I never looked at any strange negro. They hated us. They called us white cockroaches. Let sleeping dogs lie. One day a little girl followed me singing, "Go away white cockroach, go away, go away." (I.1.3.2)
Here Antoinette describes the hostility she encountered from blacks after the Emancipation Act was passed. With the death of her father, the former slave owner Mr. Cosway, her family is not only ruined, but exposed to the open threats and abuse of the area's black community, as the little girl's use of the term "white cockroach" indicates.
Then Tia would light a fire (fires always lit for her, sharp stones did not hurt her bare feet, I never saw her cry). (I.1.3.3)
Ironically, the same taunting girl in Quote #1 above is Tia, who becomes Antoinette's only friend. Antoinette strongly identifies with Tia because both are in racial groupings that are considered inferior to the dominant white, European colonial class. But this identification has a flip side: Tia is depicted here as having a closer connection to the natural world that Antoinette thinks of as a haven. Tia's close connection to the natural world is actually playing on a racial stereotype that views blacks as being primitive, as closer to nature than to civilized man.
"They invent stories about you, and lies about me. They try to find out what we eat every day."
"They are curious. It's natural enough. You have lived alone far too long, Annette. You imagine enmity which doesn't exist. Always one extreme or the other. Didn't you fly at me like a little wild cat when I said nigger. Not nigger, nor even negro. Black people I must say."
"You don't like, or even recognize the good in them," she said, "and you won't believe in the other side."
"They're too damn lazy to be dangerous," said Mr. Mason. "I know that."
"They are more alive than you are, lazy or not, and they can be dangerous and cruel for reasons you wouldn't understand." (I.1.6.9-12)
In this tiff, it appears that Annette and Mr. Mason are just throwing around some racial stereotypes. Annette thinks blacks are malicious, and Mr. Mason believes them to be lazy. Or you could read it another way. Annette could be disputing Mr. Mason's condescending belief that blacks are "lazy," incapable of action. Instead of this one-sided view, Annette is trying to get Mr. Mason to see that blacks are actual human beings, psychologically complex and fully capable of acting on their own desires.
"What is all this," [Mr. Mason] shouted. "What do you want?" A horrible noise swelled up, like animals howling, but worse. (I.1.8.2)
At this point, the novel seems to be agreeing with Mr. Mason's stereotypical view of blacks as primitive and animalistic. But remember that this is from Antoinette's point of view – she's telling the story. And a page or two later, Antoinette notices that some of the women rioters are crying in sympathy with her family's fate, so the rioters aren't all feral "howling." At the very least, the depiction of blacks at this point reflects Antoinette's conflicting feelings about race.
[Amélie's] expression was so full of delighted malice, so intelligent, above all so intimate that I felt ashamed and looked away. (II.1.1.24)
This quote is one of many in which Rochester reveals his almost paranoid concern with the way blacks perceive him. Since Amélie's expression is filtered through Rochester's narrative, it's hard to read her expression without thinking about what it reveals about Rochester's own feelings. Is he paranoid? Or is she really giving him this look? Does the fact that the look is "intimate" and causes Rochester to feel "ashamed" actually reveal more about Rochester's attraction to Amélie, an attraction that he can't admit to himself at this point but will, we know, act on later on in the novel?
"Her coffee is delicious but her language is horrible and she might hold her dress up. It must get very dirty, yards of it trailing on the floor."
"When they don't hold their dress up it's for respect," said Antoinette. "Or for feast days or going to Mass."
"And is this a feast day?"
"She wanted it to be a feast day."
"Whatever the reason it is not a clean habit […] And she looks so lazy. She dawdles about."
"Again, you are mistaken. She seems slow, but every move she makes is right so it's quick in the end." (II.3.3.5-14)
Like Mr. Mason in Quote #2, Rochester expresses here a similar belief that blacks are lazy. Like her mother Annette, Antoinette is being placed in the position here of a guide or an interpreter, as somebody who can read the true significance of what blacks say and do. Of course, like her mother, Antoinette is ignored.
This young Mrs. Cosway is worthless and spoilt, she can't lift a hand for herself and soon the madness that is in her, and in all these white Creoles, come out […] Sir ask yourself how I can make up this story and for what reason […] The good man in Barbados teach me more, he give me books, he tell me read the Bible every day and I pick up knowledge without effort. He is surprise how quick I am. Still I remain an ignorant man and I do not make up this story. I cannot. It is true. (II.4.1.9-17)
This quote is representative of Daniel Cosway/Boyd's bizarre and contradictory letter. First off, he spouts a lot of racist baloney about Creoles that was unfortunately common belief at the time – the belief that they are somehow "degenerate" because of their exposure to the Caribbean climate. But then he tries to pump himself up. He's no ordinary colored, but an educated one, such that whites are astonished at how "quick" or clever he is. But he knows that if he pumps himself up too much, Rochester will just think he's fibbing, so he actually pins a racist stereotype on himself. As a colored man, he can't possibly be smart enough to make up a story, can he?
"If béké say it foolishness, then it foolishness. Béké clever like the devil. More clever than God. Ain't so? Now listen and I will tell you what to do" (II.5.2.24)
Christophine here expresses a canny sense of how her world works. Since the békés (or whites) hold political power, they are able to, in some sense, control what counts as reality. (The back-story here is that Christophine was sentenced to prison by a white magistrate for practicing obeah.) On the other hand, if the békés don't "say it foolishness," i.e., if they do believe in obeah, then obeah works, at least to the extent that an obeah practitioner like Christophine can frighten people into giving her what she wants (of which there are numerous examples throughout the book). Thus, even though she starts by admitting the power of the béké's word, she ends the quote by telling Antoinette, a béké, what to do.
But how can she know the best thing for me to do, this ignorant, obstinate, old negro woman, who is not certain if there is such a place as England? (II.5.1.32)
It's difficult to be completely sympathetic with Antoinette when we see her racism in a moment such as this one. Despite her obvious sympathy and identification with the blacks in her world, she still maintains many racist attitudes, a possible contributing factor in her rejection of Sandi Cosway.
For a moment Antoinette looked very much like Amélie. Perhaps they are related, I thought. It's possible, it's even probably in this damned place. (II.6.3.10)
Here, Rochester is so convinced of Antoinette's status as racially inferior to him that everything he sees confirms what he already believes. Like the scene with Amélie's "intimate" gaze, Rochester reads a physical similarity between Amélie and Antoinette that justifies his treatment of them. That he can have sex with them without calling it "love" is supported by the fact that both relationships involve financial transactions: he gives money to Amélie, but receives money (as dowry) from Antoinette. No wonder Amélie says that she will try to feel sympathy for Antoinette – you could say Antoinette gets the short end of the stick.
