Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys
Wide Sargasso Sea Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Section.Subsection [if applicable].Paragraph). Wide Sargasso Sea is divided into three parts. Within those parts, the novel does not number sections and subsections. This guide refers to sections if they are marked by an asterisk or some other symbol in the text. Within those sections, the novel indicates subsections by an extra line break.
So I was told, but I have noticed that negroes as a rule refuse to discuss the black magic in which so many believe. Voodoo as it is called in Haiti – Obeah in some of the islands, another name in South Africa. They confuse matters by telling lies if pressed. (II.4.3.28)
The unnamed author here discusses the problems he has getting information about obeah, but the quote also shows how important speech and silence is to the way obeah works. Obeah's magic has a scientific explanation (the "untraceable" powder, a poison), but everyone, white and black, treats it as if it were actually effective magic. Otherwise, why would Christophine be imprisoned for practicing obeah? Talk about what it does is critical to obeah's power on the whole community's imagination, but silence about how it actually works, about the scientific explanation for how it works, contributes to its mystique.
"Yes, that was his story, and is any of it true?" I said, cold and calm. […]
"But we must talk about it." Her voice was high and shrill.
"Only if you promise to be reasonable."
But this is not the place or the time, I thought […] "Not tonight," I said again. "Some other time."
"I might never be able to tell you in any other place or at any other time. No other time, now. You frightened?" she said, imitating a negro's voice, singing and insolent. (II.6.3.26, 29-32)
The passage shows how, at a critical point in Antoinette and Rochester's relationship, true dialogue fails, and in a sense, language fails. Instead of being able to approach the conversation as two equals, they are both stymied by their own assumptions about each other. No matter what she says, Antoinette will always be a hysterical, irrational woman to Rochester, and, no matter what he says, Rochester will always be the cold, unfeeling man to Antoinette. Antoinette's taking on a "negro's voice" here is as much a taunt as her recognition that Rochester has placed her in the same exploitable racial category as Amélie. With all this baggage, how can there ever be a "right" time to talk?
"Lies are never forgotten, they go on and they grow." (II.6.3.42)
Antoinette relates here her experience that sometimes the past is forgotten to the point that only myths and fictions remain – perhaps myths and fictions survive because they serve the needs of the present. This point touches on the project of the novel as a whole to recover the story of Bertha Mason, the madwoman of Jane Eyre, to look behind Rochester's version of events and get the story from Bertha's perspective.