Wide Sargasso Sea is a revisionist novel, written to complicate and push up against the accepted truth of Antoinette or “Bertha” Cosway’s character as it is put forth in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre—the archetypal “madwoman in the attic.” The novel questions the very nature of truth in its premise, form, and content.
Within the novel, truth is shown to be slippery at best, difficult if not impossible to recognize and trust. Every story has at least two competing versions. The narration itself is unstable, switching between the perspectives of Antoinette and Rochester, often giving the reader contradictory perspectives and opinions on the same characters and events. Daniel Cosway, in his letters to Rochester, provides a troubling version of the history of the Cosway-Mason family, at odds with Antoinette’s narration, thereby injecting a third competing narrative. Cosway’s version highlights Alexander Mason’s depravity, and casts Annette, Antoinette, and Christophine as self-serving liars.
Many of the characters’ identities are forged in gossip and hearsay. Christophine, in particular, is a character with multiple backstories. When Rochester writes to Mr. Fraser inquiring about her, there are shown to be conflicting accounts of her whereabouts (“my wife insists that she had gone back to Martinique... I happen to know that she has not returned to Martinique”) and even her name (“the woman in question was called Josephine or Christophine Dubois.”) When Rochester decides to turn her in, he highlights the indeterminacy of her identity in the novel, “So much for you, Josephine or Christophine. So much for you, Pheena.” Even Antoinette is not entirely sure of Christophine’s abilities, and can only speculate at the scope of her obeah prowess. Rochester’s interactions with Antoinette are also riddled with confusion about the truth. He tells her, “So much of what you tell me is strange, different from what I was led to expect,” and in his narration remembers, “She was unsure of fact—any facts.”
Even the senses are not to be trusted. Vision plays tricks on people, and hallucinations abound. As a child, Antoinette cannot be sure whether she sees or imagines seeing feathers and chicken’s blood, remnants of obeah rituals, in Christophine’s room. While at Granbois, Rochester becomes lost in the woods and stumbles upon a paved road, where he frightens a child walking by. Later, he is assured that there was never a road there. Of Granbois and the mysterious instability of the senses that he experienced there, Rochester remembers, “it kept its secret. I’d find myself thinking, ‘What I see is nothing—I want what it hides.”
Denial or madness are shown to be the two alternatives for dealing with the crushing and confounding nature of truth in the novel. Either a character can “turn her face to the wall,” and deny the complexity and tragedy before them, as Christophine accuses Aunt Cora of doing, or go mad with grief, as Annette and Antoinette both do. Rochester ultimately takes the path of denial by imprisoning Antoinette, shutting her away forever rather than reconciling the truth of her nature and their marriage with what he’d expected, or been led to believe. Even Christophine finally retreats into denial, or refusal, when Rochester and Antoinette leave for England. Rochester offers, “You can write to her,” to which Christophine replies, “Read and write I don’t know. Other things I know,” and walks away without saying goodbye.
Truth Quotes in Wide Sargasso Sea
I was bridesmaid when my mother married Mr. Mason in Spanish Town...their eyes slid away from my hating face. I had heard what all these smooth smiling people said about her when she was not listening and they did not guess I was.
No one had ever spoken to me about obeah— but I knew what I would find if I dared to look.
You have lived alone far too long, Annette. You imagine enmity which doesn’t exist. Always one extreme or the other. Didn’t you fly at me like a little wild cat when I said nigger. Not nigger, nor even negro. Black people I must say... they’re too damn lazy to be dangerous, I know that.’
‘They are more alive than you are, lazy or not, and they can be dangerous and cruel for reasons you wouldn’t understand.’
‘Such terrible things happen. Why? Why?’
‘You must not concern yourself with that mystery. We do not know why the devil must have his little day. Not yet.’
As for my confused impressions they will never be written. There are blanks in my mind that cannot be filled up.
I take up my pen after long thought and meditation but in the end the truth is better than a lie...you have been shamefully deceived by the Mason family...That girl she look you straight in the eye and talk sweet talk— and it’s lies she tell you. Lies.
These people are very vulnerable. How old was I when I learned to hide how I felt? A very small boy.
It doesn’t matter what I believe or you believe, because we can do nothing about it.
Justice. I’ve heard the word. It’s a cold word. I tried it out...I wrote it down. i wrote it down several times and always it looked like a damn cold lie to me. There is no justice...My mother whom you all talk about, what justice did she have? My mother sitting in the rocking-chair speaking about dead horses and dead grooms and a black devil kissing her sad mouth.
I was tired of these people. I disliked their laughter and their tears, their flattery and envy, conceit and deceit. And I hated the place. 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 loveliness.
The rumours I’ve heard— very far from the truth. But I don’t contradict, I know better than to say a word. After all the house is big and safe, a shelter from the world outside which, say what you like, can be a black and cruel world to a woman. Maybe that’s why I stayed on...Yes, maybe that’s why we all stay— Mrs Eff and Leah and me. All of us except that girl who lives in her own darkness. I’ll say one thing for her, she hasn’t lost her spirit. She’s still fierce. I don’t turn my back on her when her eyes have that look. I know it.
What am I doing in this place and who am I?