I went to parts of Coulibri that I had not seen, where there was no road, no path, no track. And if the razor grass cut my legs and arms I would think, 'It's better than people.' Black ants or red ones, tall nests swarming with white ants, rain that soaked me to the skin – once I saw a snake. All better than people.
Better. Better than people.
Watching the red and yellow flowers in the sun thinking of nothing, it was as if a door opened and I was somewhere else, something else. Not myself any longer. (I.1.3.38)
The wild beauty of the Coulibri estate provides the young Antoinette an escape from her troubles. But this estate isn't a home, a safe and secure place that Antoinette can identify with and make her own. The razor grass's mutilation of Antoinette's body marks a wound where her sense of self should be. Antoinette forgets her troubles to the point where she doesn't exist anymore, perhaps to the point where she isn't even human anymore, and that's not necessarily a good thing.
We stared at each other, blood on my face, tears on hers. It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking-glass. (I.1.8.29)
Oh, boy, Antoinette gets cut again. This time by a rock thrown by Tia, although she never sees Tia actually throw the rock. Like the razor grass in Quote #1, Tia is an avatar of the unwelcoming home. Tia is an image of what Antoinette would like to be: a black woman, not a white Creole who is accepted by neither white nor black communities. Unlike Tia, Antoinette will never have a racial identity to call her own.
I will write my name in fire red, Antoinette Mason, née Cosway, Mount Calvary Convent, Spanish Town, Jamaica, 1839. (I.2.4.1)
Other than the fact that this is the only instance where we get an actual date in the novel, the quote is also interesting because it's a rare instance where Antoinette seems to embrace her identity. The fact that she has two last names (since her mother's re-marriage), yet another indication of her split identity, doesn't seem to faze her as she emblazons her signature in "fire red," a color that resonates with the moments where she is the most defiant in the novel (See "Red Dress, White Dress" in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory"). This uncharacteristic confidence might have something to do with the fact that she feels the convent is a kind of "refuge," a community of racially diverse women, away from the grasp of marriage-minded, gold-digging, white English bachelors (I.2.5.1).
It was a song about a white cockroach. That's me. That's what they call all of us who were here before their own people in Africa sold them to the slave traders. And I've heard English women call us white niggers. So between you I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all. (II.4.1.61)
In explaining her conflicted feelings about race to Rochester, Antoinette is also touching on another important issue: the question of national identity. That is, how do we determine who "belongs" in a country? Is it determined by race? Does whoever live there "first" get first dibs? Then neither black nor white can lay claim to the islands, because the Caribs and other indigenous tribes preceded them. Antoinette's musings here could indirectly explain why white Creoles attract so much abuse: their liminal status as not-quite-white and not-quite-black undercuts the claim that either race deserves to call the island exclusively theirs.
I remember saying in a voice that was not like my own that it was too light. (II.3.3.88)
At this point, Rochester has been drugged with obeah powder by Antoinette. He enters into a zombie-esque state where he temporarily loses his sense of self. However, the passage also invites us to think about the other ways in which Rochester becomes a zombie, so to speak. Is Rochester, who considers himself superior to everyone else because he's a white European male, really so different from people like Antoinette and Christophine?
"Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. I know, that's obeah too." (II.6.6.31)
Antoinette learns Christophine's lesson about the way that the white-dominated, colonial society works. (See our discussion of Quote #8 under "Race.") Rochester's calling Antoinette another name isn't just an annoying habit. It's his way of taking control over her entire identity, just as he assumed legal control over her fortune when he married her. Rochester's "obeah" makes us wonder whether he's all that different from Christophine…
"She is not béké like you, but she is béké, and not like us either." (II.6.7.52)
Christophine tries to explain Antoinette's ambiguous racial status to Rochester, but even Christophine, who seems wordy enough when she's abusing Rochester, can't seem to find the right words to explain exactly what Antoinette is. At the same time that she tries to explain Antoinette's Creole temperament, she risks repelling Rochester because it's Antoinette's Creole side that really turns him off. Perhaps this is the game Christophine wants to play – who knows what she really wants?
I scarcely recognized her voice. No warmth, no sweetness. The doll had a doll's voice, a breathless but curiously indifferent voice. (II.8.25)
To Rochester, Antoinette has become a "doll," an inanimate object. But you could say that he's been objectifying her all along. At this point in the novel, the end of Part II, it's up for debate as to whether Rochester has completed his domination of Antoinette, or whether Antoinette's doll-like exterior is only a sham, a mask to conceal her rebellious impulses.
There is no looking-glass here and I don't know what I am like now […] The girl I saw was myself not quite myself. Long ago when I was a child and very lonely I tried to kiss her. But the glass was between us – hard, cold, and misted over with my breath. Now they have taken everything away. What am I doing in this place and who am I? (III.3.2)
Locked up in Thornfield Hall, Antoinette has no access to a mirror, part of Rochester's strategy for depriving her of a unique identity to call her own. The childhood mirror scene she describes here is reminiscent of the scene with Tia (see our discussion of Quote #2 above): her sense of alienation from the image of herself indicates her general lack of a sense of self. But this quote also brings up the larger question of whether Antoinette is in fact "mad" – has she really lost her mind? Or can we see her fractured sense of self as a consequence of her personal history? Perhaps we have to learn to "read" Antoinette in a way that Rochester, or any of the other characters, never could.
I heard the parrot call as he did when he saw a stranger, Qui est là? Qui est là? And the man who hated me was calling too, Bertha! Bertha! […] But when I looked over the edge I saw the pool at Coulibri. Tia was there. She beckoned to me and when I hesitated, she laughed […] Someone screamed and I thought, Why did I scream? I called "Tia!" and jumped and woke. (III.7.6)
These lines are from the end of Antoinette's recurring dream. Here it sounds as if, in answer to the question "Qui est là?" ("Who is there?"), Antoinette's answer isn't Antoinette or Bertha, but Tia. A mark of her identification with Tia, her hostile childhood "friend"? If so, does that mean she's waking up as Tia? Are we supposed to read her burning down the house as being somehow motivated by her identification with Tia, a black female character? Or does her calling out "Tia!" reflect the persistent splitting of her self, closing off the possibility of ever having an identity to call her own? Hmm….
