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Wide Sargasso Sea | Summary

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Summary

Part 1

Wide Sargasso Sea is set in post-emancipation Jamaica in the early 18th century. A young Antoinette Cosway, her brother, Pierre, and her mother, Annette, live at Coulibri, a rundown estate. Mr. Cosway, Antoinette's father, who died a few years earlier, was in financial ruin after the slaves were freed, and the hated slave owner drank himself to death. The remaining Cosways are in bad shape: Pierre is sickly, and Annette is depressed (and shows little interest in her children). Antoinette takes comfort from her black nurse, Christophine. The community—both black and white—look down upon them.

Mr. Mason, an Englishman, marries Annette. Despite the vicious gossip of the servants and the locals, things seem to be looking up for the family. The estate is repaired, and Annette's disposition improves. However, she is adamant that the family should leave the area due to the resentment she senses from the former slaves toward the whites. Mr. Mason thinks she is exaggerating their discontent. A protest occurs, and the mob burns their home. Pierre dies from injuries suffered in the fire, while Antoinette suffers serious injuries from both the fire and the mob.

After a few weeks Antoinette wakes from a coma. She is in her Aunt Cora's house in Spanish Town. She learns about her brother and finds out that her mother has had a mental breakdown due to the grief. Antoinette visits her one time, but her mother reacts violently.

Aunt Cora enrolls Antoinette in a convent school. She stays with the nuns and is taught how to be a lady. She rarely sees her family as Aunt Cora has moved to England and Mr. Mason travels around Jamaica on business and visits infrequently. One such visit occurs when Antoinette turns 17. Mr. Mason tells Antoinette that friends are coming to visit from England and implies one will marry her.

Part 2

The wedding has taken place and Antoinette's husband, Rochester, narrates. The couple is traveling to the Windward Islands for their honeymoon. Rochester worries that he rushed into the marriage and does not really know his new wife. Richard Mason, Antoinette's stepbrother, paid Rochester to marry her, and Rochester agreed because he is desperate for money to pay off a debt.

Rochester does not enjoy the honeymoon spot (a property Antoinette has inherited) and does not trust the servants, particularly Christophine, to whom Antoinette is especially close. Antoinette tries to explain the way of life and the ways of the servants. While Rochester never seems completely comfortable, he and Antoinette grow closer and enjoy a passionate love life.

A few weeks pass and Rochester receives a letter from Daniel Cosway, who claims to be an illegitimate child of Antoinette's father. The letter says Antoinette comes from a family with madness, which she has inherited. Rochester believes the letter is true and starts to see signs of Antoinette's madness. Antoinette senses that Rochester has changed the way he feels about her, so she goes to Christophine and convinces her to give her an obeah (a spell, in the form of a potion, common to the native peoples of the Caribbean), even though Christophine suggests she should leave him instead.

Rochester gets a second letter from Daniel Cosway and visits him. Cosway makes more accusations about Antoinette, and while Rochester is disgusted by Cosway, he believes what he is told. When Rochester gets home, Antoinette confronts him and suggests he no longer has feelings for her. He tells her about his meeting, and Antoinette defends herself as she tries to explain her past. She becomes very upset, so Rochester suggests she go to bed. They then continue the conversation the next day, and she asks Rochester to come to her room, where she slips him the love potion.

When Rochester awakens early the next morning, he realizes he has been drugged and seduced by Antoinette. He is furious, and later that day, he has sex with Amélie, a Negro servant, while Antoinette is within hearing distance in the next room.

Antoinette is devastated. She goes to Christophine's and is away for a few days. Upon returning she is furious with Rochester and loses control. Her actions are like those of a madwoman. She eventually collapses. Christophine comes and says Rochester has destroyed Antoinette. She suggests he try to love her again or go to England without her. Rochester refuses and orders Christophine off the property. Refusing both of her suggestions, Rochester makes plans to take Antoinette to England.

Part 3

Beginning from the perspective of Grace Poole, the woman who guards Antoinette in the attic, the perspective shifts to Antoinette. She is clearly confused about where she is and how long she has been there. When her stepbrother visits, Antoinette becomes violent, but she quickly forgets the incident. Antoinette has a recurring dream involving stealing Grace's key and exploring the rest of the house, lighting candles, and setting the house on fire. One night after awakening from the dream, Antoinette steals the keys, leaves the room, and heads downstairs while holding a candle.

Wide Sargasso Sea Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Coulibri is burnt, leaving Pierre dead and Annette insane.

Rising Action

2 Antoinette and Rochester marry and reside in Granbois.

3 The couple is intimate, and Antoinette feels love.

4 Rochester learns of Antoinette's family's history.

5 Antoinette visits Christophine and begs for a potion.

6 Antoinette explains her family history to Rochester.

Climax

7 Rochester sleeps with Amélie and Antoinette overhears.

Falling Action

8 Christophine tries to persuade Rochester to free Antoinette.

Resolution

9 Antoinette escapes the attic to set the house on fire.

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