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Character Analyses

Annette Cosway-Mason: Antoinette’s mother and Alexander Cosway’s second wife.  Throughout the novel, her mental state deteriorates, especially after her son Pierre’s death in the fire at Coulibri.  She consistently keeps Antoinette emotionally distant.  When Antoinette talks of how she once tried to smooth the wrinkles between her mother’s eyebrows, Annette “pushed [her] away, not roughly but calmly, coldly, without a word, as if she had decided once and for all that [Antoinette] was useless to her” (20).  Eventually, after attempting to kill her second husband, Mr. Mason, she is shut away and sexually abused by her caregivers (134). She dies during Antoinette’s stay at the convent.

Alexander Cosway: Annette’s first husband and Antoinette’s father.  The novel begins after his death.  His son by another woman, Daniel Cosway, describes the Cosways as “wicked and detestable slave-owners” who lost their money due to the Emancipation Act.  He also claims there is “madness in that family.  Old Cosway die raving like his father before him” (95-96), suggesting that Antoinette is predisposed to mental illness not only from her mother but also from her father. Daniel also describes his last meeting with his father, in which Alexander "laughed in [his] face.  When he finished laughing, he called [Daniel] what's-your-name.  'I can't remember all their names - it's too much to expect of me,' he says, talking to himself" (123).

Antoinette Cosway(Bertha Rochester): narrates Part One, a few pages of Part Two, and most of Part Three of the novel. Antoinette is based off Bertha Mason from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. She is the daughter of Annette and Alexander Cosway, a former slave owner deceased before the start of the novel, and the step-daughter of Mr. Mason. Throughout childhood, we see how Antoinette is emotionally and sometimes physically abused by everyone around her, including her mother. Unlike the protagonist and narrator of Jane Eyre, Antoinette lets most of the events of her life speak for themselves rather than dwell heavily on their significances or impacts on her. She is often very removed from her narration, using ellipsis to signify the difficulty she has telling her story in her present condition. As readers, we’re unsure whether she is truly mad, or if her presumed “madness” is a result of her environment. Eventually, Antoinette’s half-brother Richard arranges her to marry Rochester, a gentleman from England, who treats her more and more abusively. At the end of the novel, her new husband takes her to England and locks her away under the guard of Grace Poole.

Pierre: Antoinette’s younger brother who, according to Antoinette, “staggered when he walked and couldn’t speak distinctly” (19) and according to Daniel Cosway was an “idiot from birth” (98).  Annette does not deal with her son’s mental and physical disabilities well; after a doctor visits him, Antoinette reports that her mother “changed.  Suddenly, not gradually.  She grew thin and silent, and at last she refused to leave the house at all” (19).  Annette’s preoccupation with her son overshadows her daughter’s needs, such as when Antoinette has a nightmare (27).  Pierre dies in the fire at Coulibri, and his death is the catalyst for the downward spiral of his mother’s mental state.

Daniel Cosway: Alexander Cosway’s son by another woman.  In Part Two of the novel, he writes a series of letters to Rochester begging him to visit Daniel so that he might convince him of Richard Mason’s trickery into convincing Rochester to marry Antoinette, of whom Daniel claims is “no girl to marry with the bad blood she have from both sides” (97).  In his first letter, Daniel tells the story of his father’s second wife, Annette Cosway, and her descent into madness after Alexander’s death.  Amelie, one of Annette’s servants, tells Rochester that Daniel is a “very superior man, always reading the Bible and that he lived like white people…she explained that he had a house like white people, with one room only for sitting in” (120).  He offers to keep his mouth shut about the truth of Rochester’s dealings with the Masons and Antoinette’s madness at the sum of five hundred pounds, but Rochester refuses (126).  Antoinette claims that Daniel has “no right” to the name Cosway, and that “His real name, if he has one, is Daniel Boyd.  He hates all white people, but he hates me the most.  He tells lies about us and he is sure that you will believe him and not listen to the other side” (128).

Alexander Cosway, Jr.: Another son of the late Alexander Cosway, half-brother to Daniel, Antoinette, and Pierre.  Daniel describes him as “two-faced” because he “won’t speak against white people” (124).  He marries a “fair-coloured girl” and the two birth a son, Sandi (125).  

Sandi Cosway: Alexander Cosway Jr.’s son.  Daniel Cosway describes him as “’like a white man, but more handsome than any white man, and received by many white people they say” (125).  He claims that Antoinette had a relationship with him, telling Rochester to “ Ask her and she tell you.  But not everything I think.’ He laughed.  ‘Oh no, not everything.  I see them when they think nobody see them.  I see her when she…” (125).  Antoinette appears to confirm this relationship in her narration in Part Three, “Sandi often came to see me when that man was away and when I went out driving I would meet him” (185).  

Mr. Mason: Annette's second husband, step-father to Antoinette and Pierre, father to Richard, a native of England.  Daniel tells Rochester that “they say he love her so much that if he have the world on a plate he give it to her — but no use” (97).  Though he seems to love his new family, Antoinette claims that he and other Englishmen “’don’t understand about us’” (30) and that she wishes she “could tell him that out here is not at all like English people think it is” (34); for instance, he does not believe in Christophine’s magical powers and “would laugh if he knew how frightened” Antoinette had been when she was in Christophine’s room alone (31).  After the fire at Coulibri, Antoinette tells Rochester, Annette “said she would kill him, she tried to, I think.  So he bought her a house and hired a coloured man and woman to look after her.  For a while he was sad but he often left Jamaica and spent a lot of time in Trinidad.  He almost forgot her” (133).