It was their talk about Christophine that changed Coulibri, not the repairs or the new furniture or the strange faces. Their talk about Christophine and obeah changed it. (I.1.6.1)
This quote refers to the power that gossip has, in part because it's the voice of a community, the "they." The second sentence in the quote is kind of odd because it could be read two ways: either the talk about Christophine and the talk about obeah changed Coulibri, or the talk about Christophine and obeah itself (not just the talk about obeah) changed Coulibri.
[Christophine] had a quiet voice and a quiet laugh (when she did laugh), and though she could speak good English if she wanted to, and French as well as patois, she took care to talk as they talked. (I.1.2.9)
Christophine shows here an awareness of how language marks a person's place in society. Even though she can speak "good" English, she knows that to assimilate with the black Jamaican community, she has to speak English in the same way they do.
Say nothing and it may not be true. (II.2.5.20)
This quote is more a statement of a wish than a fact, isn't it? Given the corrosive effects of gossip in Antoinette's life – think of everything that was said about her father, her mother, and her brother – her desire is understandable.
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.
"She tell me in the middle of all this you start calling her names. Marionette. Some word so."
"Yes, I remember, I did."
(Marionnete, Antoinette, Marionetta, Antoinetta)
"That word mean doll, eh? Because she won't speak. You want to force her to cry and to speak."
(Force her to cry and to speak)
"But she won't […] You meant her to hear."
Yes, that didn't just happen. I meant it.
(I lay awake all night long after they were asleep, and as soon as it was light I got up and dressed and saddled Preston. And I came to you. Oh Christophine. O Pheena, Pheena, help me.) (II.6.7.37-44)
This quote is from one of the strangest passages in the book (and that's saying a lot). The novel doesn't really help us out with explaining whether the italicized passages are bits of Rochester's interior monologue, bits of Christophine's dialogue echoing in Rochester's head, or something completely different, like the part in the parenthesis above, which sounds like Antoinette. Is Christophine performing some kind of obeah mind meld on Rochester, funneling Antoinette's appeal straight into his head? Or is Rochester just taking an imaginative leap? The structure of the passage invites us to consider how much of Rochester's actions – and reactions – are being "programmed" by Christophine.
[Christophine] is intelligent in her way and can express herself well, but I did not like the look of her at all, and consider her a most dangerous person. My wife insisted that she had gone back to Martinique her native island, and was very upset that I had mentioned the matter even in such a roundabout fashion. (II.5.19)
As Mr. Fraser's letter indicates, Christophine is considered dangerous really not for any rational reason – "the look of her"? How vague can he get? It's the talk about what she can do that contributes to her power in Jamaican society.
"What you do with her money, eh?" Her voice was still quiet but with a hiss in it when she said "money." I thought, of course, that is what all the rigamarole is about. I no longer felt dazed, tired, half-hypnotized, but alert and wary, ready to defend myself. (II.6.7.75)
The word "money" is the magic word that pops Rochester out of his odd trance-like dialogue with Christophine. Whether it's because money is all he cares about or because he's had an epiphany about Christophine's true aims is questionable.
It is in your mind to pretend she is mad. I know it. The doctors say what you tell them to say. That man Richard he say what you want him to say – glad and willing too, I know. She will be like her mother. You do that for money? But you wicked like Satan self! (II.6.7.98)
Christophine's interest in Antoinette may or may not be purely altruistic, but she seems to have a point here. By virtue of his position in society, Rochester has the medical community on his side, and they have the power to declare Antoinette insane simply by saying so. As a Creole, a woman, and now declared mentally ill, Antoinette is triply subordinated to Rochester's will.
Very soon she'll join all the others who know the secret and will not tell it. Or cannot. Or try and fail because they do not know enough. They can be recognized. White faces, dazed eyes, aimless gestures, high-pitched laughter […] I too can wait – for the day when she is only a memory to be avoided, locked away, and like all memories a legend. Or a lie. (II.8.36)
Rochester has learned Antoinette's lesson (in Quote #5 above) about lies a little too well. The "secret" of who she really is doesn't matter; it's her legend that matters. It's hard not to see here a wink at Jane Eyre, where Bertha is just such a "memory to be avoided, locked away." But before we buy into Rochester as the quintessential all-powerful European male too quickly, shouldn't we consider how Rochester seems to be borrowing the techniques of the people around him – Antoinette, Christophine? He seems to be affected by their way of looking at the world – you could say taking the very words out of their mouths, no? What's that all about?
I learnt to say very quickly as the others did, "offer up all the prayers, works and sufferings of this day." But what about happiness, I thought at first, is there no happiness? There must be. Oh happiness, of course, happiness, well. But I soon forgot about happiness. (I.2.5.1)
At the convent, Antoinette questions the overwhelming emphasis on happiness as possible only in the afterlife – i.e., after death, in heaven.
The saints we hear about were all very beautiful and wealthy. All loved by rich and handsome young men. […] and [Mother St. Justine] slides on to order and chastity, that flawless crystal that, once broken, can never be mended. (I.2.4.2-3)
As part of her religious education, Antoinette hears a lot of stories about young maidens who choose a life "married" to their God as opposed to hot young men. These stories reinforce what she learned from her mother's unhappy marriage to Mr. Mason: romantic love isn't possible, and sexual desire can only corrupt and degrade.
"I'll trust you if you'll trust me. Is that a bargain?" (II.2.26)
We feel compelled to repeat here that maybe Rochester isn't such a terrible guy. (Doesn't really help the novel if he's just a one-sided, flat-out-mean villain, right?) In an honorable mood, Rochester touches on the one thing that Antoinette and he both need if their marriage is to survive: mutual trust. Of course, the rest of the novel is just a long series of betrayals, but at least he made an effort.
"If I could die. Now, when I am happy. Would you do that? Would you do that? You wouldn't have to kill me. Say die and I will die. You don't believe me? Then try, try say die and watch me die."
"Die then! Die!" I watched her die many times. In my way, not in hers […] Very soon she was as eager for what's called loving as I was – more lost and drowned afterwards. (II.3.5.40-1)
Antoinette and Rochester's sex talk might seem weird and more than a little morbid, but they're playing on a literary tradition of using death as a metaphor for orgasm. (See "Shout Outs," Othello.) But Rochester here is careful to distinguish between love and sex, "what's called loving," and furthermore, between his way of "dying" and hers. It seems that his way of dying is sex, but Antoinette's words seems to indicate that she associates dying with happiness. In contrast to the convent, where happiness is associated with chastity, Antoinette is experimenting with happiness as sexual desire. But with death as the dominant metaphor, neither Rochester nor Antoinette seem to have a particularly appealing attitude toward sex.
