Part Three opens in the point of view of Grace Poole, Antoinette’s caretaker in England. She is speaking to Leah, another servant in the husband’s house. Grace recounts a conversation she’s had with Mrs. Eff, the housekeeper, where Mrs. Eff reprimands Grace for gossiping. Grace replies that servants always gossip, that it can’t be stopped, and furthermore she is not sure the job suits her. She does not know what to think of Antoinette and the condition she is being kept in. Mrs. Eff offers to double her salary, under orders from the husband, who is apparently away. Grace replies that she will not serve the devil for money, and Mrs. Eff bristles. She tells Grace that to call the husband the devil is a mistake, that she knew him as a boy and a young man, that he was generous and brave, and that his stay in the West Indies destroyed him.
Grace Poole’s narration takes the form of gossip about gossip. These layers of remove open the final part of the novel on a note of mystery and hearsay, and highlight the deeply biased and unreliable nature of all utterances, including and especially supposed ‘truth’ telling, in the novel. Grace Poole’s narrative implies that Antoinette is being held against her will, in questionable conditions. Mrs. Eff provides a perspective on the husband that has not appeared yet in the novel-- a tender, compassionate, generous one.
Mrs. Eff tells Grace that she will double her pay, but that she will be replaced if there is any more gossip. Grace tells Leah that after this conversation, all of the servants but herself were sent away, and Leah and one cook were hired. She says that there is no way to stop those people from talking, though, and the rumors she’s heard are very far from the truth. Nevertheless, she says, she does not contradict them, because she does not want to be fired--the “thick walls” of the house protect her from a world that “can be a black and cruel world to a woman.” Grace thinks to herself that this is the reason she, Mrs. Eff, and Leah stay at the house. She reflects that Antoinette, “that girl who lives in her own darkness,” does not have the luxury that she does, of choosing to stay or go.
Grace Poole’s decision to stay at the house, and to not add to or contradict the talk that she hears about the husband and Antoinette, is rooted in a realistic understanding of the options available to her as a woman in this world. She is acutely aware of the vastly fewer options available to Antoinette, who is imprisoned in the house.
The narration switches to Antoinette’s consciousness. She is watching Grace Poole light the fire in her attic room. She gets up and puts her face very close to the fire, admiring its beauty. As she watches the fire, she wonders why it is she was brought to this place, feels that there is something she must do. She remembers that when she was first brought here and locked in the attic, she planned to plead with the husband to let her go, but she never saw him again and never got the chance. She watches Grace Poole count money, and drinks Grace’s liquor after she falls asleep.
Antoinette’s narration is now quite hazy. She does not reflect at length on things as she’s done before. She simply observes things that happen around her, and cannot always connect these observations into lucid trains of thought or conclusions. Her fascination with the fire recalls the flames at Coulibri and foreshadows her final act of arson and suicide. It is unclear how long she has been imprisoned.
Antoinette looks at a tapestry hanging on her wall and sees her mother in it, looking away from her. She does not tell Grace about her vision, and thinks to herself that the name “Grace” does not fit Grace Poole, that “names matter,” remembering when the husband refused to call her Antoinette, that as a result of this she felt the sense of herself as Antoinette, her identity, float away. Antoinette does not have a looking-glass here, and no longer knows what she looks like. She feels that this means everything has been taken from her. At night, after Grace Poole has had a few drinks and fallen asleep, Antoinette steals her keys and walks through the rest of the house. She knows that people tell her that she is in England, but she does not believe them: “The cardboard house where I walk at night is not England.”
Antoinette hallucinates, and does not quite know where she is. Her inability to look at her reflection or retain knowledge of her appearance makes her feel completely disconnected from her identity. Her distrust of Grace Poole is shown to have some connection to Antoinette’s feeling that “Grace” is not an apt name for the woman, does not reflect her true qualities. Despite her inability to reason about her circumstances, Antoinette does still act on her impulse to escape the attic, even for a short time, when she wanders through the rest of the house at night.
