Part One of Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea follows Antoinette throughout the early years of her life, when she, her mother, and her brother reside at Coulibri Estate in Jamaica. It is here that Antoinette suffers a life of poverty followed by a life of riches upon her mother's marriage to the wealthy Mr. Mason. However, this newfound prosperity and comfort proves costly and extremely short lived. Antoinette's mother, the daughter and widow of a slave owner, has been a constant target for the wrath of the native black population that surrounds the estate. The newfound wealth of the family further enrages the black people, and this anger takes its toll one night. Antoinette's family is forced out of Coulibri by an angry mob seeking revenge.

As a heart-broken young Antoinette watches her family's estate burn to the ground, she makes one final effort to retain the life that she has known. She approaches her friend Tia, determined to live with her and resume life as it has always been. Yet the peace and serenity that Antoinette finds at Coulibri is no longer hers to hold on to, and her final encounter with Tia proves this to her in a devastating manner. A desolate Antoinette relates this heart-wrenching experience that will follow her in one manner or another throughout the remainder of the novel:

But now I turned too. The house was burning, the yellow-red sky was like sunset and I knew that I would never see Coulibri again. Nothing would be left, the golden ferns and the silver ferns, the orchids, the ginger lilies and the roses, the rocking-chairs and the blue sofa, the jasmine and the honeysuckle, and the picture of the Miller's Daughter. When they had finished, there would be nothing left but blackened walls and the mounting stone. That was always left. That could not be stolen or burned.

Then, not so far off, I saw Tia and her mother and I ran to her, for she was all that was left of my life as it had been. We had eaten the same food, slept side by side, bathed in the same river. As I ran, I thought, I will live with Tia and I will be like her. Not to leave Coulibri. Not to go. Not. When I was close I saw the jagged stone in her hand but I did not see her throw it. I did not feel it either, only something wet, running down my face. I looked at her and I saw her face crumple up as she began to cry. We started at each other, blood on my face, tears on hers. It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking-glass. [27]

Questions

1. In her description of all of the things being left behind at Coulibri, the last item mentioned is the picture of the Miller's Daughter. How does this contrast with the other items that make up the list? What is the significance, if any, of Antoinette having such affection for this particular picture?

2. As Antoinette is watching Coulibri burn, the sky is compared to the sunset and she comments on how the flowers, the ferns, the ginger lilies, etc. will be burnt to nothingness along with the house. How does the nature imagery add to the passage? How are flowers and nature treated throughout the rest of the novel? Specifically, how is the natural beauty of Jamaica later compared and contrasted to the beauty of England?

3. Tia has betrayed Antoinette earlier in the novel at the bathing pool. What is the significance of Antoinette reaching out to Tia at this point in the story? How are Tia's actions responsible (directly or indirectly) for Antoinette's mother marrying Mr. Mason and bringing their family to this point? What is the significance of Antoinette reaching out, albeit unsuccessfully, to Tia at this point in the story?

4. The imagery of Antoinette looking into Tia's face and seeing her own face "like in a looking-glass" is very poignant. How does this passage comment on and challenge what has been previously commented on within the novel? How are Tia and Antoinette, both very young when this takes place, different from their elders? How are they the same?

References

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). New York: W. W. Norton, 1982.


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Last modified 9 January 2004