"When man don't love you, more you try, more he hate you, man like that. If you love them they treat you bad, if you don't love them they after you night and day bothering your soul case out." (II.5.1.14)
Really, what's there to say? Christophine is just uttering one of those clichés that are still around because they have a tiny kernel of truth. You know, the "rules," playing hard-to-get, "he's just not into you," etc. But Christophine is also touching on here the basic problem with the way Rochester's desire works – he seeks to own things, to possess Antoinette. Once she's his, he loses interest because he doesn't need to pursue her anymore.
That was the first thing I asked her – about the powder. I asked what it was. She said it was to keep the cockroaches away […] I had never seen her look so gay or so beautiful. She poured wine into two glasses and handed me one but I swear it was before I drank that I longed to bury my face in her hair as I used to do. I said, "We are letting ghosts trouble us. Why shouldn't we be happy?" (II.6.3.87-88)
In one of his moments of tenderness, Rochester brings up an interesting question: how much does Antoinette contribute to the situation? Without a doubt, locking up a woman in your attic is a pretty extreme and degrading thing to do, but isn't drugging your husband kind of a no-no? Just as Christophine said, explaining things to Rochester seems to have softened him up – he even uses that word, "happy," that Antoinette's been obsessing over for the entire novel. But perhaps Antoinette was just so convinced of Rochester's malevolent intentions that she couldn't help but drug him? Then why did Christophine give Antoinette the obeah powder in the first place? This passage brings up all kinds of questions about Antoinette's and Christophine's motivations.
"I hate [the place] now like I hate you and before I die I will show you how much I hate you." (II.6.6.33)
It's interesting that Antoinette and Rochester never express their love to each other, and Antoinette is more ready to express her love for a place than for a person (see our discussion of Quote #1 in "Identity.") But we also have to wonder how different Antoinette's hatred is from her love for Rochester. She drugged him before he betrayed her with Amélie, just on the mere suspicion that he might leave her. Who needs love like that?
She'll not dress up and smile at herself in that damnable looking-glass […] I'll take her in my arms, my lunatic. She's mad but mine, mine. What will I care for gods or devils or for Fate itself. If she smiles or weeps or both. For me. (II.7.13, 17)
As with Antoinette, Rochester's love doesn't seem to be too different from his hate. For Rochester, both emotions seem to be essentially possessive, appropriative emotions: he wants to own her completely, and her fortune and her body are not enough. He has to own her entire sense of self, but to do that, he has to destroy her sanity.
All the mad conflicting emotions had gone and left me wearied and empty. Sane. […] I hated [the island's] beauty and its magic and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it. (II.8.33-4)
Here we get some insight into how love and hate can be so closely intertwined for Rochester. If he seeks to own Antoinette body and soul, it's to fill a void within himself, his "thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it." Just as Tia indicated for Antoinette what she had lost (a concrete racial identity) before she had found it, Antoinette indicates for Rochester something critical to the way he thinks of himself, something that he didn't know he lacked until he met her. Now what that something might be is a huge question that he doesn't seem to answer or be able to answer, mired as he is in all those "mad conflicting emotions." But even though Rochester is repulsed by Antoinette, he still needs her as a reminder of what that something is. Confusing as this all is, it partly explains why he doesn't just throw her out and washes his hands of her altogether.
That was the life and death kiss and you only know a long time afterwards what it is, the life and death kiss. (III.5.8)
Antoinette describes her last kiss with Sandi Cosway. We never really get to know Sandi in the novel, but in the few instances we do see him, he seems to be a presence that offers Antoinette security, safety – well, happiness, really. So why didn't she run away with him?
"I dare say we would have died if [Christophine]'d turned against us and that would have been a better fate. To die and be forgotten and at peace. Not to know that one is abandoned, lied about, helpless." (I.1.2.12)
Antoinette inherits her mother's morbid way of looking at the world, expressed in the quote above. To die isn't about merely ceasing to exist, but more importantly, to lose the awareness that you may as well be dead. The quote also brings up the interesting question as to why Christophine is so invested in keeping Annette and her family alive when they have no fortune to speak of at the time. Christophine may be performing a kind of obeah in the sense that she is supporting Annette and her family when they are socially dead, turning them into social zombies, if you will.
When I asked Christophine what happened when you died, she said, "You want to know too much." (I.1.7.33)
Antoinette reveals here an early obsession with death that will continue into her adult life, most notably in her relationship with Rochester.
I could hardly wait for all this ecstasy and once I prayed for a long time to be dead. (I.2.5.3)
Antoinette's experience with religion is problematic because it seems to prey on her most morbid tendencies. If heaven is such a good time, then why stick around on earth?
Always this talk of death. (Is she trying to tell me that is the secret of this place? That there is no other way? She knows. She knows.)
"Why did you make me want to live? Why did you do that to me?"
"Because I wished it. Isn't that enough?"
"Yes, it is enough. But if one day you didn't wish it. What should I do then? Suppose you took this happiness away when I wasn't looking…" (II.3.5.32-5)
Here we have another instance of a character keeping another character alive, only this time it's Rochester who's working the "obeah." Antoinette ascribes to Rochester an almost magical power over her state of mind and her life. For Rochester, on the other hand, death is associated with the "secret of this place." The location is felt as a threat to his selfhood, just as Antoinette is.
I wonder if she ever guessed how near she came to dying. In her way, not in mine. It was not a safe game to play – in that place. Desire, Hatred, Life, Death came very close in the darkness. (II.3.5.55)
This quote gives us a different inflection on what it means to die in "her way" than we get in Quote #4, in our discussion of "Love." While previously Antoinette linked death with happiness, here Rochester reads "her way" of dying as something far riskier, as an actual physical death. Is sex really a kind of death where the two lose control over themselves in sexual union? In such a state, isn't it possible for one person to exploit the other's temporary loss of control and take over? What would it mean to use a different metaphor for sex – say, life? In a sense, the "game," and the sex act itself, is a life-and-death battle over what terms such as love and happiness mean.
