Biblical, mythological and literary references

In the section  Wide Sargasso Sea synopses, the novel's many allusions to other texts are identified and commented upon. They are also referred to in the sections on  Themes and significant ideas in Wide Sargasso Sea and  Characterisation. In many cases, the texts are referred to only once or twice so the explanations given in the  Wide Sargasso Sea synopses and commentary sections should be enough to work out their meaning and significance.

However, there are two particular sources for allusions which deserve more comment.

The Bible

Cultural allusions

There are some allusions to the Bible, although not nearly as many as there are in Jane Eyre.

Sometimes the allusion is made within a character's reported speech and works to define that character's personality and cultural background. Daniel Cosway and the black servant Godfrey both make biblical references in their speech, a feature that denotes their religious education. 


Cockrel, photo by Fernando de Sousa, available through Creative CommonsOne particular set of biblical allusions has a thematic function. Early in Part two, as Antoinette and Rochester prepare to leave the village of Massacre for Granbois, Rochester hears a cock crowing. On one level this is perfectly realistic, but there is also a symbolic level of significance in a biblical allusion centred on the theme of betrayal.

This refers to a story in the New Testament in which Peter, one of the disciples of Jesus, betrays him in the sense of denying all knowledge of him once he is arrested and charged (Luke 22:54-62). Christ had foreseen this betrayal, predicting at the Last Supper that ‘before the cock crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.' (Luke 22:34). 

The theme of betrayal recurs in another reference to a cock crowing, this time within Antoinette's narrative in Part two. As she leaves Christophine's house with the love potion, she hears a cock crowing. She reflects on the traditional association with betrayal and recalls another biblical story on the same theme. In the Gospel of Matthew another disciple, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Jesus to the authorities for thirty pieces of silver.

Investigating the image of betrayal

  • Consider these two biblical allusions to betrayal.
    • In what ways are they relevant to Wide Sargasso Sea?
      • Who betrays whom?
      • What does Antoinette mean about not knowing ‘why Judas did what he did'?

Biblical and mythological references

A particularly important allusion to both the Bible and to a Non-Western myth occurs in the last but one paragraph of the novel. As Antoinette, in her final dream, stands on the battlements of Thornfield Hall, the red sky reminds her of important things from her childhood.

Garden of EdenProminent in the memories is the garden at Coulibri. This was described at the beginning of Part one as like the biblical Garden of Eden where the Tree of Life grew. This would have given Adam and Eve immortality had they not been driven from the Garden of Eden for disobeying God by eating the fruit of the Tree of knowledge.

In Antoinette's final dream, however, the Tree of Life is in flames. The Caribbean writer, Wilson Harris, interpreted this allusion as referring to South American and Caribbean resurrection myths. One of these came from the Arawak people, who lived in the West Indies before their culture was destroyed by the Caribs (see  The context of Wide Sargasso Sea section).

In the Arawak myth there is a food-bearing ‘tree of the world' which reaches up to the heavens. When the Arawaks were at war with the Caribs, their myth said that the Arawaks would climb up into the tree and the Caribs would set fire to it. But, instead of their destruction in the flames, the Arawaks would burn, turn into sparks and these would be carried up into the heavens to become the stars.

Investigating the 'tree of the world' myth

  • How might this myth be relevant to Antoinette's situation?
  • Does this mythical allusion help you to come to any conclusions on the ending of the novel?
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