Space, place and landscape

The significance of location

Wide Sargasso Sea uses locations from Jean Rhys' childhood and family history. Both Coulibri and Granbois are based on estates owned by her family. This familiar landscape is very precisely defined in the novel.

However, place and landscape are more than simply the setting for the action. They are elements in the structural and thematic patterns of the novel. In this respect there are parallels with Jane Eyre where location is also important. (See Texts in detail > Jane Eyre > Structure)

Place and structure

The structure of the novel can be defined by the various settings in which the action occurs. Each part has a different location and each place a particular atmosphere and significance.

Part one: The Caribbean

There are two locations in part one:

  1. Coulibri is the place of Antoinette's childhood. This is a place of ambiguities and contrasts:
    • Safety and danger
    • Nurture and rejection
    • Racial affinity and division.
    It is also a place of vitality, colour and warmth. These tensions work to produce Antoinette's fragile sense of personal identity.
  2. Mount Calvary Convent school in Spanish Town provides a temporary refuge for Antoinette from tensions and dangers in the outside world. However, it is still part of the wider Creole culture so that the education she receives there reinforces gender/class stereotypes and fits her only to be the wife of a planter. She is not encouraged to question or oppose the religious and cultural values the school stands for.

Part two: The Caribbean

This part is mainly located at Granbois - the estate in the mountains. This is the location for Antoinette and Rochester's honeymoon and, like Coulibri, a place of beauty, colour and warmth. Initially, this is Antoinette's space; she leads Rochester into it and introduces him to the place and its people.

However, as their relationship deteriorates, this too becomes a place of racial, cultural and gender divisions. Rochester is increasingly suspicious of Antoinette, the servants and the landscape. At war within himself, he rejects what the woman, the place and the culture have to offer him. He abandons Granbois and sets about destroying his marriage.

Part three: England

This part is set at Thornfield Hall in cold, grey England. It is the place of Antoinette's imprisonment and her final act of rebellion as she burns the house down. This fulfils the plot of Jane Eyre but in a way which leaves Antoinette's fate open and ambiguous. Readers are encouraged to think about her act of destruction as:

  • A metaphor for the Caribbean's revenge on its colonial master
  • An act of rebellion against a patriarchal culture.

Houses, rooms and spaces

Within these places are particular houses, rooms and other spaces which also contribute to the novel's structural pattern and thematic content. Like so much else in the novel, they can be seen as a set of contrasts or mirrored oppositions. For example:

At Coulibri

  • The rooms and spaces inhabited by the white family versus those of the black servants
  • Antoinette's bedroom versus Christophine's room: both protective yet containing something the child fears.

At Granbois:

  • Antoinette's bedroom as a feminine space versus Rochester's study as a masculine one
  • The landscape Rochester experiences with Antoinette (the ride up to the house, the pool) versus his solitary experience in the forest.

At Thornfield Hall:

  • The contrast between the rooms and spaces of this section, versus previous landscapes and spaces.
  • A confined, interior space contrasted with flashbacks to wider spaces outside in England and to the Caribbean landscapes of parts one and two.

Investigating houses, rooms and spaces

  • Work on some of these contrasted rooms and spaces. For example:
    • Compare the descriptions of Antoinette's and Rochester's rooms at Granbois
      • How do the settings, objects and atmosphere contribute to the representations of these two spaces as feminine and masculine?
    • Compare the garden and landscape around Coulibri with that at Granbois
      • How does the child Antoinette respond to the garden at Coulibri?
      • What are her other experiences in the landscape and with the natural world in Part one (consider the landscape of her dream, the episode at the pool as well as her relationship with nature more generally)?
      • How do they relate to her later development through the narrative?
    • Compare Rochester's experience of the landscape at Granbois with that of Antoinette at Coulibri and at Granbois. How does his response
      • Demonstrate his Englishness and his colonialist intentions?
      • Reveal hidden insecurities in his personality?
    • What is Rochester's attitude to Granbois in the end?
      • How is this shown in the language, tone and imagery of the text?

Place and character

Places and landscapes are also used to develop character:

  • They can be used to represent the character's state of mind and/or their sense of personal, racial and cultural identity. For example, Rochester's sense of the Granbois study as a refuge is related to his English identity. However, the fragility of that identity in this alien place is represented metaphorically through the worm-eaten English books in the bookcase
  • Opposition between characters can be expressed in their different responses to the same landscape, as in the different ways in which Antoinette and Rochester respond to Granbois.

Investigating place and character

  • Re-read the description of Daniel Cosway's room in part two, section 13
    • How do the details (objects, the description of the space, its atmosphere, etc) contribute to the reader's sense of Daniel Cosway as a person?
    • This description is from Rochester's point of view. What difference might that make?


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