Wide Sargasso Sea: Part One continued (I)

Summary – Part One continuedWhen Antoinette goes to her mother, her mother notices her dress is dirty and Antoinette tells her it is Tia’s. She asks why and also adds, “‘which one of them is Tia?’” Christophine enters and says Antoinette does not have a clean dress as she has only two and the other is being washed.The two women quarrel as Antoinette’s mother says her daughter must have another and Christophine says it is shameful that her daughter is allowed to “‘run wild’” and “‘grow up worthless’”, and nobody cares. Christophine cleans Antoinette up and tells her the visitors were the Luttrells but were not like old Mr Luttrell who she says would have spat in their faces for the way they had looked at her. She also laughs at the idea that there is no more slavery and says, “‘these new ones have Letter of the Law. Same thing’”, and the “‘new ones’” are more cunning.That night Antoinette has a nightmare. Her mother comes to her and says she will have to go to Pierre next as Antoinette has frightened him. Antoinette comforts herself and thinks how she is safe from strangers with the barriers of the mountains and the sea.The narrative shifts to when her mother buys some muslin. There is enough to make them both a dress and Antoinette presumes she sold her last ring to pay for the material. The Luttrells lend her mother a horse and she goes to dances and a moonlight picnic. Antoinette wanders the estate and prefers the discomfort of insects and the razor grass that cuts her legs to people. She thinks of nothing and is not herself ‘any longer’.The narrative then cuts abruptly to Antoinette relating being a bridesmaid to her mother when she marries Mr Mason in Spanish Town.Antoinette knows that the guests have talked about her mother and knows they have wondered why he should marry her when he could take his pick of all the girls in the West Indies and in England and will regret it. They also say that old Cosway had other women and ‘she’ (Antoinette’s mother) never did anything to stop him going with other women and even gave presents and smile “‘for the bastards’” at Christmas. Pierre is described as “‘an idiot’” and Antoinette as going the same way.Antoinette and Pierre stay with Aunt Cora, an ex-slaveowner, while the repairs are being done to the property and while her mother and Mr Mason are in Trinidad. He does not approve of Cora and has asked why she did not help them more. When they return, Coulibri is clean and tidy and there are no leaks, but it does not feel the same. Sass has come back and new servants have also been engaged.Antoinette likes Sass and Mannie the groom, but not the others as they talk about Christophine and obeah and this changes Coulibri. She goes in her room and is frightened of finding a dead man’s dried hand and drops of blood falling, but sees nothing.When her mother and Mr Mason have been married for a year, her mother says she wants to leave and he laughs. He says how she is the daughter of a slave owner and used to be married to one, and has lived there alone with two children without coming to harm. She says they were something to laugh at and now they are always being talked about. He says she has lived alone for too long and is being extreme. He criticizes her for flying at him “‘like a wild cat’” when he said “‘nigger’” and “‘negro’” and insisted he said “‘black people’”. She replies that he does not “‘like or even recognize, the good in them’”. He accuses “‘them’” of being too lazy to be dangerous. She says “‘they’” are more alive than he is and he does not understand why “‘they’” can be dangerous and cruel.Antoinette relates how they are hated again now, worse than before, since her mother re-married and they are no longer poor. Her mother says to Mr Mason that she wants to leave still and that it is not safe and will take Pierre with her. She sees Aunt Cora nod and Mr Mason sighs.They eat English food now and Antoinette is glad to be ‘like an English girl’ but misses Christophine’s cooking. Mr Mason compares the local Afro-Caribbean people to children and says they would not hurt a fly when Aunt Cora says he should not talk about importing laborers from the East Indies in front of the servant, Myra. She also says “‘unhappily children do hurt flies’”.

Analysis – Part One continuedSafety and the fear of harm run through this section. The fear in Antoinette and her mother is inspired by their rise in station since the marriage to Mr Mason, and in the history of slavery finding a form of revenge for past sins. The rhetoric employed is racist as both their fears and Mr Mason’s condescension are based on stereotypes. Mr Mason in particular voices the imperialist stance that regards colonial subjects as less rational and more childish than the dominant ruling group. Such preconceptions are smashed in later parts of the novel and this entails that his racism is challenged within the narrative.By refusing to listen to the fears of Antoinette, her mother and Aunt Cora, he is depicted as spreading his condescension over anybody who does not belong to his particular power base (of white, aristocratic English men). Because of this, racism and sexism are seen to be inextricably linked in this work as the dominant group – to which Mr Mason belongs – attempts to hold sway.