Wide Sargasso Sea revision – The fire

Some AO5: Wide Sargasso Sea is a story about ‘human beings claiming, without pity, to own each other, in slavery, marriage or parenthood.’ (Angela Smith)

Creole heiresses were ‘products of an inbred, decadent, expatriate society, resented by the recently freed slaves.’ (Frances Wyndham)

The novel describes the island in a critical moment in which power was being contested between the new colonizers and the liberated slaves.’ (Roberta Grandi)

Antoinette belongs nowhere and belongs to no one.’ (Moira Ferguson

–What happens in the fire?

Annette wakes Antoinette

–Godfrey, Myra and the other servants have disappeared

–Mason tries to calm everyone down

–The back of the house is set on fire

–Myra has abandoned Pierre to die in the fire

–They abandon the house but forget Coco

–Coco, on fire, falls to his death

–A reminder of key techniques:


–Colour symbolism

–Pathetic fallacy

–Natural imagery

–Gothic references


–Sentence variations

–Patois dialect/linguistic variations

–Aunt Cora threatens the Jamaicans with an eternity in hell

–Tia throws a rock at Antoinette

Considering Rhys’ techniques explore how Rhys present the relationship between setting and identity in the following extracts:

How does Rhys present power and conflict?

Extract 1: ‘There is no reason to be alarmed,’ my stepfather was saying as I came in. ‘A handful of drunken negroes.’ He opened the door to the glacis and walked out. ‘What is all this,’ he shouted. ‘What do you want?’ A horrible noise swelled up, like animals howling, but worse. We heard stones falling onto the glacis. He was pale when he came in again, but he tried to smile as he shut and bolted the door. ‘More of them than I thought, and in a nasty mood too. They will repent in the morning. I foresee gifts of tamarinds in syrup and ginger sweets tomorrow.

Extract 2: ‘She left him, she ran away and left him alone to die,’ said my mother, still whispering. So it was all the more dreadful when she began to scream abuse at Mr. Mason, calling him a fool, a cruel stupid fool. ‘I told you,’ she said, ‘I told you what would happen again and again.’ Her voice broke, but she still screamed, ‘You would not listen, you still sneered at me, you grinning hypocrite, you ought not to live either, you know so much, don’t you? Why don’t you go out and ask them to let you go? Say how innocent you are. Say you have always trusted them.’

Extract 3: ‘Mr Mason, his face crimson with heat, seemed to be dragging her along and she was holding back, struggling. I heard him say, ‘It’s impossible, too late now.’ ‘Wants her jewel case?’ Aunt Cora said. ‘Jewel case? Nothing so sensible,’ bawled Mr Mason. ‘She wanted to back for her damned parrot. I won’t allow it.’ She did not answer, only fought him silently, twisting like a cat and showing her teeth. Our parrot was called Coco, a green parrot. He didn’t talk very well, he could say Qui est ? Qui est ? And answer himself Ché Coco, Ché Coco. After Mason clipped his wings he grew very bad tempered.

Extract 4: ‘I shut my eyes and waited. Mr Mason stopped swearing and began to pray in a loud pious voice. The prayer ended, ‘May Almighty God defend us.’ And God who is indeed mysterious, who made no sign when they burned Pierre as he slept – not a clap of thunder, not a flash of lightning – mysterious God heard Mr Mason at once and answered him. The yells stopped.

I opened my eyes, everybody was looking up and pointing at Coco on the glacis railings with his feathers alight. He made an effort to fly down but his clipped wings failed him and he fell screeching. He was all on fire.

I began to cry. ‘Don’t look,’ said Aunt Cora. ‘Don’t look.’ She stooped and put her arms around me and I hid my face.

‘Shut your mouth,’ the man said. ‘You mash centipede, mash it, leave one little piece and it grow again … What you think police believe, eh? You, or the white nigger?’

Extract 5:Mr Mason stared at him. He seemed not frightened, but too astounded to speak. Mannie took up the carriage whip but one of the blacker men wrenched it out of his hand, snapped it over his knee and threw it away. ‘Run away black Englishman, like the boy run. Hide in the bushed. It’s better for you.’ It was Aunt Cora who stepped forward and said, ‘The little boy is very badly hurt. He will die if we cannot get help for him.’

The man said, ‘So black and white, they burn the same, eh?’


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