Literature Study GuidesWide Sargasso SeaPart 1 Antoinettes Schooling Summary

Wide Sargasso Sea | Study Guide

Jean Rhys

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Wide Sargasso Sea | Part 1 (Antoinette's Schooling) | Summary



Six weeks have passed and Antoinette wakes up from her sickness and finds herself in Aunt Cora's house. Aunt Cora catches her up on what has transpired. Antoinette's hair has been cut, the Luttrells helped the family to safety, Pierre has died (Antoinette suspected this), and her mother is recuperating in the country. Antoinette does not say she knew about her mother, having heard her screams when she periodically awoke from her sickness.

Antoinette goes, along with Christophine, for a visit to see her mother, whom she recognizes only because of her hair and dress. Antoinette hugs and kisses her mother. While they are embracing, Annette looks at the door for Pierre. Antoinette shakes her head to show he is not coming, and Annette screams no and throws Antoinette aside.

Aunt Cora enrolls Antoinette in convent school. While on the way to school, Antoinette is accosted and bullied by two teens. Sandi appears on the scene, and the bullies run off.

When Antoinette arrives at the school, she is anxious to get in and cries when she enters. A nun comforts Antoinette and introduces her to another student who shares stories about the convent. The student is there with her sisters. They are admired for their beauty and behavior. While at the convent Antoinette sews and learns about the saints.

Antoinette wonders about her mother. She receives few visits because Christophine has left, Mr. Mason is often away, and Aunt Cora has moved to England. While Antoinette seems lonely, she adjusts to the schedule at the convent school. Later Mr. Mason comes more regularly and brings Antoinette presents when he visits. On one visit, which occurs after Antoinette turns 17, Mr. Mason says it is time for her to leave the convent. She will live with him, Aunt Cora, and his son. When he leaves, he says he has asked some English friends to spend next winter there, so things will not be dull.

That night Antoinette again dreams of the forest and walking with someone who hates her. She awakens and tells one of the nuns she dreamed she was in hell. The nun gives her hot chocolate and says it was an evil dream, and Antoinette should put it out of her mind. While drinking the hot chocolate, Antoinette recalls her mother's funeral, which was the previous year. The only people who attended besides her were Christophine and Mr. Mason. Her mother and the dream become intertwined. Antoinette asks the nun why terrible things happen, but the nun has no answer.


As Antoinette awakens, Aunt Cora is there. It is one of the few times an adult shows true affection for Antoinette, and she soaks in the attention and feels safe. However, Antoinette gets rejected yet again when she visits her mother who acts violently when she realizes, again, that Pierre is dead. Then Aunt Cora goes to England, leaving Antoinette in the convent school. She receives little attention, direction, or affection throughout her childhood. The loneliness she feels from being outside the community is compounded by the lack of attention she gets from her family and leaves her feeling unguarded and unsafe, without a place of refuge.

Antoinette is perceptive regarding the feelings of those around her. When she visits her mother, Antoinette recognizes she is looking for Pierre and is unable to bring herself to say Pierre has died. When she wakes up and sees Aunt Cora, Antoinette again shows sensitivity as she immediately recognizes, with just a look, the strain her aunt has been under. Before she is told, she also perceives that Pierre is dead. As soon as Mr. Mason comes to see her (after she turns 17), Antoinette recognizes something is different based on his behavior and intuits he has a plan in store for her.

Her intuition and feelings of insecurity make her overly sensitive. She cries a number of times, most memorably when she goes to the convent after being bullied. Even the nuns, who act in a kindly manner, find her crying excessive. Antoinette has been through a number of ordeals at an early age and is therefore an easy mark. She is often taken advantage of (just as when Tia took her dress) and is incapable of fighting back. Instead she breaks down. Her sensitivity makes her more vulnerable to attacks of all sorts, just as it will during her ill-fated marriage, causing her to overreact and to do so in ways that are emotional rather than logical. Antoinette learns while in convent school that whoever harms the "unfortunate or ... unhappy insult[s] Christ Himself ... for they are His chosen ones." Like Christ, Antoinette is destined to suffer. Unlike Him she will not do so meekly.

While in the convent school, Antoinette has little interaction with the other students. Nothing is noted after her initial conversation with Louise De Plana, nor is the interaction with the nuns extensive. More of Antoinette's time is spent contemplating sin, hearing stories about saints, and learning how to sew and other such tasks. Despite this existence Antoinette seems content with the convent school. Safety and security matter more to her than love, human interaction, or a sense of place. She can deal with loneliness and alienation, in part because she has never known anything different.

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