Part one, section 7

Wide Sargasso Sea pages 16 - 19: Mason stopping by the huts ... Antoinette getting dressed

Synopsis of part one, section 7

The atmosphere of impending danger intensifies. Mr Mason ignores warnings from Annette and Aunt Cora about their situation. He prefers his own English opinions, although he has far less experience of West Indian culture than they do. Antoinette's feelings towards Mason are ambiguous. She knows that he has rescued the family from poverty but she cannot feel affection for him.

The house and garden feel threatening to Antoinette instead of safe and familiar. However, that evening she sees nothing and hears only the sound of the bamboos rustling in a breeze and noises akin to whispering. She is woken in the night by her mother who tells her to get up quickly, before she rouses Pierre next door.

Commentary on part one, section 7

  • The huts that were once slave quarters are now empty.
  • When she mentions being righteous, Antoinette is referring to Jesus' teaching in the New Testament about how people will face the judgement of God when they die Matthew 13:47-50. Her belief that she will be saved makes her feel secure, but according to Godfrey the Cosways will not be entering heaven.
  • Annette corrects Mason's European assumptions about marriage in slave culture. In fact, neither of them realise that the black people are preparing an attack on the house.
  • Mason is amused because Antoinette has slipped into the patois term for papa or daddy. Slaves in Jamaica often called their master ‘big Pappy' but it was not a respectful term. Mason is not sufficiently knowledgeable about their culture to recognise this.East Indian Coolies in Trinidad
  • Like other planters, Mason is intending to contract labourers from India to work on his estate. The word coolie is of Asian origin and means a hired labourer.
  • Mason is making assumptions about the ex-slaves already in the islands and their capacity to work.
  • Aunt Cora is quoting from Shakespeare's King Lear (Act 4. sc 1, l. 36-7: ‘As flies to wanton boys are we to th' Gods') when she say that children can be cruel.
  • Myra, like Godfrey, is a non-conformist. The word sect means a religious group. Many sects developed the belief that only their adherents would be judged as righteous by God.
  • Roses are flowers popular with English gardeners and it suggests that the garden at Coulibri conforms to English taste in its planting.
  • There is a poem by Tennyson called The Miller's Daughter, published in 1832, which some critics believe is represented in Antoinette's picture. Alfred, Lord Tennyson was a very popular English poet throughout the nineteenth century. He was Poet Laureate from 1850 to his death in 1892. By his death his works were widely available in school editions and often illustrated. It may be that Jean Rhys remembered such a picture from her own childhood on Dominica. Antoinette has it on her wall in the 1830s which suggests (perhaps a bit implausibly) that Coulibri is up to date with English writing of the day.
  • A child's bed with sides to stop the infant falling out is often referred to as a crib.
  • A wooden roof tile is known as a shingle.

Investigating part one, section 7

  • Consider how tension is built up at the beginning of the section. Look at:
    • The descriptions of the landscape
    • What happens in it
    • The dialogue
  • Mr Mason has introduced English customs to Coulibri
    • What is Antoinette's attitude towards them?
  • What do you think is the significance of the picture ‘The Miller's Daughter'?
    • Can you see any connection with Antoinette's troubled sense of cultural identity?
  • Re-read the final paragraphs once Antoinette has been woken up. Her account fragments into short phrases and then into memories.
    • How does this prepare us for the dramatic events to follow?
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