Literature Study GuidesWide Sargasso SeaPart 2 Sexual Longing Summary

Wide Sargasso Sea | Study Guide

Jean Rhys

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Wide Sargasso Sea | Part 2 (Sexual Longing) | Summary

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Summary

Rochester awakens and goes to the dining room, which is laid out in an attractive way. He sees Antoinette and wonders, "Why I had never realized how beautiful she was." Rochester and Antoinette chat and enjoy their meal. The conversation turns to England, and the couple debate which country is more unreal.

After dinner they go on the veranda and eventually for a walk. Antoinette says how she used to come to this place when she was a child and shares a story: one night Antoinette woke up, and two enormous rats were in her room; she fell back asleep, and when she woke up later that night, there was a full moon, the rats were gone, and Antoinette was frightened. She looked for them outside and fell asleep out there. The next morning Christophine said it was bad to sleep outside in a full moon. When Antoinette asks Rochester what he thinks, he rocks her in a childlike way and sings to her. The couple go into her room where Rochester pours them wine and toasts to their happiness and love.

The next morning Rochester awakens and is ready to be intimate again when Christophine knocks on the door. Although she is smiling, wishing them good morning, and bringing them breakfast, Rochester still finds her imposing. When Christophine leaves, Rochester praises her coffee but questions her talk and actions. Antoinette explains the customs, but Rochester continues to judge based on his background.

Antoinette declares she is lazy and will stay in bed that morning and maybe even all day. Rochester starts spending time at the bathing pool and begins to enjoy life there. He says the weather was beautiful week after week, and "My fever weakness left me, so did all misgiving." In the mornings he is by himself in the bathing pool, but in the afternoons, Antoinette joins him. Rochester is uncertain about Antoinette, but he is very attracted to her.

The couple discuss the island. They agree it is lonely. Antoinette says she loves the island as if it were a person, and it is her favorite place in the world. Rochester teases her by noting she has not been around much. The couple settle into a pleasant routine and are regularly intimate. However, Rochester awakens at night and wonders why Antoinette looks sad while she is asleep. He curses himself for marrying her but wakes her up and listens to her sad stories in the dark. Antoinette tells Rochester that before him, she did not wish to live. She never told this to anyone because there was no one to tell.

Rochester notes that Antoinette acts like any other girl, playful and pleasant, during the day. At night things are different as Antoinette always talks of death. Antoinette says she is not used to happiness, and the feeling makes her afraid. Rochester has made her want to live and she says she will die if he says to. The two are in bed together often, and Rochester says, "Very soon she was as eager for what's called loving as I was." However Rochester says Antoinette is a stranger, and he feels neither love nor tenderness for her, only lust.

Rochester describes Antoinette as being like an obedient child whose ideas cannot be changed. Rochester assures Antoinette she is safe but needs the assurance himself. It always seems to rain at night, but when the mornings come, there is little evidence of the rains from the night before.

Analysis

Both Rochester's and Antoinette's personalities are deeply affected by the time of day and the weather. During the day Antoinette is pleasant and happy. She laughs easily and smiles often. However, at night she is sad and dramatic and often talks of death. Antoinette had a sad and lonely childhood that left her fearful and unhappy, and she wants her husband to make her feel safe. During the day she is able to give him what she perceives he wants in a wife, but she feels he is withholding something from her, especially at night, when they share a physical relationship but when Rochester is not as intimate with her as she wants him to be. During the moments when she is most vulnerable, he does not give her the emotional safety and security she craves.

Rochester's days and nights are both submerged in the physical. He enjoys the food and drink offered by Christophine and the bathing pool where he can be either alone or with Antoinette, basking in the warmth of the island. The smell of the night flowers intoxicates him. But he remains uneasy about the islanders and the island, and he withholds the emotional support Antoinette craves. Like Antoinette Rochester has been impacted by his childhood: Rochester believes his brother was the loved child, and his father and brother have colluded against him.

Antoinette's brute honesty about wanting to die before meeting Rochester and her willingness to do so at his command makes Rochester uncomfortable. Just as Antoinette seems to be different at night from how she is during the day, Rochester goes through changes as well. There are many times when Rochester will praise one moment and insult the next: the land, the people, and Antoinette. In one scene he is toasting their love and happiness, and in the next he is saying he feels nothing for her. His change in emotions is not because of something Antoinette did or did not do; his natural paranoia and mistrust prevent Rochester from fully enjoying the moment. He insists he feels nothing for Antoinette, yet this does not prevent him from having relations with her repeatedly. The back and forth of his emotions introduces some situational irony, since Rochester comments on the emotions of the island people and how they cannot control them.

The sensual aspect of the islands impacts both Antoinette and Rochester: whereas the island allows Antoinette to overcome her fears and feel vulnerable and even happy, Rochester, who often seems cold and heartless, is overcome with a lascivious, physical need for Antoinette. His ability to bring her physical satisfaction thrills him, and he revels in it. His destruction of flowers, delicate and beautiful like Antoinette, foreshadows his control and dominance over Antoinette. Rochester will control and break her—all because he can.

Death and dying are mentioned repeatedly in this section. Antoinette is obsessed with the topic and is even willing to die, which is what Rochester wants. Even moths and beetles invade Rochester and Antoinette's romantic dinner table. The bugs fly into candles and die right on the tablecloth, much like Coulibri, which was consumed in flames. Just as the couple ignores the bugs and proceeds with their dinner, Rochester ignores Antoinette's fears, also as her stepfather had ignored her mother's warnings at her childhood home.

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