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

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WIDE SARGASSO SEA: FREE SUMMARY / STUDY NOTES

CONFLICT

Protagonist

The role of protagonist alternates between Antoinette and her husband. In Parts One and Three Antoinette is the narrator and therefore the protagonist because we see the plot from her point of view. She is sensitive and lonely and culturally split, with no one to turn to for support except Christophine. In all but one section of Part Two, the narrator is Antoinette’s husband and it is his struggle we are presented with. He sees Antoinette’s beauty and wants to connect with her, but he finds his wife and her island home disturbing.

Antagonist

Again, the antagonist is either Antoinette or her husband, depending on who is telling the story. Antoinette desperately wants the man to love her. Her conflict is his emotional distance and accusations of madness. His conflict is with Antoinette’s exotic strangeness and disturbing behavior.

Climax

The climax does not occur until the absolute end of the novel. The problems between Antoinette and her husband are resolved when Antoinette decides her purpose and descends from her prison in the attic to set the English house on fire. She is prepared to act out the dream she had just described.


Outcome

As a literary re-creation of Bertha the Jane Eyre character, we know that Antoinette has sealed her own fate. However, as an independent work, Wide Sargasso Sea presents Antoinette’s act as possible deliverance. She is escaping her captor and possibly the madness imposed by him. The flaming, suicidal leap of Bronte’s novel is not described, rather the reader is left with a “to be continued” feel regarding Antoinette’s fate. The novel ends with Antoinette’s resolution to act, her spirit resurrected. The end result is left open.


SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)

PART ONE

Antoinette Cosway is a beautiful young Creole heiress growing up in Jamaica just after the Emancipation Act of 1833. Her parents are ex-slave owners whose plantation, Coulibri Estate, is now in disrepair. She lives with her widowed mother Annette and her handicapped brother Pierre. The servants gossip cruelly about the Cosway’s discreditable reputation. The one exception is the servant Cristophine, a Martinique woman who has been overseeing and protecting the Cosways.

Annette does not spend much time with her daughter. This leaves Antoinette to her only childhood friend, Tia. Once, however, when Antoinette and Tia go swimming together, Tia betrays Antoinette and steals her pennies and her dress. Antoinette returns home in Tia’s dress, which Annette sees as a disgrace.

Rather abruptly, Annette marries a man from England named Mr. Mason. He has Coulibri renovated and believes he can live there in control of the servants. The racial tension is high, however, and one night the freed blacks stage a protest outside the house. They are carrying torches and end up setting the house on fire. Pierre is fatally injured, Antoinette takes ill for several weeks, and Annette’s smoldering insanity fully manifests itself as a result of the traumatic event. Mr. Mason abandons them, traveling away from Jamaica for months at a time.

Antoinette’s Aunt Cora enrolls her in a convent school. There she is educated alongside other Creole girls. When she is seventeen Mr. Mason visits more frequently and plans to present Antoinette to his English friends.

PART TWO

Antoinette is now married to an Englishman. He and Antoinette go to a honeymoon home called Granbois, which had belonged to Antoinette’s mother. The Englishman married Antoinette for money. He did not know her or her family. Mr. Mason’s son, Richard had arranged the marriage.

At Granbois, the man is uncomfortable with the exotic surroundings and the gossiping servants. Christophine is there and he sees her as a threat to his authority over Antoinette. His relationship with Antoinette is unstable. It becomes worse after he receives a letter from Daniel Cosway stating that Antoinette and her family are insane. He then begins to see what he thinks are signs of her madness.

Antoinette wants her husband to love her again. She asks Christophine for help. Christophine practices obeah and reluctantly gives Antoinette a drug to make the man desirous. That evening Antoinette tries to explain her side of the story behind Daniel Cosway’s letter. They argue and he begins calling her Bertha because it is a name he likes. Finally, they go to Antoinette’s room. There he drinks drugged wine and becomes ill. The servant Amelie who has often flirted with him comforts him. They sleep together right next to Antoinette’s room.

Antoinette has heard everything and leaves the next morning. She goes to Christophine. When she returns to Granbois, she goes to her room and gets drunk. She and her husband fight and she bites his arm. Christophine then gives Antoinette’s feelings a voice as she reproaches the man for causing Antoinette to break down. She tells him to leave Antoinette with her and to go back to England. He decides to leave for England with Antoinette.

PART THREE

Antoinette is locked in the attic of the man’s home in England. Grace Poole is the woman hired to watch her. Antoinette goes from violent to melancholy. She doesn’t realize she is in England and has nostalgic memories of Jamaica. She dreams of sneaking downstairs and setting the house on fire. Finally, she takes a candle descends the stairs.


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