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Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea


by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea Part I, Section 2 Summary

Subsection 1

  • Antoinette wakes up in a room in Aunt Cora's house. She's been ill for six weeks.
  • Aunt Cora explains that they escaped to the Luttrells' home at Nelson's Rest, and from there rode to Aunt Cora's house. According to Aunt Cora, Pierre died on the way to Nelson's Rest, but Antoinette believes that Pierre died some time before that. Aunt Cora also claims that Annette is in the country recuperating, but Antoinette remembers hearing her mother scream at Mr. Mason and imitating Coco, screaming "Qui est là? Qui est là?" Aunt Cora sings Antoinette a few songs to help her sleep.

Subsection 2

  • Antoinette insists on visiting her mother with Christophine. Her mother is being cared for by a colored couple. When Antoinette goes to embrace her, her mother shoves her away.

Subsection 3

  • Antoinette steps out of Aunt Cora's house for her first day of school at Mount Calvary Convent.
  • On the way, she is trailed by two children – a colored boy and a black girl. Both children harass her all the way to the convent gate. The girl shoves Antoinette, who drops her books.
  • All of a sudden, another boy runs across the street to chase away the children. It's Sandi Cosway, a colored relative. (Interestingly, Antoinette doesn't remark on his race immediately as she does with other non-white characters.) After checking in on her, Sandi promises to keep the other children from harassing her.
  • Antoinette finally enters the convent, where the nuns, who are of different races, comfort her, and Louise de Plana, another student, shows her around the school.

Subsection 4

  • Antoinette settles in to the routine at the school. She and the other students embroider while Mother St. Justine reads them stories about the lives of female saints, all of whom rejected wealthy, handsome, eminently eligible suitors. Mother St. Justine also lectures them on the importance of hygiene, manners, and, of course, chastity. There's no dean's list at the school, but if there were, the de Plana sisters would be at the top.
  • Antoinette feels compelled by those around her to forget her mother, or at least to think of her as dead. Without Christophine, who has left to live with her son, no one is around to speak of her mother, and Aunt Cora has decided to leave for England for her health.

Subsection 5

  • Antoinette gets into the routine of praying all the time – an awful lot of "Hail Mary's," if you're wondering about all that business about "now and at the hour of our death" – but soon starts questioning the point of all these prayers.
  • She should be praying for eternal light for her mother, but she knows her mother hates bright light (and she's still alive, right?), so she stops praying for her mother.
  • All the talk about ecstasy in heaven makes her eager to die, but then praying for death is a sin, so she prays not to pray for death. But then she wonders why so many things are sins, before she realizes that she's probably sinned again just by thinking that.
  • If you're keeping count, she's praying not to think about thinking about why everything's a sin, including praying for death. Got it?
  • Fortunately, Sister Marie Augustine steps in and explains that, as long as you chase away the sinful thought as soon as you think it, you haven't sinned. Antoinette gets so good at chasing away sinful thoughts that she doesn't feel compelled to pray anymore.
  • While Antoinette works herself out of her religious conundrums, Mr. Mason has been visiting her frequently, taking her on little outings and giving her small gifts. After about eighteen months, he announces that it's time for her to leave the convent. He tells her he wants her to be "safe" and "secure," but these words do not inspire Antoinette with confidence. Instead, it fills her with soul-crushing fear. (Remember everything that happened at Coulibri, when Mr. Mason said everything was going to be all right and everyone should stop being paranoid?)
  • Not surprisingly, Antoinette has her nightmare for the second time. Only this time there's a lot more detail. She's wearing a long, white dress (hint hint). Even though the stranger's face is "black with hatred," she doesn't try to escape (I.2.5.24). She follows him out of the forest into a garden and up some steps. She holds onto a tree, which sways as if it were trying to shake her loose.

Subsection 6

  • Sister Marie Augustine takes her out of the dormitory and offers her a cup of hot chocolate. Instead of comforting her, the chocolate reminds Antoinette of her mother's funeral.
  • Mother's funeral, you ask? That's right – at some point last year, her mother died mysteriously, and Antoinette is just telling us now.
  • Thinking of that sad moment, Antoinette asks Sister Marie Augustine why such terrible things happen, and Sister Marie Augustine replies that she doesn't know why "the devil must have his little day" (I.2.6.9). Not exactly comforting. She tells Antoinette to go back to sleep.

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