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MEANING OF THE TITLE
The Sargasso Sea is a large difficult to define area in the central North Atlantic, northeast of the West Indies, variably stretching from east of the Bahamas towards the Azores. It is located in an area of relative calmness locked in-between the strong currents that flow in a circular clock-wise direction around the North Atlantic ocean, north of the North Atlantic tropics. The title Wide Sargasso Sea comes from this geography. However there is more to it than that. The Sargasso Sea is characterized as an area of eerie calmness and tangled sargassum (a floating seaweed). All around it are the swirling currents of the Atlantic. Many vessels have become becalmed or lost in this area of the ocean.
The Sargasso Sea is between Rochester’s home, England and Antoinette’s home, Jamaica. Similarly, Antoinette is figuratively caught between England and Jamaica. She is neither colonial nor Jamaican, but a white Creole. The social and racial currents swirl around her as she searches for stability and identity. When she physically crosses the Sargasso Sea and goes to England she believes the ship had lost its way and that she is not really in England. She completely loses her identity, which points out how wide the Sargasso Sea has been for Antoinette.
(Referenced from the Norton Paperback edition, 1982)
1) “They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks.” (p. 17)
This is the opening of the novel, which sets the tone of impending racial unrest and Antoinette’s feelings of alienation.
2) “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.’ (p. 26)
This is Christophine’ s indictment of colonial society. It illustrates the animosity and resentment festering between the English and the black servants.
3) “None of you understand about us” (p.30)
This comes from Antoinette after she tries to explain to Mr. Mason why her Aunt Cora could not help Annette. Aunt Cora had no money of her own because females had no financial rights. This quote shows that Antoinette sees Mr. Mason’s misconceptions about the English male’s superiority over white Creole females. He did not see it because he did not experience the oppression, but Antoinette did.
4) “I wish I could tell him that out here is not at all like English people think it is.” (p. 34)
Spoken by Antoinette, this shows that the gap between cultures left Mr. Mason ignorant and naïve. He did not understand why the blacks would hate them more if they had money. He underestimated the level of rage brewing in the black community around him. This misunderstanding set the stage for the tragic fire at Coulibri.
5) “I will write my name in fire red” (p. 53)
These were Antoinette’s words while doing needlepoint at the convent. They foreshadow the way she will “leave her mark” at the novel’s end. In addition these words about Antoinette’s self perception provide a stark contrast to her words about herself in Part Three.
6) “I did not want to see that ghost of a woman who they say haunts this place.” (p.187)
From “fire red” to “ghost” describes the tragedy of the death of Antoinette’s spirit.
7) “Italy is white pillars and green water. Spain is hot sun on stones, France is a lady with black hair wearing a white dress because Louise was born in France fifteen years ago, and my mother, whom I must not forget and pray for as though she were dead, though she is living, liked to dress in white.” (p. 55)
8) “While I am drinking it I remember that after my mother’s funeral, very early in the morning, almost as early as this, we went home to drink hot chocolate and eat cakes. She died last year, no one told me how, and I didn’t ask.” (p. 61)
(Notes for quotes 7 & 8) These are Antoinette’s thoughts of her mother while at the convent, toward the end of Part One. The first came after learning about a saint, the second after dreaming she was in hell. Her mental associations have become increasingly fragmented. Even before her husband enters Antoinette’s life Rhys gives the reader some reason to doubt Antoinette’s stability.
9) “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 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.” (p. 102)
Antoinette is trying to explain to her husband how she feels, why things are difficult for her and why she is uncomfortable with Amelie. The man, still trying to apply English views to the West Indian culture, passes it off as melodrama. This quote comes from Part Two, which is narrated by him. He remembers and recounts these words, but never understands them.
10) “I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever colour, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know. I hated its indifference 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.” (p. 172)
These are Antoinette’s husband’s words toward the end of Part Two. He is trying to regain control of his surroundings along with controlling Antoinette. His hatred comes from his inability to understand and find comfort in nature as Antoinette and the other West Indian people do. He is afraid and refuses to be taken in by the beauty and abundance around him, especially Antoinette’s beauty. He seeks to punish and dominate Antoinette, longing “--for the day when she is only a memory to be avoided, locked away, and like all memories a legend.” (p. 172)