Wide Sargasso Sea

by Jean Rhys

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Part 3, Section 1 Summary

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Rochester’s father and brother have both died, so the family estate and fortune now belong to Rochester. After living in Jamaica for a while, Rochester returns to England. Grace Poole has been employed at the estate. Her sole responsibility is to look after Antoinette. Rochester wants nothing more to do with his wife and has set up an apartment for her in a special section of the house. Grace is to stay with Antoinette at all times.

Antoinette once again returns as the narrator. It is obvious that she is confused. Her memory seems scattered; she does not know why she is in this cold, dark place. She does not know what it is she is required to do.

At night after Grace has fallen asleep, sometimes Antoinette takes Grace’s keys and walks around the large manor. She often feels like a ghost, living in a different world. She has been told she is in England but does not believe it. She has only scant memories of the voyage across the sea with Rochester. She remembers being on a ship, but she feels sure they lost their way.

One morning, Antoinette awakens to aches and pains. She has little recollection of how she might have hurt herself. Grace says that her brother came to visit. When he did not recognize her, Antoinette charged at him with a knife and wounded him. Antoinette remembers wishing she had known Richard Mason was coming. She would have dressed for him. If she had been properly dressed, he would have known her. He would have saved her. He may have taken her away from this cold place.

Antoinette has a recurring, horrifying dream. In the dream, she waits for Grace to fall asleep, and then she takes the keys and wanders the halls of the manor. She lights her way with a candle. She enters a large room and wants to see it better, so she lights many candles. She sits on a soft sofa. She feels unsteady, concerned that someone might come and find her there. She hears footsteps and feels the need to get away so she will not be found. Looking at all the lit candles somehow angers her, and she knocks them all down. All but one is extinguished. That candle catches the curtains on fire and then a tablecloth, and suddenly the whole room is in flames.

As Antoinette runs away, images from her childhood pass before her eyes. She sees her Aunt Cora. She also sees the parrot that caught on fire when she was very young and Coulibri burned down. She hears someone whom she knows hates her call out her name, but it is not her name. He calls out “Bertha.” She runs up the stairs and then outside and looks over the edge from the top of the house. Maybe she should jump, she thinks. When she looks down to the ground, she sees Tia, who beckons to her. As Antoinette is falling over the edge, she awakens from her dream, screaming.

Grace wakes up at the sound, checks Antoinette, then goes back to sleep. Antoinette gets up once Grace is again asleep. The last scene has Antoinette walking in the dark halls with a candle in her hand. Antoinette is modeled on the mad wife in the novel Jane Eyre, so readers can assume that Antoinette is about to set the house on fire. In Jane Eyre, the character dies in the fire—Antoinette is about to live out her horrifying dream.

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Part 2, Section 8 Summary