Part one, section 8

Wide Sargasso Sea pages 19 - 24: The appearance of the house ... Tia's reflection of Antoinette

Synopsis of part one, section 8

The black people of the estate gather outside the house and threaten those inside with violence. Mr Mason goes out onto the verandah to quell the riot but is forced to retreat back inside. The rioters set fire to the house. Pierre has been left in his bed in the care of Myra, one of the black servants, but she abandons him and he is injured in the fire. However, other servants, including Christophine, remain loyal to the family and help them to escape.

Parrot, photo by Tobias, available through Creative CommonsAntoinette's mother tries to go back to save her parrot Coco but Mason won't let her. The parrot cannot fly because Mason has clipped his wings and is seen by everyone burning to death. This is considered to be a very bad omen, the crowd become uneasy and their riot loses impetus. When challenged by some of the rioters, Aunt Cora is able to face them down and the family escapes.

As she leaves, Antoinette looks back to see Coulibri ablaze and she knows that nothing will be saved. She sees Tia among the crowd and in her distress runs to her as all she has left of the past life. But Tia, in tears, throws a stone at her.

Commentary on part one, section 8

  • Tamarinds are pods of the tamarind tree. Their sweet, pulpy flesh is often boiled with sugar.
  • The parrot has been taught to speak in French, asking ‘who is there?' and referring to itself in patois.
  • A mounting stone was a large block of stone used for getting on a horse.
  • A ladies' side-saddle enabled a woman to ride with both feet on one side of the horse.
  • By calling Sass an Englishman the crowd insult him, implying that he has sided with the white enemies, despite his race.
  • The flaming torches of the rebels are referred to by their French term.
  • Parrots were used in obeah ceremonies and there were many superstitions around them, such as the belief that they should not be killed. (See:  Religious / philosophical context > Religion > Obeah)
  • A machete is a heavy knife or cutlass.
  • Christophine alludes to the idea that if you leave a little piece of centipede whole when you crush it, it will grow again.
  • The hereafter was a synonym for heaven. Aunt Cora warns the servant of God's judgement on all people at the end of their earthly life, indicating that the servant will end up in hell rather than heaven.
  • The reference to a ghost may derive from a West African word, njamba, meaning spirit.
  • Aunt Cora refers to the biblical depiction of hell as a place of constant thirst Luke 16:24 and unquenchable flames Matthew 25:41
  • Sangoree is a West Indian drink close to the Spanish sangria; a drink made from diluted wine and spices.

Investigating part one, section 8

  • Note down:
    • The reactions of the different family members to the burning of Coulibri
    • The reactions of the individual servants to the burning of Coulibri
  • The burning of Coulibri is narrated from Antoinette's point of view
    • How do you think this affects the way the event is represented?
  • Re-read the final paragraph
    • Why do you think Tia and Antoinette react as they do?
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