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Study Guide: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jane Rhys - Free BookNotes

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WIDE SARGASSO SEA: FREE STUDY GUIDE / SUMMARY

LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

The setting of Wide Sargasso Sea moves from the lush, tropical, natural world of the Caribbean to the bleak “Great House” in England. The novel is set first in Jamaica at an estate called Coulibri, near the former capital of Jamaica, Spanish Town. Part Two moves to Granbois, a honeymoon house in Dominica. Finally, Part Three is set in a cold, dark attic in England.

The time is the 1840’s and thereafter. It is an uneasy time, just following the Emancipation Act of 1833, which freed black slaves in the British colonies and led to the downfall of the white slave owners. Racial relations are strained and the Creole (whites born in the West Indies) former slave owners are accepted neither by the blacks nor the colonials. The times dictate that loyalty and respect belong to those who have money.


CHARACTER LIST

Major Characters

Antoinette
She is the main character and narrator of Parts One and Three of the story. She is based on Charlotte Bronte’s character, Bertha, the madwoman who lives in Rochester’s attic in the novel Jane Eyre. Being a Creole girl, without friends or any real parenting, Antoinette grows up lonely. After her family’s house burns down, she is sent to a convent school. From there, a marriage is arranged between Antoinette and Rochester. He renames her Bertha, finds out about the madness that runs in her family, and moves her to England. There she is locked in the attic with Grace Poole as her caretaker.

Antoinette’s husband
He is the unsympathetic Englishman who marries Antoinette. We know his name (Rochester) from Bronte’s novel; he is not named in this story, only referred to as “the man” or “husband”. It is his voice that speaks in Part Two, explaining the honeymoon at Granbois. He does not like the West Indies, but travels there due to financial pressures. He is compelled to marry Antoinette, not knowing initially of her family’s history of madness. He finds Antoinette beautiful but unsettling. When convinced of her madness, he moves with Antoinette to England.

Christophine
She is an obeah (West Indian voodoo) woman from Martinique who is Annette’s servant. She speaks and dresses differently than the Jamaican women and is not accepted by them. She is the only character who makes any attempt to keep Annette and Antoinette from harm, although her true intentions are suspect.



Minor Characters

Annette
She is Antoinette’s mother. She is originally from Martinique. This, and her beauty cause the Jamaican women to reject her. She was married to Alexander Cosway, who died, and then to Mr. Mason. The second marriage is Annette’s attempt to reenter wealthy society after living in isolation at Coulibri Estate. Mr. Mason abandons Annette and Antoinette after their house is burned down, leaving the deranged Annette with an abusive black couple.

Tia
She is the daughter of a servant. As a child, Antoinette thinks of Tia as a friend until Tia betrays her by stealing her pennies and her dress. Tia illustrates the racial tension and the power of money that dominate the time.

Mr. Mason
He is the Englishman who marries Annette for her beauty and her estate. He is ignorant of the severity of the problems between the servants and his family. After the servants burn down the house, Mr. Mason leaves Annette and Antoinette, returning only to manipulate Antoinette into a marriage from which he will profit.

Aunt Cora
She is Antoinette’s Aunt who is the widow of a wealthy former slave owner. She is the one who sends Antoinette to the convent school. Briefly, she cares for Antoinette then tries to help Antoinette by giving her two valuable rings, and by advising her not to trust Richard Mason.

Richard Mason
He is the son of Mr. Mason who arranges his stepsister Antoinette’s marriage to an Englishman. He pressures the man into the marriage with cash and the rights to Antoinette’s money and property.

Daniel Cosway
He is the bastard child of Alexander Cosway who writes letters to Antoinette’s husband about the madness in Antoinette’s family.

Sandi Cosway
He is another bastard child of Alexander Cosway who defends Antoinette as a child. Daniel Cosway mentions that Sandi and Antoinette were lovers. The insane Antoinette alludes to this when describing a kiss she shared with Sandi.

Amelie
She is a young servant who refers to Antoinette as “white cockroach” and who flirts with Antoinette’s husband. When Antoinette drugs her husband in effort to encourage his physical affection, it is Amelie he ends up sleeping with.

Grace Poole
She is the mad Antoinette’s caretaker at Thornfield. She is well paid, but often drinks and falls asleep on duty. It is her voice that introduces Part Three, where Antoinette is deranged and living locked in the attic in England.


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