Magical Influences: Obeah
Obeah in the novel “Wide Sargasso Sea,” by Jean Rhys is a form of religion for much of the community. In referring to it as a religion, this is to mean that it seems to govern the actions and beliefs of many individuals through fear and superstitious gossip. Obeah is a practice of voodoo or perhaps witchcraft that allows those participating in it to cast spells and curses. It plays a very important role in the destinies of three main characters from the novel; Christophine, Rochester and Antoinette. “Voodoo as it is called in Haiti-Obeah in some of the islands, another name in South America. They confuse matters by telling lies if pressed. The white people, sometimes credulous, pretend to dismiss the whole thing as nonsense. Cases of sudden or mysterious deaths are attributed to a poison known to the negroes which cannot be traced…” – Reading from “The Glittering Coronet of Isles” on obeah We are introduced to Christophine early in the first part of the novel, “she was your father’s wedding present to me,” Antoinette‘s mother told her, “he thought I would be pleased with a Martinique girl.” We do not know her age but we do learn that she chose to stay with Antoinette and her family even after things took a turn for the worse. It seems as if Christophine is responsible for bringing obeah into the Coulibri environment because most of the conversation regarding obeah seem to include her, “it is evidently useful to keep a Martinique obeah woman on the premises…” one of the Coulibri woman once said and soon “other people were saying it and meaning it.” As Christophine’s association with obeah becomes widespread around the community, she develops into a woman with power. She was feared even though some disliked her. It is evident that Coulibri was a different type of living environment prior to Christophine, Antoinette even stated this change upon her return to the estate after her mother’s marriage to Mr. Mason, “it was their talk about Christophine that changed Coulibri, not the repairs or the new furniture or the strange faces. Their talk about Christophine and obeah changed it.” The fear that many felt toward Christophine and the power of obeah made them almost believe in its capabilities. When their house was intentionally burnt down by angry black neighbors, Antoinette’s aunt, Cora, threatened one of the male neighbors responsible with the possibility of casting a curse upon him, “she looked straight into his eyes and threatened him with eternal fire in a calm voice, and never a drop of sangoree to cool [his] burning tongue.” The man, although attempting to scare her by threatening to throw her in the fire if she casted a spell on him, backed off. As far as her destiny is concerned, Christophine had to leave her home in Jamaica because of her involvement with obeah, she was even imprisoned. The same thing that gives her power and control has the possibility of being her greatest downfall. She is being watched by a police man just in case she begins to participate in obeah once more. In a letter from a Mr. Fraser to Rochester, there is a warning to Christophine,” if she lives near you and gets up to any of her nonsense let him [the policemen] know at once. He’ll send a couple of policemen up to your place and she won’t get off lightly this time. I’ll make sure of that.” Through out the novel, Christophine does not seem frightened by her practice of obeah. Although she does not boasts about her powers she at times threatens others with it and in turn this could have her arrested. She once threatened Amelie, a servant, with great bellyaches, “perhaps you lie a long time with bellyache I give you. Perhaps you don’t get up again with the bellyache I give you. So keep yourself quite and decent. You hear me?” When Rochester decided to take Antoinette away, he was confronted by Christophine with somewhat of an argument, this was the final stage for Christophine and her practice of obeah. When...
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