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  • Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre - critical review

After finishing the book, I also read parts of 'the Connell Guide to Jane Eyre', 'A reader's guide to essential criticism' and listened to the In Our Time podcast on the novel. What I found significantly interesting was the idea of a divided self and consciousness and subconsciousness in the novel, however, I will also include other aspects of the novel that interested me. Something I found really interesting in the novel was the conflicting ideals of religion. Helen Burns, a character that is only included in the first part of the novel, is optimistically religious: questioning how one can conceive a world with no God or afterlife. I think the fact that Helen dies in her arms is a symbol of the fact that this mentality, in a different way, remains with Jane for the rest of the novel. John Reed, in contrast, represents a strict religious lifestyle: a fundamentalist, God serving approach. Jane rejects this and I think it is a depiction of the fact that religion doesn't have to be approached in this way. John's depressive, dependent personality contrasted that of Jane: in terms of mind and body. Jane Eyre seems spiritual, and through her character, Charlotte Bronte explores another reality other than this world. Jane seeks spiritual guidance through God, feels it is wrong to marry John Reed because of God and looks to him as an omnipresent being, without devoting or controlling her life through him. I think the idea of an overarching force or presence is more dominant than the Christian God to Jane, as she hears that Mr Rochester is becoming her to his company. Love, I think, is portrayed as a kind of 'God' in which it has an overarching power and force. It is often described as 'fire', which I recognised as a depiction of one of the four elements that Empedocles stated made up all the structures in the world [fire, air, water and earth.] The fact that fire is often associated with Mr Rochester, in contrast to John Reed, is a symbolism of the necessity of love and the supernatural characteristic of it. Jane's rejection of marriage to John Reed was her recognition of the necessity of love in a partnership. Fire is not only a portrayal of love but of sexual passion, often associated with Mr Rochester and Bertha Mason: in which she sets Mr Rochester in his bed alight, as well as the house which causes his sight to diminish. The association of Bertha Mason with fire represents the strong, sexual desire which Jane suppresses and by trying to destroy Mr Rochester with it, it is a depiction of female anger at this suppression of this sexual ego in a patriarchal society. There is an element of the novel which on the surface, is a Cinderella story: in which it is a merge of the gothic and magic and which every character gets what they want or deserve. On the initial reading, it appears that Jane gets what she wants: her own fortune, through the inheritance of the death of her uncle, and her love that she shares with Mr Rochester. However, on studying this deeper, I think Charlotte Bronte's criticism of the nature of marriage. In order for Jane to marry Rochester, she must take away both her mind and body self. In 'A reader's guide to essential criticism', it notably recognised the death of Martha Burns being a symbol of the death of the 'angel of spirituality'. However, I think more significantly, the death of Bertha is the destruction of sexual desire and freedom. When Jane abandons the marriage after finding out about Mr Rochester's current wife Bertha, she flees: but once Bertha destroys herself [and I think this is a representative of Jane's active recognition of her sexual subconscious, and then her decision to destroy of it], Jane can then marry him. The portrayal of diminishing social hierarchy and superficial views is an optimistic moral reading of the novel. Neither Mr Rochester or Jane is described as very beautiful: significantly Jane is always reminding Rochester of the fact that he isn't handsome. Likewise, both Mr Rochester and Jane reject the opportunity to marry someone who will bring money and social status: for Mr Rochester: Blanche Ingram, and for Jane: John Reed. Also, Mr Rochester's marriage to Bertha: in which he married for money ends in disaster, and this idea of marriage [symbolised through Bertha] must die before Jane marries Rochester. The fact that Mr Rochester's lack of sight is cured then by Jane after they marry is another representation of the power and force of love which is carried throughout the book - giving Mr Rochester literally sight again, and metaphorically a new vision in the world. A depiction of Jane Eyre as a very feminist character is a very prominent feature of the novel. At the beginning of the novel, Mr Rochester seems a very dominating character: however, the moment he falls off his horse when he first sees Jane foreshadows the effect that she has on him. Her dignity is upheld when rejecting the idea of being Mr Rochester's mistress, I'm not sure whether intentional or not, but for me, this was a mirror of the Anne Boleyn in Tudor dynasty against Henry VIII - only marrying once the annulment with Catherine of Arogan confirmed - echos Jane's decision, only marrying him once Bertha has died. Likewise, she is a character which is always portrayed in the active, through the form of the novel and her actions taken as a character. The narrative in the first person makes the reader constantly with her, without knowing what will happen to her or other characters. It creates an empathetic reading experience in which Jane Eyre not only seems to be in control of her own life but also the experience the reader has. The notable line "Reader, I married him" [instead of 'we married') is an obvious portrayal of Jane's independence that will remain throughout her union, accompanied with the at this stage, her financial independence that she gains through her uncle. However, after looking deeper into the text I found that the character of Bertha was a symbol of Jane's suppression of part of herself that she was unable to control. The active voice she took and the first person narration did not fully suppress or hide her inner feelings. This is clear from the accommodation of the character of Bertha: who is literally locked in the attack, metaphorically symbolising the attempt to hide and suppress this side of Jane. The psychoanalytic Freudian criticism of Bertha as a representation of Janes 'Id' is something I found really interesting. Freud believed the self was divided into three parts: the ego, superego and the id. The 'id' represents our instinctive subconscious desires, and Charlotte Bronte symbolises this through the character of Bertha. Many connections are made between the two which confirm the idea as the two characters as the same self. The similar lexical description of them as animal-like, as well as notably the narration of Jane Eyre biting her cousin John at the beginning of the novel echoing Bertha biting her brother later on. Bertha seems to represent Jane's suppressed sexual passion and freedom: the self of Jane that hasn't been socially and culturally moulded. The contrast between them represents the differences between someone with no restrictions or archetypes pressed on them by society, and one which has. This could be read as a feminist reading, as Bertha is described as "masculine, black-visaged and almost the same height as her husband", and therefore representing Simon de Beauvoir's idea that "a woman is made not born." Jane is a result of the patriarchal society she lives in: in which she has been made to suppress her sexual drive and feminine empowerment. The death of Bertha mirrors the expectations that must be fulfilled of married women: the 19th-century women may have sexual feelings but the 19th-century wife must not. The overlapping of the narrative in which Bertha's escape from captivity occurring during times when Jane's emotional state is hysterical is an echo of the 'id' taking power over the ego: moments such as Bertha appearing to cut up Jane's wedding veil and Jane's dream of the destroyed Thornfield hall (which Bertha then does): both representing the fear that Jane has of the lack of freedom that comes with marriage in such a patriarchal society. I think this idea of Bertha as a part of Jane is not only a depiction of women but more generally a study of the human conscious. It portrays the debate between the humanism belief that each of us in a unique individual shaped by personal choice compared to the idea that the self is a construct produced by overpowering forces of social and cultural systems. Therefore, Bertha is a representative of the natural and pure self, which is then suppressed in the character of Jane. This could be a study of slavery, gender, and colonialism. The fact that Bertha remains parallel to Jane, however, is a portrayal of the everlasting presence of this pure sense of self, which is only fully destroyed once Jane sacrifices her societal independence through marriage. Overall, the Psychoanalytic criticism of conscious through the character of Bertha, and the study of society and cultural influence compared the portrayal of an overpowering, almost supernatural force of love creates really interesting conflicts and studies of gender, society and humanity within the novel.

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