Literature Study GuidesWide Sargasso SeaPart 3 Graces Watch Summary

Wide Sargasso Sea | Study Guide

Jean Rhys

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Wide Sargasso Sea | Part 3 (Grace's Watch) | Summary

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Summary

Grace Poole narrates the beginning of Part 3. While Rochester was in Jamaica, both his father and his brother died, and their money went to Rochester, making him extremely wealthy. Mrs. Eff speaks to Grace. She doubles her offer and warns her about gossip, although Grace is convinced everyone in the whole county knows what is going on. When Grace questions Rochester, Mrs. Eff, who has known him since he was a boy, praises him greatly. Grace describes the girl she is to watch as living "in her own darkness ... hasn't lost her spirit ... She's still fierce." Grace is happy to have the job and feels some pity for the girl.

Antoinette takes over at this point, and she is the girl referred to in the description above. She says her room is very cold. Grace lights a fire, which Antoinette describes as beautiful. Antoinette wonders why and when she was brought to the room. She has lost track of time. Antoinette recalls she spoke to Rochester and said he can have all her money and a promise to not trouble him if he would let her go, but he does not come to see her.

Grace sleeps in the same room as Antoinette. She keeps the key in a canvas bag and hangs it around her neck. Antoinette pretends to be asleep while she does this. Before going to bed, Grace drinks and falls asleep drunk. Antoinette takes the key and leaves the room. Antoinette goes through a room where she has seen Grace talk to a servant, Leah. Antoinette has heard them whispering unintelligibly. Antoinette is not clear about where she is; she does not believe she is in England but on a voyage on a ship. She recalls the voyage to England. During the voyage she put her arms around the neck of a man who brought her food and asked him for help. When she did not get help, she flipped out and started smashing glasses and plates. Antoinette was given a sedative, and when she awoke she was somewhere different.

Antoinette describes the contents of her room, which are sparse. There is no mirror in the room, and Antoinette is upset that she does not know what she looks like now. She recalls looking at the mirror when she was young. Antoinette is left wondering, "Now they have taken everything away. What am I doing in this place and who am I?"

One morning Antoinette awakens and her wrists are swollen and red but she does not know why. Although Grace does not believe Antoinette doesn't remember the night before, she reminds her of what happened. The night before Richard Mason came and insisted on seeing her. When he told her he could not legally come between Antoinette and Rochester, Antoinette tried to stab him. When the knife was taken away, she bit his arm. Reminded of the story, Antoinette starts to remember that Richard did not recognize her at first and spoke to her as if she were a stranger.

Antoinette believes Richard Mason would have remembered her if he saw her in her red dress and she becomes obsessed with it. She holds the dress to herself and smells it. This brings her back to a time when she wore a dress of a similar color when Sandi came to see her. She recalls the two of them used to meet when Rochester was not around. The last time they saw each other, they shared a memorable kiss. Someone eventually told of their meeting, but Antoinette does not know who.

That night Antoinette has a dream, which she has had two times before. In the dream Antoinette takes the keys from a snoring Grace Poole and lets herself out of the room while holding a candle. Although the house seems empty, Antoinette feels as if someone is chasing her and laughing. She looks to the right and the left but not behind her because she does not want to see "that ghost of a woman whom they say haunts this place." She goes to the front hall, sits down, and then lights all the candles. Feeling miserable, she takes a candle and finds herself in Aunt Cora's room. She angrily knocks a candle over, which sets the curtains on fire. As the fire surrounds her, she calls out to Christophine for help and then runs up the stairs with a candle to get away from the heat and the shouting. Antoinette gets to a cool place and sees her life in the sky. At the end of the dream, Antoinette is ready to jump into what she imagines is the pool at Coulibri where Tia is taunting her.

Antoinette wakes with a scream that causes Grace to awaken too. Antoinette waits for Grace to fall asleep. Then she takes the keys, unlocks the doors, and walks out of the room while holding a candle.

Analysis

Grace Poole has never met either Rochester or Antoinette. She is British, but she is a woman, so it is uncertain whether she would side with either spouse against the other. While she says, "I don't serve the devil for no money," she initially refuses the job, only taking it when her salary is doubled. And she does her job poorly, drinking and often passing out while caring for her charge. These facts align her with the West Indian servants, but she has neither been enslaved nor emancipated. She remains in the attic, safe from the outside world, in darkness, confined to a house that is not her home. It is fitting at the novel's end that we should have a narrator, someone who does not fit anywhere within the novel's established social hierarchy. Only she can give us a clear-eyed picture of the Rochesters.

