Wide Sargasso Sea | Study Guide

Jean Rhys

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Wide Sargasso Sea | Part 2 (The Letter) | Summary

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Summary

Amélie delivers a letter to Rochester who thinks nothing of it. Later he opens the letter, which is from Daniel Cosway, a half-brother to Antoinette. The letter says Rochester was deceived and goes on to shame Antoinette and her family, describing them as "wicked and detestable slave-owners." The letter also notes, "there is madness in that family." The letter details Annette's descent into madness and how she tried to kill her husband. Daniel Cosway says he is sharing the information as a way to warn Rochester of Antoinette's background because it is "my Christian duty." The letter instructs Rochester to consider how things occurred when he got married and to confront Richard Mason to confirm what is in the letter. Finally Daniel Cosway requests that Rochester come see him and notes that Amélie knows where he lives.

Rochester folds the letter and puts it away. While he claims he is not surprised and suspected something, Rochester is disturbed by the letter and he is unsteady as he heads back to the house.

Amélie notifies Antoinette that Christophine is leaving. Then Amélie makes a comment about Rochester that Antoinette takes offense with, and the two ladies slap each other. The two are fighting when Rochester enters. He breaks it up and Amélie walks away, pretending to sob and playing up to Rochester. When out of sight and hearing distance, Amélie sings a song calling Antoinette a white cockroach and saying she bought Rochester. Antoinette is furious about Amélie's impertinence.

Christophine comes into the room and tells Antoinette she is indeed leaving. Antoinette asks, "And what will become of me?"Christophine instructs Antoinette to have spunk so she can survive in the wicked world. She explains she will go off to her house, which Antoinette's mother gave her, and enjoy her garden, which her son will work for her. Christophine is also leaving because she and Rochester do not like each other and staying might bring trouble. Amélie returns, and she smiles at Rochester; Christophine threatens her that if she smiles at Rochester again, she will hurt her. Then Christophine turns to Antoinette and kisses her goodbye.

Rochester and Antoinette are left alone, and she explains how she is not accepted by either black people or the English. She then asks Rochester to go so she can dress as Christophine said. When Rochester knocks later, there is no answer, so he has Baptiste bring him something to eat. After a strong drink with his dinner, Rochester goes to sleep. Later he wakes up and goes into Antoinette's room but she is sleeping. It's the middle of the night yet Rochester finds the quiet disturbing.

Rochester goes for a walk outside and eventually enters the forest. He thinks of his father, brother, and Richard Mason and how they played him for a fool. "How can one discover truth?" Rochester wonders, and he feels as if he is on his own. At this time Rochester feels as if he is being watched. While Rochester is lost, he comes across a little girl who screams when she sees him and runs off. Rochester still cannot find the path. Baptiste finds him and leads him back. On their way Rochester asks about the little girl and inquires if she is a zombie. Baptiste says he knows nothing about this and also says there is no road. When they return, Antoinette's door is still bolted, so Rochester has some rum and reads a book on obeah that discusses zombies.

Analysis

The relationship between Rochester and Antoinette has deepened. They are regularly intimate with each other, and Antoinette views what they have as love. For Rochester the physical is still primary, but he has some feelings for his wife. However, he continues to have doubts about his situation and suspects he has been duped. Cosway's letter is the piece of the puzzle Rochester has been looking for. From the very start of the relationship, he has been uncertain and waiting for the revelation to confirm his doubts. As upsetting as Daniel Cosway's letter is, it also provides a sense of comfort because Rochester now feels he knows the truth. The same paranoia and mistrust he and Antoinette both feel are confirmed for him as reasonable.

Significantly the comfort comes to Rochester in written form. Many of the black islanders do not know how to read or write, and the written declaration carries connotations of business, conducted in written bills and receipts; the law, formalized in written code; and English civilization, educated and well read.

Although the letter from Daniel Cosway provides some sense of comfort to Rochester, it also leaves him feeling isolated. Many times when he goes to Antoinette in this section of the book, her door is locked or she is otherwise unavailable. By choosing to believe the letter and by receiving the opportunity to have his fears confirmed, he has become separated from her. She too has fears, but hers can be neither confirmed nor denied.

In addition, when he comes home after first receiving the letter, Antoinette is acting in a melodramatic way. Her fight with Amélie and her cutting up of the sheets seems particularly odd and disturbing to Rochester as he is already viewing her in a different light. Any chance for Antoinette to explain her side of the story is lost. Antoinette's self-isolation along with her lack of explanation in the past allows the story of Daniel Cosway to stand as truth in Rochester's mind. As time passes, Rochester's mistrust grows and cements itself in his mind. Antoinette has shown herself to be perceptive in the past; however, in this case she allows her love and trust of Rochester to blind her.

Rochester's walk home after receiving the letter as well as his walk in the forest deepen his isolation. While walking home, Rochester plucks and destroys an orchid, one of Antoinette's favorite flowers. His isolation is emphasized when he returns home and the place is quiet and appears deserted. During Rochester's walk into the forest (after he finds Antoinette sleeping), he senses that everyone—his father, brother, Richard Mason, and Antoinette—knew about Antoinette's background and deliberately kept him uninformed. The only person who enlightens him is Daniel Cosway.

While in the forest Rochester senses another person and feels he is being watched. However, the only "person" he believes he sees is a zombie. The definition Rochester discovers about a zombie—"a living person who is dead"—is the way he now views Antoinette. She is no longer a regular person to him, let alone a wife. Instead she is a burden, a problem waiting to happen. His treatment of her will eventually cause her to fulfill his prediction.

Antoinette also feels abandoned in this section. Christophine has been by her side since she was a child. She has supported Antoinette in many ways, by sheltering her from her mother and securing her a playmate in Tia. Some of these have been helpful; others have not. Like her namesake, Christopher Columbus, her legacy is destined to be ambiguous and open to interpretation. When Christophine confirms she is leaving, Antoinette is hurt. However, Antoinette accepts Christophine's leaving because of Rochester. Antoinette realizes she must decide between the two of them, and she chooses her husband in an attempt to make the best of the situation. Despite Christophine's encouragement, Antoinette does not seem capable of taking care of herself. In the very same scene, Antoinette needs Christophine just to put Amélie in her place. At the very moment Rochester feels most isolated from and distrustful of her, she is left most dependent upon him.

Daniel Cosway claims to tell Rochester about Antoinette's background because it is his Christian duty. Yet it seems his letter is more about envy and anger. Daniel Cosway says his father did not like him and abandoned him. While Cosway received some financial support, he feels it was not enough: he is living in poverty. Cosway is jealous of Antoinette, who is a wealthy woman with every benefit in the world. He even admits to wanting revenge, "Let him wait my day will come." Despite the letter's jealousy and vengeance, Rochester is tempted to believe it; it allows Rochester to be right about his suspicions, which is more important to him than creating a good life with his wife.

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