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SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

PART THREE

Summary

This last Part opens with the voice of Grace Poole, a servant who was paid double to look after Antoinette in the attic of Antoinette’s husband’s home in England. She assumed that the other servants were let go because of the gossip about the man and his wife. Feeling safe inside the thick walls of the English house, she did not participate in the rumors. Though she knew Antoinette could be fierce, Grace perceived her position as “a shelter from the world outside which...can be a black and cruel world to a woman.”

Antoinette’s narrative voice takes over for the remainder of the novel.

When she awoke she wondered why she was in the cold, sparse room. She thought it was a temporary arrangement, but her husband had never visited to give Antoinette the opportunity to speak with him. The room had no mirror and only one window that was too high to see through. In the next room there was a tapestry that Antoinette believed had a picture of her mother. At night, she would take the keys and sneak out after Grace had drunk herself to sleep. She would often hear other people whispering and she hid from them. Antoinette believed that their ship had lost its way en route to England and that she was now in a cardboard world.


One morning Grace tells Antoinette that her brother had been there the night before and that Antoinette had behaved savagely. Antoinette did not remember, but then realized that Grace must have meant her stepbrother, Richard Mason. Grace explained that Richard did not recognize Antoinette. Antoinette replied that he would have recognized her if she had been wearing her red dress. Grace felt sorry for Antoinette and asked if Antoinette knew how long she had been in the attic. Antoinette insisted that time had no meaning, “ But something you can touch and hold like my red dress, that has a meaning.”

Antoinette pondered her red dress. The smells in it reminded her of Jamaica and she recalled wearing it the last time she saw her cousin, Sandi. He wanted to take her away with him but she said she could not go. They kissed what Antoinette later realized was the “life and death” kiss.

The dress also reminded Antoinette of a beautiful fire and she had a dream for the third time. In the dream she had stolen the keys from Grace and was walking through the house with candles. She felt that someone was following her and she went into a room that reminded her of a church without an altar. She lit all the candles in the room. Suddenly she felt as if she was in her Aunt Cora’s house and she became angry and knocked all the candles down, igniting the drapes. She ran away from the flames and the shouting, and out on to the battlements where it was cool. She saw her life in the red sky. She saw the pool at Coulibri and heard Tia calling to her. She jumped and woke.

Awake, Antoinette felt compelled to act upon her dream. She took the keys and, holding a candle, went into the passageway.

Notes

Grace Poole’s short introduction shows that Antoinette’s husband’s attempts at discretion are as useless as they were in Jamaica. Like at Coulibri, authority could not be demanded, but had to be bought. The reader sympathizes somewhat with Grace’s distasteful position because Grace, like Antoinette, has experienced how cruelly the world treats women.

Antoinette’s husband’s voice has completely disappeared in Part Three. Though he is responsible for Antoinette becoming “a memory to be avoided” as he promised in the previous Section, Part Three focuses on Antoinette’s own experiences. Her room has only one inaccessible window. He has taken light and color from her, literally and metaphorically, leaving her with a “cardboard” world. She is a ghost to herself and to the other people in the house. Like in Part One, she remains on the outside of overheard conversations. No one but the reader hears Antoinette’s version of the story. Rhys has given a voice to the silenced madwoman.

The scene from Jane Eyre where Richard Mason appears is revisited. We see the event from Antoinette’s perspective, alternating between rational consciousness and confused madness. The Creole beauty and the gothic madwoman coexist as the end of the novel nears.

Antoinette’s former passion and her reality are symbolized by the red dress. It is the only color in her room and in its folds are the smells and memories of all that has meaning to her. The red symbolizes both the sensuous natural world of her lost self and the infernal disintegration of her spirit.

Finally, Antoinette accepts the disjunction of her identity and resolves to exult her spirit in flames. The renewal of her spirit, which had died, is coupled with the physical death of her body, the “two deaths” that Antoinette had described. Her jump to Tia is her return to her Jamaican home and the flames are the enraged destruction of her English prison. The novel ends with Antoinette’s defiant compulsion to act rather than a rehashing of Bronte’s description of her death.

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