regardless, either Christophine or the rhythm of the island creates a division between the couple, who have just celebrated their union. Thus, even though Antoinette insists she is just being considerate, Rochester cannot help but view Christophine's early-morning entrance as an invasion of both their space and their intimacy. Christophine has a hold over Antoinette that Rochester finds threatening; he wants to be the dominant personality, and he wants the servants to know their bounds. The battle between Rochester and Christophine over Antoinette continues throughout the novel.

How are Mrs. Eff and Christophine alike and different in Wide Sargasso Sea?

Mrs. Eff was the caretaker or nanny for Rochester while Christophine served in that role for Antoinette. Both women remain loyal to their charges long after they have reached adulthood. They see their charges in a positive light and lash out at anyone who says anything negative. Christophine has been with Antoinette's family for years and knows the family's history. She recognizes Antoinette's strengths and weaknesses and understands her very well. Mrs. Eff does not seem to have known Rochester on as deep a level; she says she knew him as a boy and as a young man and describes him as "gentle, generous, brave." The Rochester described in this story is none of those things. He is rough, stingy, and cowardly. Any change Mrs. Eff sees in him she blames on the West Indies, effectively making Antoinette the scapegoat for his faults.

What effect do Antoinette's questions in the beginning of Part 3 of Wide Sargasso Sea have on the reader?

Antoinette's fall from the end of the previous section to this one is dramatic. In the previous section Antoinette's final words are of compassion as she argues on behalf of the boy to Rochester. She apologizes to Rochester when he rebukes her and exchanges goodbyes with Baptiste. Her behavior seems reasonable and understandable, even though Rochester describes her as a madwoman and focuses on the blank look in her eyes. As the setting turns to England, Rochester has turned Antoinette into the madwoman he was sure she was from the moment he read Daniel Cosway's letter and prior to leaving Granbois. Antoinette's questions show her disorientation and confusion; she is no longer aware of time, place, or reason.

What is Antoinette's intention as she leaves the room at the end of Wide Sargasso Sea?

In Part 3 Antoinette has had another vivid dream. Her other dreams involve her feeling fear and being chased and take place in a forest. In the most recent dream, Antoinette wanders the house and ultimately sets fire to it. While in the dream Antoinette goes through different phases of her life. The fire represents the passion and warmth of the Caribbean that Antoinette longs for; it is also a way for her to get revenge on Rochester. Although Antoinette wakes up from and is startled by the dream, she also feels compelled to bring it to reality. The dreams she once saw as harbingers of evil she now recognizes as fatal portents of the future. Hence it is Antoinette's intention at the end of the book to cause her dream to come to fruition.

What parallels exist between Antoinette and Coco in Wide Sargasso Sea?

Coco the parrot fell to his death when Coulibri was burned down. Normally parrots are able to fly. However, Mr. Mason clipped Coco's wings, making the parrot a prisoner in the home. Like Coco, Antoinette will fall to her death while escaping a fire. Rochester has clipped her wings by holding on to Antoinette's money, taking her away from Jamaica, and forbidding her to leave the attic. Rochester keeps Antoinette prisoner in the attic under the pretense that he does so for her own good. On another level the English clip the wings of the Jamaicans. They insist the slaves be freed and promise financial assistance so the transition will go smoothly. However, the English help neither the slaves nor the slave holders. This figurative clipping of wings brings difficulties to many people.

How is Antoinette's fear of the ghost a culmination of her loss of identity in Part 3 of Wide Sargasso Sea?

Antoinette has heard others mention there is a ghost in the house. They fear the ghost, and therefore Antoinette does too—although she does not realize that she is the ghost they are referring to. She does not recognize people are talking about her. Antoinette yearns to see herself in the mirror. Without the mirror, Antoinette fears she will no longer recognize herself. Therefore she longs for something tangible, like the red dress, to remind her of herself. This loss of Antoinette's identity was purposefully begun by Rochester. He continues to call Antoinette Bertha even though she asks him not to. He explains he likes the name and therefore will continue to use it. Rochester wants to turn Antoinette into someone else. In the end he succeeds, as Antoinette does not even know herself.

What responsibility does Antoinette play in her fate in Wide Sargasso Sea?

Antoinette displays an understanding of people throughout the text. This is clear from the beginning (when she recognizes the neighbors do not appreciate her and her mother) to the end (when she explains what makes the boy cry as she and Rochester leave Granbois). When Mr. Mason informs Antoinette she will soon be leaving the convent school, she has a foreboding dream. Antoinette is content to stay in the convent but instead goes with Mr. Mason. Just before her wedding, Antoinette is ready to call it off. She correctly reads that the wedding is a function of a deal between Richard Mason and Rochester. However, Rochester sweet talks Antoinette and she allows herself to be convinced to marry him. Antoinette is desperate for love. She has been given so little love and affection throughout her life. This causes her to mistake Rochester's lust for love. While Antoinette does play a role in her fate, making poor choices and overlooking signs of trouble out of a desire to be loved, other people contribute to it. Antoinette is controlled by men—Mr. Mason, Richard Mason, and Rochester—who have varying levels of genuine concern for her. Antoinette's existence in a world controlled by men combined with her needs leads to her tragic fate.

What differences exist between how Rochester and Antoinette are betrayed in Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre?

Antoinette, who is referred to as Bertha in Jane Eyre, is simply the madwoman in the attic. She is an unsympathetic character and serves as an obstacle to Rochester and Jane Eyre's happiness. In Wide Sargasso Sea Antoinette is a sympathetic character. One learns of her harsh background and mistreatment by all, including Rochester. In Wide Sargasso Sea Rochester is a petty, cruel man who is desperate for power and money. His marriage to Antoinette is a way to get these things. His cruelty toward Antoinette leads to her becoming the madwoman in the attic. In Jane Eyre Rochester is portrayed similarly to the way Mrs. Eff describes him: a darkened but decent man trying to care for the madwoman in a decent way. The differences may be attributed to the authors' backgrounds. Rhys, as a native of the Caribbean, has sympathy toward Antoinette. Rochester is the cruel invader who uses his wife for his means. For Brontë the Caribbean is simply a foreign and exotic place, and Antoinette's (Bertha's) story and person are significant in how they affect Rochester.

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