"You are safe": Danger and Othering in Wide Sargasso Sea

Felicity Rose '06, English 156, Brown University, 2004

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys presents the Caribbean as a place of lush beauty -- and also a place of danger, shadows, the Other. This combination of beauty and danger is especially experienced by Mr. Rochester, a character imported from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and from cool, remote England. Mr. Rochester marries Antoinette Mason née Cosway without any knowledge of her or of the life into which he enters. During the honeymoon, he is plagued by shadows and doubts about the island, the servants, and his new wife:

It was at night that I felt danger and would try to forget it and push it away.

"You are safe," I'd say. She'd liked that -- to be told "you are safe." Or I'd touch her face gently and touch tears. Tears -- nothing! Words -- less than nothing. As for the happiness I gave her, that was worse than nothing. I did not love her. I was thirsty for her, but that is not love. I felt very little tenderness for her, she was a stranger to me, a stranger who did not think or feel as I did. [93]


What does this passage suggest about words? How is the theme of broken/useless communication played out in the novel?

Rochester implies that he doesn't love Antoinette because she is not like him. How does the novel construct Otherness? Is it possible in the novel to love someone who is not like you? How does the use of first person create and/or dismantle Otherness?

This passage is full of water imagery -- tears, thirst, etc. What is the purpose of water imagery in this passage and in the novel as a whole?

Rochester feels danger, yet here he is reassuring Antoinette. What danger does he feel? What danger does she feel? Can he protect her or is he just mouthing empty words? How is the sense of lurking danger in the novel connected to the foreknowledge the reader has of Antoinette's fate?


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

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Last modified 7 January 2004