Jane Eyre

Emma Gleaden Word Count: 3238 Compare and contrast the ways in which Bronte and Rhys construct the adult selves of Jane and Antoinette and consider how this shapes their relationship with Rochester. Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea present the childhoods and later lives of two women, who similarly marry the complex character, Mr. Rochester.

Both begin their lives as outsiders, Jane because of economic differences to the rest of her family and Antoinette because of racial distinctions to the rest of her community. However, the characters undergo oppositional journeys in life, which in turn, shape their contrastive relationships with Rochester.Bronte presents ‘Bertha Mason’ as a minor character, positioned in her novel as a mere obstacle in Jane and Rochester’s quest for happiness. However, in Rhy’s enlightening prequel to Bronte’s Jane Eyre, an unforeseen importance is placed upon Bertha’s alter ego, as Rhys expresses her own thoughts on Bronte’s doomed character through the voice ‘Antoinette Mason’. Rhy’s lexis, ‘There is always the other side, always’[1] underlies her opinion that Bertha was condemned by Bronte, having never allowed the character to share her side of the story.Rhys therefore offers the readers of Jane Eyre an entirely different perception, a chance to gain insight into the life and mind of the ‘mad woman in the attic’. One of the most prominent differences between the two novels is the composition of the character’s development. Where Jane Eyre’s childhood experiences contribute somewhat to the independent and courageous woman she becomes, Antoinette’s clearly disturb her, as she grows to be an un-stable, vulnerable and dependent character.

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Jane Eyre is constructed by Bronte as a novel of development, we, as readers, witness Jane’s character flourish and mature from being a passionate little girl to a well-educated and complex young woman. We follow Jane as she battles through isolation and heartache and ultimately achieves contentment and marriage in the novel’s ending. Bronte’s famous lexis ‘READER, I MARRIED HIM’[2] evokes confidence in Jane’s character. By writing this at the beginning of the final chapter, Bronte effectively illustrates hat the words are of significance and perhaps was insinuating that her ‘novel of development’ had drawn to a close, and Jane, at last, had reached her full potential. Rhys constructs Wide Sargasso Sea differently. By splitting the novel into 3 parts, and allowing the reader only one part of autobiographical insight into Antoinette’s childhood, we feel a sense of loss and disconnection from her own emotions and thoughts through parts 2 and 3, as we see Antoinette drift gradually into insanity. Rhys therefore interprets regression rather than development through her structural technique.

The placing of Antoinette’s marriage to Rochester at the beginning of the novel was perhaps an insinuation that this was wedlock was partly to blame for Antoinette’s bleak ending. Despite structural differences portraying oppositional states of development and regression, Bronte and Rhys appear to use similar authorial techniques such as first person narrative and retrospective chronology along with autobiographical materials, consequently allowing us as readers to understand more clearly the characters’ thoughts and emotions as well as creating a sense of intimacy and understanding.This is particularly important when it comes to empathising the women’s childhoods as this provides us with a highly suggestive portrait of their viewpoints as children. From this, we are directed as to why they turn out to be the contrastive women they do and how the construction of their adult selves define their relationships with Rochester.

The early chapters of both novels portray the protagonists as children and we immediately perceive a sense of conflict, insecurity and isolation, an indication that neither childhood will be particularly contented.The first thing Antoinette talks about is trouble, and what appears to be a racial conflict. ‘They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did’[3] Jane Eyre also opens on a less than positive note as Jane confides in us about a ‘heart saddened’ when coming home after long, cold walks and about her feeling of inferiority to her cousins and aunt, whom we later learn treat her cruelly and with disrespect.Her cousin John Reed creates conflict with his continuous bullying and abuse. ‘He bullied and punished me; not two or three times a week, nor once or twice a day, but continually’[4] The novels openings allow us to draw a parallel between the girls’ early lack of security and their obvious isolation. However, patriarchy, a structure of society in which the man holds authority, contributes to the girls’ insecurities to some degree.Jane, as a poor orphan, is placed into a lower ranking by her aunt and cousins who view Jane as a ‘dependent’, and although Bronte presents Jane as an intellectual child more than able to read and interpret books, she raises issues of patriarchy and feminism by using John Reed’s character to remind Jane that although she may be able to understand this literature, it is John, the male, who will ultimately gain possession of it, because regardless of how intelligent and well educated Jane is, she is in the end only a female. I’ll teach you to rummage my bookshelves: for they are mine, all the house belongs to me’[5].