There are always two deaths, the real one and the one people know about. (II.6.3.19)
Antoinette explains to Rochester how she felt her mother died a symbolic death when the Coulibri estate burned down and her brother died, well before her mother's actual physical death. There are many ways of dying or ceasing to exist, some that are private, secret, or otherwise inexpressible, as the tragic events in the novel bear out.
I woke in the dark after dreaming that I was buried alive, and when I was awake the feeling of suffocation persisted. (II.6.4.1)
After being poisoned, Rochester experiences a kind of zombie state by experiencing death while he's still alive. It begs the question as to whether his behavior following this scene (for example, his sleeping with Amélie) is the result of the drug, and, if so, whether he's really responsible for his actions.
She was only a ghost. A ghost in the grey daylight. Nothing left but hopelessness. Say die and I will die. Say die and watch me die. (II.8.23)
Antoinette's words return to Rochester as he contemplates her at the end of Part II. The term "ghost" is a nod to Jane Eyre, where Bertha Mason is mistaken for a ghost. Antoinette's ghostliness in this scene bears witness to her own symbolic death, thus paralleling her mother's fate.
It was then that I saw her – the ghost. The woman with streaming hair. She was surrounded by a gilt frame but I knew her. (III.7.3)
Like Quote #8, this quote is also a reference to Bertha Mason's ghostliness in Jane Eyre. Interestingly, Antoinette doesn't recognize the ghost in the mirror as her own reflection. It seems at this point that Rochester's plan to obliterate her sense of self – a symbolic death – has succeeded.
Someone screamed and I thought, Why did I scream? I called "Tia!" and jumped and woke. (III.7.6)
For a fuller discussion of the ending, see "What's Up with the Ending?" But in the context of our discussion of the theme of mortality here, this passage is interesting for suggesting an up side to death. We know, we know, there's an up side? Well, look, death can be understood as a loss of selfhood, right? What if that selfhood was a mess of half-conscious racist assumptions? Maybe Antoinette's loss of self is the loss of a racist self, an enabling loss in the sense that it makes possible her full acceptance of Tia. It's a big maybe, but a maybe worth trying out…
I was suddenly very much afraid […] I was certain that hidden in the room (behind the old black press?) there was a dead man's dried hand, white chicken feathers, a cock with its throat cut, dying slowly, slowly. Drop by drop the blood was falling into a red basin and I imagined I could hear it. No one had every spoken to me about obeah – but I knew what I would find if I dared to look. Then Christophine came in smiling and pleased to see me. Nothing alarming ever happened and I forgot, or told myself I had forgotten. (I.1.6.3)
This quote is awfully strange because Antoinette seems to know without knowing that there's an obeah charm in the room. How does she know what a charm looks like if nobody's ever talked about it? Is it possible that she's repressed what she's heard, just as she tells herself in the passage above that she's forgotten what she's seen in Christophine's room? The passage above is a great one to look at if you want to try to disentangle the weird dynamic of rumor and denial that goes into obeah's mystique.
I heard someone say something about bad luck and remembered that it was very unlucky to kill a parrot, or even to see a parrot die. (I.1.8.19)
It seems ridiculous that a parrot on fire could dispel a riot, but there you have it. The scene attests to the way superstitions operate: what a community believes to be true can generate its own objective reality.
But we have our own Saint, the skeleton of a girl of fourteen under the altar of the convent chapel. The Relics. But how did the nuns get them out there, I ask myself? In a cabin trunk? Specially packed for the hold? How? But here she is, and St. Innocenzia is her name. We do not know her story; she is not in the book. (I.2.4.2)
The novel creates its own mythical saint to suggest an analogy with Antoinette, who herself gets locked up in the hold of a ship and gets transported in the opposite direction – to England and Europe, rather than the Caribbean. The convent's worship of a girl's skeleton invites parallels with obeah rituals (the dried, shriveled hand of Quote #1 above). These similarities suggest that the lines separating obeah from Christianity, black magic from religion, are not quite so clear-cut as they appear.
So many things are sins, why? Another sin, to think that. However, happily, Sister Marie Augustine says thoughts are not sins, if they are driven away at once. You say Lord save me, I perish. I find it very comforting to know exactly what must be done. All the same, I did not pray so often after that and soon, hardly at all. I felt bolder, happier, more free. But not so safe. (I.2.5.3)
Again, Antoinette's religious education contains magical elements. "Lord save me, I perish" is Antoinette's abracadabra, the magical password that drives away her sins, but it also echoes Christophine's ominous mumbling in Quote #9.
Turning around she saw me and laughed loudly. "Your husban' he outside the door and he looked like he see zombi. Must be he tired of the sweet honeymoon too." (II.4.1.32)
By claiming that Rochester looks as if he's seen a zombie (i.e., Antoinette), Amélie suggests that zombies are not mythical creatures, but can refer to anyone who has undergone some traumatic event. In this way, Amélie demystifies the mystique –and the terror – a zombie generates by reducing the term to a casual insult.
I had reached the forest and you cannot mistake the forest. It is hostile […] Under the orange trees I noticed little bunches of flowers tied with grass. (II.4.3.2)
Lost in the forest, Rochester comes across an obeah offering, emphasizing obeah's close association with the land itself.
A zombi is a dead person who seems to be alive or a living person who is dead. A zombi can also be the spirit of a place, usually malignant but sometimes to be propitiated with sacrifices or offerings of flowers and fruit […] They cry out in the wind that is their voice, they rage in the sea that is their anger. (II.4.3.28)
On reading about obeah, Rochester realizes that the flowers he saw in Quote #6 was one such offering to appease the ghost of Père Lilievre, who was rumored to haunt the area. But the passage also asks us to consider what characters also serve as spirits who have to be plied with flowers and fruit, that "cry out" and "rage" – yup, that's Antoinette we're talking about. Makes you take a second look at all those flowers in their honeymoon house, doesn't it?
"So you believe in that tim-tim story about obeah, you hear when you so high? All that foolishness and folly. Too besides, that is not for béké. Bad, bad trouble come when béké meddle with that." (II.5.1.37)
Christophine's words are somewhat disingenuous here because she does end up giving Antoinette an obeah potion. But her words are also loaded in that she's already been imprisoned by the békés, or whites, for practicing obeah, which was associated with slave mutinies, particularly in Haiti. Obeah terrifies precisely because it's a cultural expression, not a magical one: the voice of protest for a community, not a species of witchcraft or wizardry. Christophine's use of the word "trouble" also echoes the first line of the novel, where "trouble" refers to the turmoil after the Emancipation Act was passed in 1833.
