The convent and the wider setting in Sargasso

I’ll be setting a setting question on Monday under timed conditions, so, Friday’s lesson was exploring the significance of setting a little more.

Setting is important in literary analysis; The first type of setting is the neutral setting. It is the place where the events of the story occur. The second type of setting is the spiritual setting. This represents the values and morals being taught in the book.

The convent school provides a safe haven for Antoinette for eighteen months. She appreciates its calm order and its environment of alternating spaces of sunlight and cool shade. She learns prayers for the dead and applies them to her mother, although she is not sure of the location of her mother’s soul.

Mr Mason visits her, bringing rather worldly presents of jewellery and clothes that she cannot wear while in the convent. She is seventeen, growing up. Mason begins to hint at arrangements for meeting a potential husband. Antoinette’s response is dismay and a great sense of loss. However, she hides her feelings from Mason, as she has learnt to do in the past.

Unsettled and afraid, Antoinette experiences her dream for the second time. On this occasion she is in a dark wood, wearing a long white dress. A man is with her, his face full of hatred, and she is weeping

Compare this with the first dream in part one:

  • Can you see any significance in the timing of the dreams?
  • How does the second dream differ from the first?
  • How might the second dream be interpreted? (consider AO5 here)

What models and behaviour of femininity are available for Antoinette at the convent?

Find some quotations to support your findings.

I then gave out a list of significant quotations on each of the significant locations in WSS – each of the quotes had an analysis with it so that students can understand what it really means to unpick AO2 and recognise authorial technique.

Monday’s question will be –

‘The setting is to blame for the downfall of Antoinette’ – Consider Rhys presentation of setting in light of this statement.

I want students to think about time and place in their responses – the emancipation act, the conflicted, unsettled background of the narrative, the colonial uncertainty.

Was Antoinette doomed because she was born a creole woman in a particular time and place in history? Is Rochester incidental rather than instrumental in her downfall?

Some unpicked quotations on setting:
‘The road from Spanish Town to Coulibri Estate… was very bad, and… road repairing was a thing the past. (My father, visitors, horses, feeling safe in bed–all belong to the past).’
This isolates the speaker (Antoinette) from the civilisation of Spanish Town • ‘road repairing’ becomes metaphorical for the broken society which they are living in. As a result of the Emancipation, society was thrown into flux with no way to rebuild civilisation, which is now becoming a thing of the past. • The absence of ‘feeling safe’ imbues the location with a threatening tone, implying violence. • With everything ‘belong[ing] to the past’, there is a sense of an evolving, changing society through the depiction of Coulibri.

‘an unlucky place’ • ‘empty’ • ‘shutters banging in the wind’ • ‘haunted’
The name of Mr Luttrell’s house, Nelson’s Rest, becomes emblematic of the British Empire linking it to Lord Nelson (an admiral who fought in wars to secure colonisation). However ‘rest’ becomes symbolic of the denying colonisation. • However, the house becomes imbued with Gothic uncertainty though the addition of superstition as supernatural elements. • This ‘haunt[ing]’ of Luttrell’s house may be in recognition of the mysteries of the island and its violent history which haunts the present. Links to a further Gothic theme of the haunting of the past on the present. • The use of the adjective ‘empty’ may depict the shallow, materialistic nature of colonialism as it falls into decline post- Emancipation.

Rochester- ‘who was massacred here? Slaves?’, Antoinette- ‘Not slaves. Something must have happened along the time ago. Nobody remembers now.’
This creates a sense of a conflict which has lasted so long that sides and events, even deaths, have become blurred due to the sheer scale of the conflict. • Antoinette’s denial of the past creates an uncertainty and a hiding of secrets from the past. This uncertainty of facts and the truth becomes a theme through the novel, creating friction in Rochester and Antoinette’s relationship.

‘But it had gone wild…I don’t remember the place when it was prosperous’
In relation to the Fall from Grace, this juxtaposes the image of the garden as seen previously to be an image of a corrupt and decaying place. • The garden, like Antoinette, is being left in neglect by its caretakers. While it is free to grow beautiful and wild, it is also permeated with decay. • The decadent Creole lifestyle as portrayed in the novel- predicated upon exploitation, wealth, and ease- finds its natural counterpart in the fallen garden.

‘After Mr Mason clipped his wings, he grew very bad tempered.’
The parrot, as an exotic creature, may be emblematic of Antoinette and Annette’s entrapment since Masons (and consequently Rochester’s) arrival. Equally the parrots name, Coco as a commodity exported by slaves, may link to the theme of slavery and therefore entrapment. • The clipping of Masons wings may be symbolic of colonists entrapping the natives, in this case Creoles or females. • The bad tempered nature of the parrot may reflect the social unrest and violent nature of the colonised people. In this case, it may reflect the descending madness of Annette.

‘She was part of Coulibri, and that had gone, so she had gone.’
The house, like the landscape of Grandbois, becomes symbolic of Annette’s mental state. So once it becomes colonised by Mason, Annette’s own mentality begins to fade.
‘tidy, pretty little house.’
Ironically, this is where she becomes trapped and restrained. This may become symbolic of the Western views of civility in comparison to the creoles views.

 

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