Referred to only as Mrs. Eff, the head servant of the household is an allusion to Mrs. Fairfax from Jane Eyre. In that novel, as in this one, she is a staunch supporter of Rochester, who claims his stay in the West Indies has changed him, made him more morose and less forgiving. The reader knows enough to both believe and disbelieve her story. He certainly returns bitter, but he was not content when he arrived, angry at his father and brother and composing letters of vindication upon what should be his honeymoon.

Antoinette is barely recognizable from the last time she is mentioned in the book. Her mental state has dramatically changed and for the worse. She is terribly confused about time, place, and self and has become the deranged woman in the attic Charlotte Brontë created in Jane Eyre.

Antoinette's physical self has changed dramatically: people close to her, like Richard Mason, do not even recognize her. Although Antoinette was previously described as beautiful, she is now wild, excessively thin, and has streaming hair. Antoinette longs for her mirror and her red dress. She wants to see herself and bring her old self back and recapture her past grip on life.

Antoinette's last memory of place is when Rochester brought her to England. At that point Antoinette feels trapped and desperate. When an employee on the boat refuses to help her, Antoinette loses hope and reacts violently. She remembers taking medicine and waking up elsewhere. She is convinced the elsewhere is another place on the boat. Because there is only one window in her room, which she cannot access, Antoinette believes she is wandering around on the boat. She and Grace have many discussions about England, and no matter what Grace says, she cannot convince Antoinette they are in England. After all Antoinette is convinced that if she were in England all would be well: "If I could be here I could be well again and the sound in my head would stop."

Antoinette has no idea of how long she has been in England. Time has lost all meaning to her:"But [time] does not matter. Time has no meaning." Antoinette's memories as well exist outside of time. Pieces of memories flicker in and out, with nothing clear. These memories include the last time she saw Sandi, buying a knife, being on the boat, a conversation with Rochester, and so on. The confused memory adds to the reader's lack of clarity as well. One has to piece together stories to get a clear picture. For example, at first it seems Antoinette stabbed Richard Mason as soon as he entered the room to visit her. It is only after Grace shares what Richard said to Antoinette ("I cannot interfere legally between yourself and your husband") that the reader can piece together what happened. Having no one to turn to in her struggle to be free (just as she felt on the boat), Antoinette goes into a rage, like a caged animal.

Antoinette's situation of captivity and her violent reactions are reminiscent of her mother, Annette. Just as Christophine predicted, daughter has become like mother. It seems mental instability was passed down from mother to daughter. However, both mother and daughter suffer from extreme circumstances (loss of a child and loss of and manipulation by a lover) that push them over the edge and drive them to their insanity.

The relationship between Antoinette and Sandi is unclear. Daniel Cosway's letter to Rochester is harsh in its description of what happened to Antoinette and her family, yet from the reader's perspective, it is essentially accurate. As with all of the information Cosway shares, the truth resides in one's perspective, how one chooses to interpret the same bit of evidence. Therefore, the reader is left to determine whether Antoinette and Sandi actually had an intimate relationship. While in the attic, Antoinette thinks of Sandi and notes they kissed often and he would come to see her when Rochester was away. If Antoinette was in her right mind, this could be explained as innocent. However, the way it is described leaves the reader unclear as to the true extent of their relationship.

Antoinette is desperate to find her red dress. Its smell reminds her of Jamaica and the past. The dress is a tie to her former self/life. Red, which is symbolic of passion, also symbolizes fire. There are the two sides of Antoinette that Rochester has brought out in her. Their romance brought out a passion in her that had not existed previously. Now her dreams are filled with fire—a passion that is out of control.

In the dream Antoinette is completely lost and is scared of herself. She does not recognize herself and does not understand that the ghost she hears talked about is actually her. She is convinced the ghost is watching her. As Antoinette creeps about the house, she does not think of leaving; she is trapped by her dreams and memories. The mistreatment she has received throughout her life haunts her, and once again, she is scared. Antoinette wants to destroy everything. She is paranoid—she has heard people whisper about her throughout her life—and longs for revenge. When she considers jumping to Tia, it is not clear if that is an act of revenge or an attempt to get back to Jamaica.

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