John’s words are typical of 19th century law, which ensured that only male heirs inherited property. Rhys also covers the theme of male dominance; Antoinette is also placed into a lower social class than she originally came from and the fact that her mother has to marry to regain their previous economic status suggests that patriarchy was an accepted part of both the characters’ young lives. Patriarchy also occurs in Antoinette’s marriage to Rochester.As soon as she marries him he automatically holds possession over Antoinette’s money and belongings, taking all materialistic and thereby stable emotions away from her. ‘Everybody know that you marry her for her money and you take it all’[6] However, money is not the issue in Jane and Rochester’s relationship, Jane is not a wealthy woman and also lacks Antoinette’s beauty, so we can gather that Rochester proposes to her because of something other than material gain.

He comes to treat Jane as an equal, holding complex and open conversations with her, something that was relatively unusual in Bronte’s era.This is reflected in Bronte’s feminist lexis that sets the historical context of a Victorian woman’s place in society and is voiced in Jane’s passionate plea, ‘Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel’[7] It is possible to explain these differences in Rochester’s patriarchal approach towards Jane and Antoinette by looking at how their childhood experiences constructed their adult selves and their self esteem. Bronte enables Jane to learn that she can overcome social displacement and patriarchy by surviving John Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst’s cruel, masculine behaviour.Men are never of importance to Jane in childhood, the few men she encounters are mere impediments to her that she must defeat, the only men she views with affection are dead.

Apart from Rochester in later chapters, the characters that are of importance to Jane are all female. Although Jane didn’t have any bonding or attachment with any member of her family during childhood, this is compensated at Lowood through her influential relationship with Helen Burns. Helen is presented as Jane’s alter ego, the word ‘Burns’ possibly being symbolic of Jane’s fiery passion.Bronte appears to construct and develop Jane’s character through the use of Helen Burns who teaches Jane to quell her passionate nature and through conversation shows Jane the importance of faith, self -respect and individuality. ‘If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends’[8].

This is a new and inspiring view to Jane. At the end of Jane’s time at Lowood, Bronte uses the repetition of language to imply that Jane’s character has grown emotionally and intellectually, yet feels trapped. I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer’[9] It is here I believe that we can interpret Bronte’s lexis as being Marxist feminism. The word ‘liberty’ used to represent Jane’s educational outcome of freedom, independence and intelligence, unable to be soiled by men. The fact that Jane ‘desires liberty’ suggests that she believes in moving up in the world from being a student to something higher in class, therefore insinuating a Marxist meaning behind the lexis.Bronte’s introduction of compelling female characters perhaps influenced Jane’s honest, confident and outright manner, with which Rochester notably admired.

While Jane develops this strong sense of self through other influential characters such as Helen Burn’s and Miss Temple, Rhys establishes Antoinette’s character through poor role models, valueless education and a string of traumatic events. Antoinette learns an oppositional lesson to Jane, she is subliminally taught that men are of great importance, and in order to survive, you need to marry one. Yes, she would have died, I thought, if she had not met him’[10] Antoinette’s words here underline the reliance that she and her mother obviously place on men for rescuing them from poverty, unhappiness and harms way. Her mother’s capricious behaviour and dependence upon men is reflected by Antoinette in part 2, where Rhys presents the idea that Antoinette is consistently trying to please to Rochester. For example, she asks, ‘Don’t put anymore scent on my hair. He doesn’t like it.

’[11] When Rochester begins treating Antoinette with suspicion after receiving Daniel Cosway’s destructive letter,Antoinette goes quietly mad with the thought that the man she is dependent upon no longer loves her, and the idea that she can no longer please him physically shatters her fragile self-esteem. Unlike Jane she is unable to challenge Rochester or assert herself, as she has not developed the aptitude required. She has no other bonding with another female to encourage her self-worth, and although her mother doesn’t die until later on in her adolescence, she never received any affection from her, which may be what encourages Antoinette to seek this from a man.Annette appears blind to the needs of her daughter, ignoring her and rejecting her emotionally, only connecting with her other child Pierre. Antoinette is only too aware of this difference and she tells us, ‘She wanted to sit with Pierre or walk where she pleased without being pestered, she wanted peace and quiet.

