Literature Study GuidesWide Sargasso SeaPart 2 Rochesters Rejection Of Antoinette Summary

Wide Sargasso Sea | Study Guide

Jean Rhys

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Wide Sargasso Sea | Part 2 (Rochester's Rejection of Antoinette) | Summary

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Summary

With Antoinette away at Christophine's, Rochester receives a second letter from Daniel Cosway. He speaks to Amélie about the letter and tells her he no longer wishes to receive the letters. Rochester questions Amélie about Daniel Cosway, and she says he is always reading his Bible and is like a white man with a big house. She encourages Rochester to go see Daniel Cosway because if he comes to the house he will make trouble.

Rochester visits Daniel Cosway, who talks bitterly about the awful treatment he received from his father. Daniel Cosway then slanders Christophine and says she went to jail and practices obeah. He implies there was something going on between Antoinette and Sandi. He then says Antoinette tells lies and Rochester is not the first to kiss her. Rochester is repulsed by him, and when he tries to leave, Daniel Cosway grows angry. He wants money from Rochester but does not get any.

In the next scene Antoinette asks Rochester why he hates her, but he denies feeling this way. She follows up with why he does not approach her then. Rochester questions Antoinette about her mother. Rochester tells her he saw Daniel Cosway, and Antoinette correctly guesses what Cosway probably told him. Rochester says they should wait till the next morning to talk about this, but Antoinette insists they talk then. Antoinette tells of the struggles her mother had after her father died.

When Rochester asks how Antoinette was during those times, she says, "I was always happy in the morning, not always in the afternoon and never after sunset." She believes the house was haunted. She also talks of Coulibri's beauty and is upset Rochester cannot see it. Antoinette says her mother started having guests and tried to change their lives because she was ashamed of how Antoinette was growing up. She then mentions that the house was burned down and she recuperated at Aunt Cora's house. She talks about her brother's death, being hit in the head with the rock, and how her mother hated and threatened Mr. Mason. Antoinette shares a story about how she visited her mother. At the end Antoinette stops and says, "... I have tried to make you understand. But nothing has changed."

Antoinette laughs afterward, and Rochester calls her Bertha. When she asks him why, Rochester says he calls her that because he is fond of the name. Antoinette tells him she went to see Christophine, who advised her to leave him. He seems to think it good advice and says it might be wise for one of them to leave for a little while. Rochester says she should go to bed, and she asks him to come in with her. Rochester notes she looks very beautiful and grows desirous of her and says, "We are letting ghosts trouble us. Why shouldn't we be happy?" Rochester says this happened before he drank and Antoinette did not need to give him anything.

When Rochester awakens in the early morning, he feels sick (and ultimately vomits) and believes he has been poisoned. He goes back to the bedroom and tastes the wine and finds it is bitter. Rochester leaves the house and collapses by a ruined house where he sleeps the day away. He returns to the house, sees no one, and goes to his bedroom. Amélie comes into Rochester's room, and the two of them have relations. Rochester says he felt no remorse despite the fact that his wife was on the other side of the partition, but he felt differently the next morning. The two speak that morning, and Amélie shares her plans for the future. Rochester says he will give her a present. Before she leaves, Rochester asks if she still feels sorry for him. Amélie says yes and adds, "But I find it in my heart to be sorry for her too." Rochester remains and waits to hear Antoinette leave the house.

Rochester is content in the home by himself. He exchanges a letter with a magistrate who says Christophine is trouble. He says if Christophine starts practicing obeah again, Rochester should contact him, and he will have her arrested and make sure she gets a long sentence.

Antoinette returns with Christophine and goes right to her bedroom. Later Rochester forces his way into seeing her. Antoinette has been drinking, and she is livid. She says Rochester has made this place another one she hates and says, "Before I die I will show you how much I hate you." Rochester says he does not love her at all, and Antoinette calls him a stone. The two get into a fight. Christophine comes in, and Antoinette collapses on the sofa in tears. She asks Rochester why he was with Amélie, but he walks out of the room. Christophine calms Antoinette, and she goes to sleep.

Christophine confronts Rochester, telling him about how Antoinette was when she came to visit her. She goes on to say Antoinette is better than he and all he cares about is money. Christophine says Rochester made love to Antoinette "till she can't do without it" but he never felt love for her. Rochester then accuses Christophine of trying to poison him. Christophine explains how Antoinette begged her to help so that Rochester would love her again. Finally she says Rochester deliberately had relations with Amélie so that Antoinette would cry.