One morning, Antoinette wakes up aching, with her wrists red and swollen. Grace Poole tells her that the day before, “a gentleman” had come to see her. Antoinette does not remember anything about this. She only remembers stealing the keys and walking through the house, seeing a girl in a white dress who runs away from her and afterwards speaks of seeing a ghost. Grace tells her that her brother, Richard, came to see her and didn’t recognize her. Grace says that Antoinette ran at him with a knife, and when the knife was taken from her she bit him. “You won’t be seeing him again,” Grace tells her. Antoinette is convinced that if she were wearing a red dress, her brother would have recognized her. She demands to know where her red dress is, and Grace shows her.
The girl in the white dress that Antoinette sees at night, who thinks she is a ghost, is probably Jane Eyre. Antoinette is further and further disconnected from herself-- she cannot remember her violent actions from the previous night. She believes that the core of the problem with Richard Mason was her recognizability, the unity of her identity with her outward appearance, and thus fixates on her red dress.
As Antoinette looks at and smells her red dress, she is reminded of the colors and smells of her home, “the smell of the sun and the smell of rain.” She recalls that she was wearing a red dress that last time that Sandi came to see her, before her passage to England. At this time, Sandi asked her to leave with him, but she declined. She recalls that Sandi often came to see her when the husband was away, that the servants all knew about it but didn’t tell. She recalls that she and Sandi often “kissed,” but that this last time their embrace was “the life and death kiss.” She does not share any of this with Grace Poole. She drops her dress on the floor and thinks that it looks like the fire has spread across the room, and it reminds her of something she has to do, but can’t think of what.
The red dress triggers a memory that was left out of Antoinette’s earlier narration. We see now that the rumors about her relationship with Sandi were true, that her loyal servants knew about it but didn’t tell. We, as readers, were left out of this inner circle of trust until now, weakened with madness and grief, Antoinette finally narrates it. Her red dress is in contrast with the virginal white dress that the Jane Eyre figure was wearing in the previous scene. It symbolizes passion, and the image of it spreading across the floor like flames brings Antoinette one step closer to realizing what she is about to do.
That night, Antoinette has her dream for the last time. It is clear to her that the stairs in the dream lead here, to her attic room. In her dream, she takes Grace Poole’s keys and descends into the house. She is quiet, for she doesn’t want to disturb the “woman they say haunts this place.” She goes into a sitting room and lights every candle she can find. She hears a clock ticking that is made of gold, and thinks, “Gold is the idol they worship.” She becomes angry, and knocks over all of the candles. This sets the curtains aflame. She goes into the hallway and sees what she thinks is a ghost, a woman with streaming hair, surrounded by a gilt frame. She drops her candle, and it catches the end of a tablecloth, which goes up in flames.
Antoinette is simultaneously connected to her identity and her past by this recurring dream, and completely separated from an understanding of who she’s become. When she mentions “the woman they say haunts this place,” she does not realize that she is referring to herself. Likewise, when she sees herself in her dream in what is obviously a mirror, she does not register it as her own reflection and is frightened by what she believes to be this other being, this ghost.
In her dream, Antoinette runs back up to the attic and climbs out onto the roof, all the while calling out to Christophine. Sitting out on the roof and watching the flames, she remembers Aunt Cora and Tia and Coco the parrot calling “Qui est la?” She hears her husband, “the man who hated me,” calling to her in a panic, but calling her Bertha. She hears someone scream, then knows that it is she who is screaming. In the dream she jumps, and then wakes up. Grace Poole wakes up at the sound of Antoinette’s scream and comes over to check on her. Antoinette waits for Grace to go back to sleep, and then steals her keys. She lights a candle and descends into the house with a sense of purpose, thinking, “Now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to do.”
As has been true throughout the novel, Antoinette’s dream shows her what is going to happen before it does. When she wakes and descends the stairs with her candle lit, having finally realized what she needs to do, it is clear that she is going to set the house aflame. Her emancipation is shown to require the end of her life, and the complete destruction of the place in which she is imprisoned.