She said something I did not hear. Then she took a sharp stick and drew lines and circles on the earth under the tree, then rubbed them out with her foot.
"If you talk to him first I do what you ask me." (II.5.2.9)
This quote shows how Christophine's obeah works as much through psychological manipulation as it does through its various incantations, rituals, and potions. Christophine gives Antoinette a condition that Christophine has no way of enforcing: once she's given up the potion, there's no way to stop Antoinette from doing whatever she wants with it, whether she talks to Rochester or not. Christophine's words throughout their exchange seems to indicate that she knows what will happen – "bad, bad trouble" – if Antoinette uses the powder. Then why does she give Antoinette the powder? Her intentions continue to remain mysterious.
I drank some more rum and, drinking, I drew a house surrounded by trees. A large house. I divided the third floor into rooms and in one room I drew a standing woman – a child's scribble, a dot for a head, a larger one for the body, a triangle for a skirt, slanting lines for arms and feet. But it was an English house. (II.6.8.17)
There's an awful lot of drinking in the novel, and you could say that rum and alcohol like the obeah powder alter states of mind. Christophine's obeah seems to have seeped into Rochester's consciousness here as he too draws shapes (see Quote #9) in order to influence reality. His clumsy sketch here provides a blueprint for his eventual confinement of Antoinette to his manor house.
"Of course they have their own misfortunes. Still waiting for this compensation the English promised when the Emancipation Act was passed. Some will wait for a long time." (I.1.1.3)
The novel sets the historical mood of the novel by mentioning the Emancipation Act on the very first page. By associating emancipation with "misfortunes," the novel explores how true freedom is impossible given the persistent social, political, and economic inequities on the island. (See "Setting" for a fuller discussion of the historical significance of the Act.)
No more slavery! She had to laugh! "These new ones have Letter of the Law. Same thing. They got magistrate. They got fine. They got jail house and chain gang. They got tread machine to mash up people's feet. New ones worse than old ones – more cunning, that's all." (I.1.3.25)
Christophine's cynicism reflects her own experience with the continuing racial injustice on the island. While blacks are no longer enslaved, they are persecuted in other ways by being treated as inferior citizens under the law. The use of the law is in some ways more hypocritical than slavery, because the law professes to be the expression of an idea of justice, while the institution of slavery didn't have such lofty moral pretensions.
My stepfather talked about a plan to import labourers – coolies he called them – from the East Indies. When Myra had gone out, Aunt Cora said, "I shouldn't discuss that if I were you. Myra is listening." (I.1.7.19)
Mr. Mason's comments here suggest that the ensuing riot could be seen as a form of class-based anger on the part of the black community. By importing laborers, Mr. Mason would be withholding jobs from the black community, further aggravating conditions of economic hardship.
"It's disgraceful," [Aunt Cora] said. "It's shameful. You are handing over everything the child owns to a perfect stranger. Your father would never have allowed it. She should be protected, legally. A settlement can be arranged and it should be arranged." (II.5.2.1)
Just as Christophine criticizes the law for its unfair treatment of blacks, Aunt Cora criticizes the law for its treatment of women as minors, as the subjects of their husbands, and demands legal protection for Antoinette.
"Then I will have the police up, I warn you. There must be some law and order even in this God-forsaken island."
"No police here," she said. "No chain gang, no tread machine, no dark jail either. This is free country and I am free woman."
"Christophine," I said, "you lived in Jamaica for years, and you know Mr. Fraser, the Spanish Town magistrate, well. I wrote to him about you. Would you like to hear what he answered?" (II.6.6.93)
By appealing to the police, Rochester aligns himself with the law (i.e. the political authority on the islands), the same authority that Christophine criticizes – almost word for word – in Quote #2. Rochester's reference to the law has an almost magical effect on Christophine as she immediately shuts up. Christophine's words also indicate why she remains in the British-occupied islands of the Caribbean, rather than in Martinique, the French colony she's originally from. At the time, slavery is still legal in the French empire, and she wouldn't be a "free woman."
"I thought you liked the black people so much," [Antoinette] said, still in that mincing voice, "but that's just a lie like everything else. You like the light brown girls better, don't you? You abused the planters and made up stories about them, but you do the same thing. You send the girl away quicker, and with no money or less money, and that's all the difference."
"Slavery was not a matter of liking or disliking," I said, trying to speak calmly. "It was a question of justice."
"Justice," she said. "I've heard that word. It's a cold word. I tried it out," she said, still speaking in a low voice. "I wrote it down several times and always it looked like a damn cold lie to me. There is no justice." She drank some more rum and went on. "My mother whom you all talk about, what justice did she have? My mother sitting in the rocking-chair speaking about dead horses and dead grooms and a black devil kissing her sad mouth. Like you kissed mine." (II.6.6.26)
In this quote, Antoinette chastises Rochester for his hypocrisy in sleeping with Amélie. Rochester tries to take the high road by talking about slavery as an abstract human rights issue, but Antoinette here voices the uncomfortable truth that the abolition of slavery didn't lead to the abolition of racial inequality on the island. She also compares Rochester and the man who was hired to take care of her mother. You might remember that Antoinette witnessed her mother's caretaker raping her mother (II.6.3). Antoinette is suggesting here that although Rochester is supposed to be the responsible husband who takes care of his wife, he is in fact figuratively raping her by taking her fortune and having sex with her without loving her. Imitating Rochester's English accent – the "mincing voice" – is part of her rhetorical strategy to rub his face in his own duplicity.
After all the house is big and safe, a shelter from the world outside which, say what you like, can be a black and cruel world to a woman. (III.1.2)
This passage from Grace Poole's narrative suggests her feeling of solidarity with Antoinette's fate, a feeling of solidarity that reaches across racial and cultural lines. This passage puts another twist on Brontë's Jane Eyre by implying that Grace Poole both consciously and unconsciously helped Antoinette wreak her revenge on both Richard Mason and Rochester.
"It was when he said 'legally' that you flew at him and when he twisted the knife out of your hand you bit him." (III.4.25)
As we saw in Quote #7, nothing ticks off Antoinette quite so much as when men bring up justice and the law to justify their exploitation of women, whether it's Rochester sleeping with Amélie or Richard signing Antoinette's fortune over to Rochester.