I was old enough to look after myself’[12] Because Antoinette doesn’t bond with her mother, it can be argued that Antoinette instead imitates her mother’s actions and emotional responses as a means of gaining approval.Rhys frequently uses imagery that reminds the reader of Annette in part one, therefore making a clear distinction between Jane’s wisdom gained from Helen Burns and Antoinette’s reflected behaviour of her troubled mother. An example of this is the ‘looking-glass’.

‘Perhaps she has to hope every time she passed a looking-glass’[13] Antoinette’s words here convey the feeling of utter loneliness that she believes her mother feels, the looking-glass represents the hope of becoming someone else in order to become part of a community.In part 2, Rochester reflects this image when he says, ‘All day she’d be like any other girl, smile at herself in the looking-glass’[14]. Antoinette constantly ‘smiling’ at herself in the looking-glass echoes the same loneliness felt by her mother in part 1, and now in adult life, Antoinette. We also see this technique used again by Rhys in Antoinette’s sexuality that thrills yet partly disturbs Rochester, as Antoinette had witnessed her mother being very openly affectionate to Mr. Mason. She made it look so easy- as if anyone could do it, and he kissed her- a long kiss’[15]. This public array of affection also contrasts greatly with Jane’s subdued passion, and highlights the oppositions of the women’s cultural norms. Antoinette’s education, unlike Jane’s, reinforces the ineffectual lessons she unconsciously learnt from her mother.

Rhys allows Antoinette little education and personal growth during her school years, instead placing a greater significance on the importance of outward appearances.The saints we hear about were all very beautiful and wealthy. All were loved by rich and handsome young men’[16] From Antoinette’s words we can gather that the convent was a marked contrast to Lowood, the girls at the convent were taught about beauty and wealth, Jane learnt of hardship and suffering and unlike Antoinette had to use her own independent strategies of surviving her school years. In part 2, Rhys suggests through Rochester’s language that Antoinette has learnt the importance of vanity well when he vividly describes her. Her hair hung uncombed and dull into her eyes which were inflamed and staring, her face was very flush and looked swollen’[17] Antoinette is in a state of madness when Rochester gives this description, insinuating that her attractive appearance has been abandoned in her insane state. Rhys may therefore be suggesting that that Antoinette’s aberrant mentality and fruitless relationship with Rochester was partly the result of the values and beliefs she learnt through childhood.

Rhys also compares Antoinette to her ‘pretty’ mother who was envied by Jamaican women.The Jamaican ladies never approved of my mother, ‘because she pretty like pretty self’ Christophine said’[18] By using this technique, Rhys sets the theme of jealousy in beauty; a concept that is echoed in part 2 where Antoinette becomes jealous of Amelie’s appearance, the servant who Rochester openly sleeps with. ‘Is she so much prettier than I am? Don’t you love me at all? ’[19] Vanity could have been another theme used by Rhys to construct Antoinette’s adult self that causes flaws in hers and Rochester’s relationship.Bronte never portrayed Jane as possessing this vanity, and she can also be seen as an opposite to Antoinette in terms of outward aspects. Bronte constructs Jane’s features, figure and dress as being plain, small and uninteresting, focusing instead on the importance of her inward qualities, often using imagery to suggest that Jane is actually hiding her beauty and passionate nature behind a simple and polite exterior, therefore creating a visual contrast between her selfhood and complexion.Bronte’s use of frank and lucid language throughout the conversations between Jane and Rochester portray Jane’s fiery selfhood.

The meaning behind the lexis is also argued to not be as innocent as it may first appear. Some critics have argued that Rochester holds sexually evocative conversations with Jane, and it is possible to interpret these as Rochester’s attraction to Jane’s modest appearance and hidden fervency. You have the air of a little nonnette, quaint, quiet, grave and simple, as you sit with your hands before you, and your eyes generally bent on the carpet’[20] Rochester’s descriptions of ‘grave and simple’ Jane certainly contradict with his descriptions of ‘dark, alien’[21] Antoinette, and when Jane shows Rochester her not so ‘grave and simple’ paintings, Bronte was perhaps suggesting a hidden esoteric passion between them both. In contrast, Rhys portrays Antoinette as being somewhat exposed to Rochester, both outwardly with her revealing clothing, and inwardly with Daniel Cosway’s abrupt letter about her past and determined character.

