Finding Identity through Pain in Wide Sargasso Sea

Thomas J. Burns '06, English 156, Brown University, 2004

Wide Sargasso Sea

Antoinette looks for comfort in Tia's presence during the fire scene of Wide Sargasso Sea. As Coulibri Estate burns and Antoinette's possessions are destroyed, she senses a familiar bond with Tia. Their destroyed friendship symbolizes Antoinette's continuing struggle to create a meaningful relationship with another person. Antoinette's last words of the fire scene suggest that she foresees her dismal future in her failed relationship with Tia. Antoinette writes that she sees herself in Tia's tears, suggesting that she can only self-identify with pain and suffering:

But now I turned too. The house was burning, the yellow-red sky was like sunset and I knew that I would never see Coulibri again. Nothing would be left, the golden ferns and the silver fens, the orchids, the ginger lilies and the roses, the rocking chairs and the blue sofa, the jasmine and the honeysuckle, and the picture of the Miller's Daughter. When they had finished, there would be nothing left but blackened walls and the mounting stone. That was always left. That could not be stolen or burned.

Then, not so far off, I saw Tia and her mother and I ran to her, for she was all that was left of my life as it had been. We had eaten the same food, slept side by side, bathed in the same river. As I ran, I thought, I will live with Tia and I will be like her. Not to leave Coulibri. Not to go. Not. When I was close I saw the jagged stone in her hand but I did not see her throw it. I did not feel it either, only something wet, running down my face. I looked at her and I saw her face crumple up as she began to cry. We stared at each other, blood on my face, tears on hers. It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking-glass. [p. 41]


In what ways does Antoinette's description of Tia throwing the stone match her feelings of internal pain at this time? Why does she leave out a description of the physical pain?

In what way do Tia's tears reflect Antoinette's bleeding face? How does the reference of a "looking-glass" make sense concerning the issue of race in the novel?

There is an obvious disconnect between Tia and Antoinette, and in what ways does Rhys's style demonstrate such a separation?

What is the significance that Antoinette's last detail of Coulibri is this confrontation with her former friend?


Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). New York: W. W. Norton, 1982.

Main Web Page Caribbean Jean Rhys Discussion questions

Last modified 9 January 2004