But I looked at the dress on the floor and it was as if the fire had spread across the room. It was beautiful and it reminded me of something I must do. I will remember I thought. I will remember quite soon now. (III.6.10)
The red dress serves as a concrete reminder for Antoinette of her task, which is never explicitly stated, but could be a reference to her vow to show Rochester exactly how much she hates him in Part II (II.6.6.33). The red dress's association with Antoinette's femininity and fire, which recalls the fire at Coulibri, suggests that the red dress is kind of a call to arms for Antoinette, an appeal for her to use the same mode of protest that the blacks used against Mr. Mason earlier in the novel. (See our discussion of Quote #3 above.) This connection is further stressed in the next section when Antoinette dreams of setting fire to Thornfield Hall.
I went to bed early and slept at once. I dreamed that I was walking in the forest. Not alone. Someone who hated me was with me, out of sight. I could hear heavy footsteps coming closer and though I struggled and screamed I could not move. (I.1.3.27)
This passage describes the first instance of Antoinette's recurring nightmare, which is brought on by the events of the day: her fight with Tia and her encounter with her mother's guests, the Luttrells, who will eventually introduce her to her future husband, Mr. Mason. The generally hostile environment of the dream, the threat from an unnamed and unseen stranger, and Antoinette's paralysis all foreshadow Antoinette's eventual confinement in Rochester's English manor.
Again I have left the house at Coulibri. It is still night and I am walking towards the forest. I am wearing a long dress and thin slippers, so I walk with difficulty, following the man who is with me and holding up the skirt of my dress. It is white and beautiful and I don't wish to get it soiled. I follow him, sick with fear, but I make no effort to save myself; if anyone were to try to save me, I would refuse. This must happen. Now we have reached the forest. We are under the tall dark trees and there is no wind. "Here?" He turns and looks at me, his face black with hatred, and when I see this I begin to cry. (I.2.5.24)
Just as Antoinette's first dream precedes Annette's marriage to Mr. Mason, Antoinette's second dream precedes her own impending marriage, this time orchestrated by Mr. Mason. The second dream further elaborates on the first dream. The white dress is a color associated with her mother, who loved wearing white, but the fact that it trails on the floor looks forward to Christophine, who also walks with her dress trailing on the floor, much to Rochester's disapproval (II.3.3.5). As the dream progresses, Antoinette ends up in a garden surrounded by a stone wall and hugs a tree that tries to shake her off. This scene looks ahead to Rochester's comparison of his hatred to a hurricane bending a tree (II.7.12).
Reality might disconcert her, bewilder her, hurt her, but it would not be reality. It would be only a mistake, a misfortune, a wrong path taken, her fixed ideas would never change. (II.3.5.53)
Here, Rochester expresses a rather condescending opinion of Antoinette. He differentiates himself from what he calls her lack of realism, without acknowledging that he too has certain fixed ideas – about women and race, for example – that don't change even if proven otherwise.
I had reached the forest and you cannot mistake the forest. It is hostile. The path was overgrown but it was possible to follow it […] The track led to a large clear space. Here were the ruins of a stone house and round the ruins rose trees that had grown to an incredible height […] I was lost and afraid among these enemy trees, so certain of danger that when I heard footsteps and a shout I did not answer. The footsteps and the voice came nearer. (II.4.3.2-3)
What's odd about reading this passage out of context is that it sounds like one of Antoinette's dreams, but it's not – it's Rochester, the same guy who dismissed her version of reality in Quote #3 above. And the passage doesn't describe a dream, but his actual experience getting lost in the forests around Granbois.
I must know more than I know already. For I know that house where I will be cold and not belonging, the bed I shall lie in has red curtains, and I have slept there many times before, long ago. How long ago? In that bed I will dream the end of my dream. But my dream had nothing to do with England and I must not think like this, I must remember about chandeliers and dancing, about swans and roses and snow. (II.5.1.26)
Antoinette's musings here foreshadow her eventual confinement in England in Part III of the novel. But it also brings up some interesting questions about her control over her own fate. How can she "foretell" the future? Why must these things happen to her, or does she have the power to change her destiny?
There would be the sky and the mountains, the flowers and the girl and the feeling that all this was a nightmare, the faint consoling hope that I might wake up. (II.6.1.9)
Again, Rochester doesn't seem to acknowledge how similar he is to Antoinette with his fixed ideas. Rochester, like Antoinette, seems to be able to predict what's going to happen, as he "predicts" that Amélie is going to appear before him. Of course, he also called her to him, so no real mystery there. For Rochester, predictions confirm his sense of mastery over a situation, in contrast to Antoinette, who is terrified by what she foresees. He knows Amélie is going to appear because he has control over her. He's not surprised when he receives Daniel's letter because it confirms what he already suspects. If everything feels like a "nightmare," it's partly because the nightmare is his own creation.
"Then she cursed me comprehensively, my eyes, my mouth, every member of my body, and it was like a dream in the large unfurnished room with the candles flickering and this red-eyed wild-haired stranger who was my wife shouting obscenities at me." (II.6.6.41)
Rochester again feels as if he's in a dream, in an extraordinary situation that doesn't seem real. The subtext here is that Rhys is taking some of the words verbatim from Jane Eyre: is Jane Eyre then the "dream" in which all the characters are trapped?
So I shall never understand why, suddenly, bewilderingly, I was certain that everything I had imagined to be truth was false. False. Only the magic and the dream are true – all the rest's a lie. Let it go. Here is the secret. Here. (II.8.6)
Rochester has a brief epiphany about his life on the island. The fixed ideas – about his situation, Antoinette, the Caribbean – that were so entrenched in Quotes #3 and #6 seem to evaporate: he recognizes that what he believed to be "true" is actually only "imagined." Instead of approaching things as a rational, calculating, man, he has to learn to work with the "magic and the dream," whatever that means. We never find out, as the epiphany is short-lived and he's back to hating Antoinette.
Only I know how long I have been here. Nights and days and days and nights, hundreds of them slipping through my fingers. But that does not matter. Time has no meaning. But something you can touch and hold like my red dress, that has a meaning. (III.4.30)
Trapped in the attic, isolated from the world, Antoinette eschews conventional ways of thinking about space and time. Time isn't an abstract concept, but something you can finger, like a dress. Antoinette's musings here suggest that there are other, equally valid ways of understanding reality that might seem alien or just plain crazy to someone like Rochester.