Richard Mason: Mr. Mason's son. Richard arranges the marriage between Rochester and Antoinette.  

Rochester: narrates most of Part Two of the novel (see more on his narration here). His father and her half-brother, Richard Mason, arranged his marriage to Antoinette. Rochester’s character is portrayed as very rational and cool, especially when compared to Antoinette’s passion. Yet as his narration continues, he grows more and more unhappy with his marriage, and his compassion for his wife begins to deteriorate to the point at which he admits silently to Antoinette, “You hate me and I hate you. We’ll see who hates best. But first, first I will destroy your hatred. Now. My hate is colder, stronger, and you’ll have no hate to warm yourself. You will have nothing” (170). He then takes Antoinette back to England where he locks her away under the guard of Grace Poole.

Tia: Antoinette's childhood friend, daughter of Maillotte, a friend of Christophine’s.  Antoinette narrates that Tia had “small eyes, very black, set deep in her head” (24).  Early in the novel, she steals Antoinette’s dress and leaves her own (25).  “We had eaten the same food, slept side by side, bathed in the same river” (45), Antoinette narrates.  But as Antoinette runs to her as Coulibri is burning, Tia throws a rock into Antoinette’s face (45).

Aunt Cora: though she does not seem to be related to Antoinette, she is described as “an ex-slave-owner who had escaped misery” (30).  Mr. Mason described her as a “frivolous woman” who should have helped Antoinette’s family rather than moving to England.  After the fire at Coulibri, she takes care of Antoinette though, as Antoinette describes during the fire scene, “She stooped and put her arms round me and I hid my face, but I could feel that they were not so near” (43).  Eventually, she sends Antoinette to a convent and goes away to England again.  On her deathbed, she gives Antoinette her rings (115) to somewhat protect her niece financially.  We don’t get much of a physical description of her except on the night of the fire; Antoinette describes her as “wearing a black silk dress, her ringlets…carefully arranged.  She looked very haughty…” (38).  

Sister Marie Augustine: one of the nuns at Antoinette’s convent who “never smiled as much as the others” (61). She comforts Antoinette after a nightmare with a cup of hot chocolate.  Sister Augustine has the last words in Part One of the novel, where she tells Antoinette,  “‘Now go quietly back to bed.  Think of calm, peaceful things and try to sleep.  Soon I will give the signal.  Soon it will be tomorrow morning’”(61), signifying a change about to occur.

Christophine: a servant from Martinique given to Annette as a wedding present from her first husband, Alexander Cosway.  She is described by Antoinette as “blue-black with a thin face and straight features” who  “wore a black dress, heavy gold earrings and a yellow handkerchief…No other nego woman wore black, or tied her handkerchief Martinique fashion.  She had a quiet voice and a quiet laugh (when she did laugh), and though she could speak good English if she wanted to, and French as well as patois, she took care to talk as they talked” (20).  While Annette and Antoinette struggle under the dominance of several men throughout the novel, unmarried Christophine represents feminine progressiveness even under the scrutiny of her peer servants and other members of the community.  She explains to Antoinette, “’All women, all colours, nothing but fools.  Three children I have.  One living in this world, each one a different father, but no husband, I thank my God.  I keep my money.  I don’t give it to no worthless man’” (110).  Christophine eventually advises Antoinette to leave Rochester.

Amelie: Rochester first describes her as a “little half-caste servant” of Antoinette, “sly, spiteful, malignant” (65). Amelie is characterized throughout the novel by her sinister laughter. When she tells Antoinette that Christophine is leaving, she adds that Rochester “‘outside the door and he look like he see zombi.  Must be he tired of the sweet honeymoon too’” (100).  Antoinette slaps her, and Amelie slaps back, symbolizing her power regardless of her status in the household; yet she is powerless under Christophine’s authority (102).  She sings a song about a “white cockroach”(101), a racial slur pointed at her mistress, as Antoinette explains, “‘That’s what they call all of us who were here before their own people in Africa sold them to the slave traders’” (102).  After sleeping with Rochester (140), she leaves “to join her sister who was a dressmaker” and to go to Rio (141).

Baptiste: one of the older servants at Granbois who seems to disapprove of the younger female servants' immaturity, as Rochester describes, "He spoke good English, but in the middle of his address of welcome Hilda began to giggle...Baptiste frowned at her..." (72).  Rochester compares the control of his own emotions to Baptiste's, "He served the food with such a mournful expression that I thought these people are very vulnerable" (103).  When Antoinette and Rochester leave for England, we see Baptiste's true feelings about Rochester through this second narrator's eyes, "(Baptiste) bowed stiffly, unwillingly and muttered-wishes for a pleasant journey, I suppose.  He hoped, I am sure, that he'd never set eyes on me again" (171).

Grace Pooleguards and cares for Antoinette in a room at Thornfield Hall.  She is paid well for keeping Antoinette out of sight and out of mind, though she often “drinks from a bottle” (179) before she sleeps, allowing Antoinette easy access to the key to unlock the room.  *

one of the servants at Thornfield Hall, assumably hired by Antoinette.  Grace Poole addresses Leah in the opening of Part Three, “‘Then all the servants were sent away and she engaged a cook, one maid and you, Leah’” (178).

Mrs. Eff (Fairfax): head maid at Thornfield Hall, only mentioned once in the novel (178)