The theme of vanity in both novels therefore highlights the flaws and strengths in the women’s relationships with Rochester. Another technique that both authors use to accentuate the women’s clashing relationships is pathetic fallacy. Jane meets Rochester in icy conditions and comes to Rochester’s assistance when his horse slips. The fact that Jane has to help Rochester signifies the reversal of patriarchy and would have conveyed an unusual image to 19th century readers, unused to such feminine strength and importance. The ice could also be symbolic of Jane’s controlled fiery passion unlike Bertha’s wild fire that Jane has to extinguish.Perhaps Bronte was implying here an underlying passion for Rochester, and stifling the fire in his bedroom was imagery used to suggest Jane’s control of her passionate emotions learnt from Helen Burns.

The second fire happens at Thornfield in Jane’s absence so she is unable to stop it. However, her passion for Rochester is rekindled, and this time she is unable to stifle it. She returns to him and again he needs her help, echoing her first meeting with him. Rhy’s use of pathetic fallacy can be seen as being oppositional to that of Bronte’s.Antoinette meets Rochester in a hot climate, reflecting Antoinette’s passion for Rochester that is later quelled when he brings her back to the coldness of England, where her once amorous feelings that were charged with desire turn into icy hate and disconnection. The use of pathetic fallacy also allows the authors to express the differential cultures, climates and racial mentalities the characters are constructed upon. The fact that Rhys makes significant use of fire as a turning point in Antoinette’s life, as Bronte did for Jane, suggests that some features of the liberal humanist perspective may be applied.

Perhaps what Rhys was suggesting, by using the same technique as Bronte, was that fire establishes a connection between the women, although they are from clashing cultures, they both still experience the heat, passion and distress fire, or in symbolic terms Rochester, causes. Their cultural differences as far as their affections for Rochester are concerned do not exist, and therefore both novels should be read without social and historical context, because after all love is a universal, timeless emotion that all humans feels, no matter whether they’re a restricted English woman or an exotic Caribbean woman.Rhys may have been suggesting a universal meaning behind her novel, but it is informative to consider the post-colonial qualities of Wide Sargasso Sea. Rhys allows a woman not of colonial European descent, who has previously been crated euro-centrically by an English author, a chance to give her side of the story, and share with us her exploitations and savage treatment, allowing us to question a man’s convictions.Rochester’s lexis in Wide Sargasso Sea also appears to represent his euro-centric ideology and his discrimination against things unknown to him. At the start of part 2 he refers to the people in the Caribbean as ‘creatures’, their language as ‘debased’ and their surroundings as ‘suffocating’, thus suggesting Rhy’s methods of highlighting the liberal humanist traits and perceptions of Bronte’s characters and the biased effects this has on the uncharted, ghost like Creole who was locked up in the attic as if she was an inanimate object.This raises a debatable question. Was Antoinette dragged back to England in Bronte’s novel like a slave and locked up in the attic because she was mad, or because she was exotic, different and an unknown foreign territory to Rochester that he was simply afraid to discover? ‘Bertha’ has always contrasted strongly with Jane’s meek character in Jane Eyre, but wasn’t Jane just as different, un-restrained and undiscovered in her childhood?Similarly she was tied down to a chair in the red-room and described as a ‘mad-cat’ like Antoinette was in the attic, but differentially Rochester was not so offended by her unconventional colloquy as he was of the Caribbean people’s ‘debased French patois’.

With this in mind, it can be argued that there were certain racial cogitations behind why Rochester fell in love with Jane, rather than Antoinette.The observation that both women were described as being mad in Jane Eyre at some point supports Gilbert and Gubar’s feminist literacy criticism that 19th century writers had a tendency to attribute either angelic of monster-like personas to their female characters, which allowed men like Rochester to make reductionist judgements, a pure female or a slovenly mad woman?A conclusion can thus be drawn that through the author’s use of language, structure, techniques and context, Bronte and Rhys construct two very different characters whose early experiences are used to effect contrasting consequences. In my opinion, Jane is given more life changing opportunities, which are used by Bronte to develop her character’s emotional and intellectual stability. Likewise, Rhys purposely made the point that Antoinette’s lack of self-hood contributed significantly to the madwoman she eventually became.Therefore, it can be justified that the women’s relationships with Rochester were clearly and purposely shaped by their early experiences, which were constructed to give the characters certain qualities and traits that would either cause failure or hope in their adult selves.



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