That was the third time I had my dream and it ended […] Then I turned around and saw the sky. It was red and all my life was in it […] Now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to do. (III.7.1-6)
For a more complete discussion of the ending, see our "What's Up with the Ending?" In the context of our discussion of "Versions of Reality" here, the last dream is interesting because it provides a condensed version of the events in the novel – kind of like a SportsCenter highlight reel. This scene suggests that there's more than one way of looking at reality, that sometimes reality is like a dream in that it can often be puzzling or illogical, a mix of familiar and unfamiliar elements. Of course the novel doesn't show us exactly what Antoinette ends up doing – that would be interpreting the dream for you, telling you what to think, and the novel is very much about letting you actively engage with the text and come up with your own interpretation.
Our garden was large and beautiful as that garden in the Bible – the tree of life grew there. But it had gone wild. The paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell. Underneath the tree ferns, tall as forest trees, the light was green. Orchids flourished out of reach or for some reason not to be touched. One was snaky looking, another like an octopus with long thin brown tentacles bare of leaves hanging from a twisted root. (I.1.2.2)
This passage about the Coulibri estate makes explicit reference to the Biblical garden of Eden, but it's a strange and creepy paradise where beauty and decay are intermingled. Instead of being associated with a state of innocence, we have a "wild" paradise, with vaguely threatening flowers that look like snakes and octopi.
There was a soft warm wind blowing but I understood why the porter had called it a wild place. Not only wild but menacing. Those hills could close in on you […] Everything is too much, I felt as I rode wearily after her. Too much blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near. (II.1.2.1-4)
Rochester goes into sensory overload as he makes his way to Granbois. Unable to handle the "wild" beauty of the Caribbean, he finds it "menacing" as it threatens his control over his senses.
"Oh England, England," she called back mockingly, and the sound went on and on like a warning I did not choose to hear.
Soon the road was cobblestoned and we stopped at a flight of stone steps. There was a large screw pine to the left and to the right what looked like an imitation of an English summer house. (II.1.2.12-13)
For Rochester, the Caribbean takes him out of his English comfort zone, and thus radically challenges his sense of self. You can see how he clings to anything in the environment that remotely reminds him of England, as when he compares their vacation home to an "English summer house." Rather than appreciating the Caribbean on its own terms, he only sees the island as either a pale imitation or a monstrous deformation of his English homeland.
"Is it true," she said, "that England is like a dream? Because one of my friends who married an Englishman wrote and told me so. She said this place London is like a cold dark dream sometimes. I want to wake up."
"Well," I answered annoyed, "that is precisely how your beautiful island seems to me, quite unreal and like a dream."
Both characters spar over which country is more dream-like and "unreal" than the other, but Rochester gets annoyed, while Antoinette seems merely curious at this point. That Antoinette views England as merely a dream, and not the center of the universe, may have something to do with Rochester's annoyance.
It was a beautiful place – wild, untouched, above all untouched, with an alien, disturbing, secret loveliness. And it kept its secret. I'd find myself thinking, "What I see is nothing – I want what it hides – that is not nothing." (II.3.4.4)
In response to the "menacing" threat of his surroundings (see Quote #2 above), Rochester wants to figure out what makes it "alien, disturbing, secret," but knowing this secret seems equivalent to destroying what makes it so marvelous to begin with. That is, once it becomes familiar to him, it is no longer different and terrifying. Rochester also describes the location's disturbing beauty in the same way he describes Antoinette's appearance, particularly her eyes.
She often questioned me about England and listened attentively to my answers, but I was certain that nothing I said made much difference. Her mind was already made up. Some romantic novel, a stray remark never forgotten, a sketch, a picture, a song, a waltz, some note of music, and her ideas were fixed. About England and about Europe. (II.3.5.53)
Here the novel calls attention to Antoinette's ironic reversal of the way that the Caribbean is conceived in Victorian literature and English literature in general. Instead of the Caribbean being an exotic place made up of fictions and legends that have little to do with the "real" Caribbean, Antoinette sees England as just such a fantastic place.
I will be a different person when I live in England and different things will happen to me […] England, rosy pink in the geography book map, but on the page opposite the words are closely crowded, heavy-looking. Exports, coal, iron, wool. Then imports and Character of Inhabitants. Names, Essex, Chelmsford on the Chelmer. The Yorkshire and Lincolnshire wolds. Wolds? Does that mean hills? How high? Half the height of ours, or not even that? (II.5.1.26)
We see how Antoinette develops her image of England in this quote from Antoinette's point of view, rather than from Rochester's. And is it really any different than the way we learn about other countries – or even other states, for that matter – in school? In focusing on maps and unfamiliar names, Antoinette shows how much texts contribute to the way we get to know the world around us and, in a sense, limit our experience of the world as well.
"England," said Christophine, who was watching me. "You think there is such a place?"
"How can you ask that? You know there is."
"I never see the damn place, how I know?"
"You do not believe that there is a country called England."
She blinked and answered quickly, "I don't say I don't believe. I say I don't know, I know what I see with my eyes and I never see it." (II.5.1.27-31)
Christophine brings up an interesting distinction between believing and knowing, between a superficial and an intimate, lived knowledge of a region.
Then I open the door and walk into their world. It is, as I always knew, made of cardboard. I have seen it before somewhere, this cardboard world where everything is coloured brown or dark red or yellow that has no light in it. As I walk along the passages I wish I could see what is behind the cardboard. They tell me I am in England but I don't believe them. We lost our way to England. When? Where? I don't remember, but we lost it. (III.3.5)
Even though Antoinette is now actually in England, she still thinks of it as an imaginary place. In a sense, she's experiencing the distinction between belief and knowledge that Christophine lays out in Quote #9 above: since all she's seen of England is the interior of the house and a brief visit to a random meadow, how can she know she's in England? That the house is made out of paper reinforces the fact that, for Antoinette, England is still something straight out of the pages of a book. Like Jane Eyre, perhaps?
That afternoon we went to England. There was grass and olive-green water and tall trees looking into the water. This, I thought, is England. If I could be here I'd get well again and the sound in my head would stop. (III.4.25)
What's interesting about this passage is that England isn't a thoroughly horrible place, but actually has some redeeming features. The nature Antoinette describes invokes a typical English pastoral scene, a literary mode that celebrates England's natural beauty as representative of everything that's great about being English. For a novel that's a pretty obvious critique of British imperialism, it's interesting to think of what it finds redeeming about English culture. After all, it does adapt one of the greatest novels in the English literary tradition.