Wide Sargasso Sea: Top Ten Quotations

“My father, visitors, horses, feeling safe in bed – all belonged to the past.”p. 5 This quotation highlights how Antoinette’s life and sense of security have evaporated. The family’s status in society has been diminished with the death of her father, the decreased wealth and the Emancipation Act which has meant the freedom of slaves.

” He thought I would be pleased with a Martinique girl.”p. 8 Here, Antoinette’s mother explains that Christophine was a wedding present to her from her new husband. This gift of a person exemplifies how slavery depended on the traffic in humans.

“We stared at each other, blood on my face, tears on hers. It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking-glass.” p. 24 The trope of identity and mirror images re-surfaces in this reference as Antoinette sees herself in Tia, who has just thrown a stone at her. In Tia, she sees another displaced exile in her place of birth. There is also the inference that Antoinette seeks a sense of self through identification with the mirror image and with others.

“Underneath I will write my name in fire red, Antoinette Mason, née  Cosway, Mount Calvary Convent, Spanish Town, Jamaica, 1839.” p. 29 Antoinette’s contentment while staying at the convent is exemplified in the references to the fire red color and the affirmation of her name and home address. This may be compared with her eroded sense of self both before and after this time.

” It was like that morning when I found the dead horse. Say nothing and it may not be true.” p. 34 Such passivity is in keeping with the feminine ideal that has been imposed on Antoinette as a young woman of her social class. By saying nothing, she also retreats from material reality.

” So it was all over, the advance and retreat, the doubts and hesitations. Everything finished, for better or for worse. There we were, sheltering from the heavy rain under a large mango tree, myself, my wife Antoinette and a little half-caste servant who was called Amélie.” p. 39 Rochester takes over the first-person narration at this point, and his name is known only through this novel’s association with Jane Eyre as he is unnamed throughout this text. His thoughts of ‘for better or worse’ echo the marriage ceremony he and Antoinette have recently taken part in and the accompanying reference to doubts and hesitation inform us how his perception of the union was clouded from the beginning.

“She never blinks at all it seems to me. Long, sad, dark alien eyes. Creole of pure English descent she may be, but they are not English or European either.” p. 40 Rochester’s desire to categorize and diminish Antoinette is encapsulated here as he relies on taxonomy and racism to criticize his wife. He sees her and her eyes as ‘alien’ and so different and not equal to him, a white upper-class English man. Post-colonial theory is a useful framework for critiquing such judgements, and highlights how his position of assumed superiority depends on a racist understanding of others in relation to himself.

“So between you I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all.” p. 64 This speech by Antoinette is fluid and captures her distress in that the sentence runs on and on. She explains her feelings of rootlessness and permanent exile and it is typical of the novel and of the racism that this work criticizes that she is ignored. Even when she speaks up, then, and explains her insecurity her voice is not valued sufficiently to be listened to.

“Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. I know, that’s obeah too.” p. 94 It is ironic that the form of control that Rochester takes over Antoinette is compared to obeah (witchcraft). Rochester epitomizes male, white, upper-class English rule – the establishment – and yet his attempts to control his wife are seen to have parallels in the traditions he abhors. He is seen to be as manipulative as he believes Christophine to be, except he has law and justice on his side.

“Who would have thought that any boy would cry like that. For nothing. Nothing…” p. 112 Rochester’s preference for controlling emotions is portrayed here and through the novel as an aspect of his background and something which he regards as mature and superior. Displays of emotions are a sign of weakness, irrationality and also linked by Rochester to a racist interpretation of Afro-Caribbean culture. Through the characterization of Rochester, it is possible to see a criticism of the dominant ideology of the white ruling classes that favor and connect coldness, rationality and masculinity.