In Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, Rochester wakes up believing that he has been poisoned by his new young wife, Antoinette.
Amelie, earlier introduced as Antoinette’s “half-caste” servant girl, cares for Rochester in his feverish state. She brings him food and wine. She cradles Rochester’s head, and he narrates that she “cut some of the food up and sat beside me and fed me as if I were a child.” Amelie taking on the role of a servant, doting on Rochester, demonstrates the underlying power dynamics between men and women, English and Jamaican, in the time period.
Rochester describes Amelie’s face as “lovely” and “meaningless”—even as he is feeling attracted to her, he is not respecting her. This view of women as unintelligent or unreadable, yet beautiful, is deeply patriarchal. Despite sharing laughter together, Rochester and Amelie do not share a meaningful connection during their sexual encounter.
In the moment, Rochester does not care that his wife, Antoinette, is separated from him and Amelie by only a thin wall. This speaks to a patriarchal double standard; Antoinette is in a powerless position compared to Rochester, and his ability to seek sex elsewhere, with cruel disregard for her feelings, is not possible for her as a woman. In this way, by having sex with Amelie, Rochester seems to dominate both women.
After sleeping with Amelie, Rochester’s view of her changes. Looking at Amelie, he notes that “her skin was darker, her lips thicker than I had thought.”
This view of beauty being tied to white standards is deeply racist and colonial. Rochester sees Amelie’s black features—dark skin and thick lips—as repulsive. He admits that he “had no wish to touch her and she knew it.”
Even though both Rochester and Amelie are aware of the shift between them, Rochester presents Amelie with “a large present” that she accepts “with no thanks and no expression on her face.” The fact that their sexual union is now monetized shows once again that there was no real relationship between them; both Rochester and Amelie are operating out of a colonial and patriarchal power dynamic. Rochester offering Amelie money after sleeping with her further objectifies her as a black woman.