Rochester presses Christophine about what he did to Antoinette. Christophine says she gave her something to make her sleep and took care of her, but Antoinette slept too much. When she woke her up, she started giving her rum instead. Antoinette insisted she return home and begged Christophine to come with her. Christophine says all the work she did to help Antoinette was ruined when Rochester said he did not love her. Rochester says Christophine turned Antoinette into a drunken wreck.

After saying Rochester will not help Antoinette, Christophine begs Rochester to love Antoinette. She says, "Wait, and perhaps you can love her again. A little, like she say. A little. Like you can love." After Rochester shakes his head no, the two of them discuss Daniel Cosway and what he said about Antoinette and her mother. Christophine tries again to convince Rochester to take Antoinette, saying "If you forsake her they will tear her in pieces—like they did her mother!" She tries to reason with Rochester and suggests he leave and give Antoinette some money. Christophine says she would take care of Antoinette. Eventually Antoinette would forget about Rochester and find someone to marry and be happy.

This causes Rochester to feel jealous, and he laughs at Christophine and insults her, saying he has heard enough and insists Christophine leave. He says she is to blame for what has happened. When Christophine resists, Rochester says he will have the police come and take her. Christophine asks Rochester what his plans are for Antoinette, and he says he will bring her to Spanish Town and have doctors look at her and consult with Richard Mason. Christophine says Rochester only wants her money and will have Antoinette declared mad and the doctors will say what he wants them to say.

Analysis

Daniel Cosway is an angry and bitter man. Although he earlier claimed to be telling Rochester the information about Antoinette and her family because he is a good Christian, it becomes clear by the end of their interview that he is after money. Daniel Cosway writes a second letter and urges Rochester to visit him. There is nothing in the second letter and nothing said in the visit that Daniel Cosway did not say in his initial letter. The reason he wants Rochester to visit is because he feels he should be paid for the information he has provided. When Rochester, who is sickened by Cosway, does not want to pay him, Cosway becomes angry and threatening. These actions are reminiscent of how Daniel Cosway describes the interactions between himself and Antoinette's father and of the baseness he accuses Antoinette and her family of. Despite recognizing these truths, Rochester believes everything he says.

The next morning after Rochester and Amélie have relations, Rochester says he is going to give her money. Amélie says she plans to go to Rio because there are rich men there, which proves she is far more practical than either Antoinette or Rochester. His coldness that morning causes Amélie to want to be away from Rochester as soon as possible and even allows her to pity Antoinette. While Amélie had flirted with Rochester earlier, now that she knows him and has seen his behavior, she is completely turned off. Clearly her motive was revenge on Antoinette for being white and of a higher social class than herself, a situation neither of them created, but from which both she and Amélie suffer.

After she returns with Christophine, Antoinette's behavior toward Rochester is reminiscent of her mother's behavior toward Mr. Mason. She acts violently and threatens to harm him. Clearly she is terrified of what he intends to do with her after already beginning to torture her with Amélie. He is prepared with his next step: robbing her of her name and calling her Bertha instead. She now realizes she is utterly within his power, and she is terrified. In her confusion and hurt, she acts out. Given what he has learned about her past, Rochester views Antoinette's actions as crazy, but they are understandable based on the circumstances.

Christophine and Rochester have been headed toward a confrontation since they first met. Christophine was Antoinette's protector. She knows her past and what she has gone through and has tried to help her through her challenges. As her husband Rochester is supposed to have taken on the role of Antoinette's protector, but beginning with the financial arrangements made by Richard Mason, his adoption of that role has been a failure. When Rochester mistreats Antoinette, she returns to her former protector, Christophine. Although Rochester does not truly care about Antoinette, he cannot accept Christophine as his wife's protector, a move that emasculates him as a man, a husband, and a businessman.

Rochester is a white, European, moneyed male. In nearly every way—black, Caribbean, former slave, female—Christophine is Rochester's opposite. In addition to gaining independence when the slaves were freed, Christophine has managed to earn money and is financially free. She is also unmarried and therefore not dependent on men. Finally, she has inherited a home from Antoinette's family, so she has property. For all of these reasons, Christophine is not intimidated by Rochester at all.

All of this would be enough to make Rochester despise Christophine, resent her, and feel compelled to dominate her the way he dominates Antoinette, except that Christophine also has two advantages. First, she lives outside the law. His communications with Daniel and a local magistrate have warned him that she was arrested in Martinique for an unknown crime and spent time in jail. Second, Christophine is obeah, meaning she has religious powers associated with the gods of the Caribbean islands, gods the slaves brought with them from Africa and whom they believe are angry because of the savage crimes committed on them and their ancestors. For both of these reasons Rochester is reluctant to confront Christophine directly. Still he has no intention of bowing to her will.

Like the island's emancipated slaves, Christophine has powers that can either nurture or destroy; the island people can choose to work the land, calling forth its lavish fruits, or they can burn down their masters' homes in acts of rebellion and violence. For the most part Christophine chooses to be a nurturer. She gives Rochester options, so he can appear to have made up his own mind, and she offers him a solution that could allow him to leave with grace. She understands the devastating power of a white man's pride, and she knows and cares for her charge, Antoinette. In other words she tries to negotiate a peace, as many generations of island people have done. That the effort is doomed should come as no surprise to anyone remotely familiar with history.

Rochester's cruelty is never more apparent than when he rejects Christophine's request. It seems Christophine has convinced Rochester he should let her take Antoinette. Rochester grows hesitant when Christophine asks him to give Antoinette half her money back. He believes it is money Christophine is after. He is all about money and is convinced other people act out of the same need. Yet it is not until Christophine says Antoinette will forget about him, marry someone else, and be happy, that Rochester loses it. He says, "A pang of rage and jealousy shot through me then. Oh no, she won't forget. I laughed."

The obvious question is, Why should this situation bother Rochester? He will leave the Caribbean with money and no obligations. He will be rid of a woman whom he has said he does not love or understand. The only answer can be that Rochester is a cruel person whose interests are money and power. He has control over Antoinette, and he will not relinquish it. The same thirst for power led Rochester to be aggressive and rough during intercourse with Antoinette. It led him to allow Antoinette to grow to need him despite the fact that he felt little for her. It led him to sleep with Amélie when he had no interest in her. It led him to Daniel Cosway whom he had no intention of helping. The thing that drives Rochester to action is power.

Like Antoinette, Rochester feels a lack of love from a parent (his father), which affects him very differently from how it affects Antoinette. For her the lack of love from her mother makes her needy, weak, and fearful. However, she remains loyal and sympathetic to her mother and defends her, as the reader sees when she shares her mother's background story with Rochester, during which it becomes clear Antoinette was greatly upset at how poorly her mother was treated. Rochester's back story is not given here. It is clear, though, that he feels unloved by his father and believes his brother is favored. Yet he continues to reach out to his father, share what is going on in his life, and seek his approval. While Antoinette wanted love to fill the void left by a lack of parental love, Rochester wanted money and power and approval. Rochester feels his father might appreciate him more if he were self-sufficient. The way he obtained the money and how he uses it leads the reader to believe Rochester's father will continue to be distant from his son.

Despite not having money or the love of his father, Rochester still feels superior. After all, Richard Mason pursued him to marry his stepsister, offering Rochester £30,000 with no strings attached, despite barely knowing him. Although Rochester complains repeatedly about feeling duped, this transaction is the source of his superiority. He is now a wealthy man and can do as he pleases. Antoinette is the vehicle through which he got his power, and letting her go would be tantamount to relinquishing his power. His stated desire to take care of her is another way to control her.

Christophine tries to encourage Antoinette to share in her strength, but in reality the Creole has few of the black woman's advantages. The novel's heroine has neither property nor money, thanks to her stepbrother's mismanagement of her affairs. Likewise she has no family, apart from Richard Mason who has already effectively disowned her. She is completely dependent upon her husband, in many ways a slave to him.

Antoinette's fate seems to have been sealed before she married. The two people who care for her most—Aunt Cora and Christophine—did not approve of her marriage to Rochester. They argued with Richard Mason and said his father would not approve. Yet Richard Mason does not heed the argument and he seals Antoinette's fate. He is happy to have found a match for Antoinette and latches on to the first man he can find: Rochester. Richard Mason convinces himself it is a good match and promises are not needed. Antoinette is traded from one man to the other with little choice. Despite having a number of privileges, primarily money, Antoinette never has any power, and therefore she is left helpless to suffer her fate.

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