Feminist Criticism

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Feminist Criticism focuses on the inequality and oppression of women within society. Literary feminine criticism today is the result of the ‘women’s movement’ of the 1960 which realized the significance of images of women put forward by literature and saw that it was vital to combat and question their authority and coherence. This movement has been crucially involved in books and literature. Representation of women in literature was seen as one of the most important forms of ‘socialisation’ since it provided the role models which indicated to women and men what was acceptable ‘feminine’ and legitimate feminine aspirations and goals.

In the 19th century, very few women went out to work unless there was a dire need to do so. Focus on put on the choice of marriage partner, which decided their social status, happiness and fulfillment or lack of it. Men were seen as strong and women as nurturing, capable of writing only about nature etc. Charlotte Bronte wrote under the pseudonym Currer, Ellis & Acton Bell to get around this prejudice. Elaine Showalter described the shift of attention from adrotexts to gynotexts and coined the phrase gynocritic. Gynocriticism focuses at the structure of women’s wrting, how it is produced and the motiviation behind it.

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre caused outrage when it was first published and feminist criticism can be focused on the social structure of the novel. Elizabeth Rigby wrote ‘Jane Eyre is the personification of an unregenerate and undisciplined spirit and the tone which fostered Chartism and rebellion is the same which has written Jane Eyre’. Jane is an orphan and is treated as an outsider from the start by the Reed family at Gateshead. Her name gives an allusion of invisibility. She is living in a patriarchal society and is removed from a normal social structure.

She distances herself by sitting at the corner of the window behind a curtain contemplating whether to stay where she is or go out into a loveless world. John Reed the tyrannical son reminds Jane of her lowly position within the household and he is her first encounter of a patriarchal figure. Jane’s anger and confrontation with John resuts in her being banished to the ‘red room’ forcefully. This is the room that her Mr Reed died in. His bed, crimson furnishings and scarlet darkness of the room represent her feelings of being trapped by society and of her need to escape.

The fact that it was Mr Reed’s death chamber is seen as a patriarchal haunting room. She finds her image in the mirror of the room disturbing and begins to fantacize ways of escaping her oppression and has thoughts of flight and starvation ‘no jail is more secure’ she says. She has a fit. Jane’s experience in the red room is seen as her first step towards change/growth. Her first encounter with the patriarchal figure of Mr Brocklehurst who is consistently described in phallic terms as ‘black pillar’, ‘carved mask’ leads to a heated confrontation with Mrs Reed. This behavior was not expected of a Victorian child and was felt to be outrageouos.

Jane is sent to Lowood. Here everything that is natural is erased. The cutting off of hair is interpreted as a stamping out of identity. The atmosphere is cold an frigid and the girls live in near starvation. Inspite of this Jane learns to control an cope with her anger and becomes a governess. She admires Miss Temple and is inspiread by ladylike virtues. Although Miss Temple is seen to be calm and in control, there is evidence that there is a ‘sewer’ of anger beneath this ‘temple’ as suggested by Gilbert and Gubar as she represses her feelings towards Mr Brocklehurst’s stinginess.

Jane’s other influence at Lowood is Helen Burns who feels that ‘she has a duty to submit to the injuries of life’. She is described as a ‘slattern’ and also seethes with hidden anger as she burns with spiritual passion and dreams of freedom in eternity. After Helen dies and Miss Temple leaves Lowood, Jane’s rebelliousness comes to the fore and she looks for another form of ‘servitude’ if ‘liberty is not possible. Jane’s pilgrimage to Thornfield’s gothic mansion and her first encounter with Mr Rochester is mythical.

He potrayed as a strong patriarchal force but when he falls off his horse is seen as an undercut hero. There are expectation of an relationship between him and Jane. They later to confess to a spiritual bonding on first meeting and this happens again when Mr Rochester looks at Jane’s paintings. This promotes a feeling of equality between the two. Jane begins to relax in Rochester’s company when he tells her that he ‘does not want to treat her as an inferior’. Rochester’s disguises regarding Blanche and dressing as a gypsy show his need to be the master and in control and his avoidance of equality towards Jane.

One he is sure of Jane’s love he begins to treat her as an inferior. Jane puts a stop to this by telling him she does not like ‘being dressed like a doll’. In anger she says that she will not be his ‘seraglio’ and that she will ‘go out to preach as a missionary’. We see here Jane fighting for a status of equality. The secret of Rocheser’s ex-wife Bertha is also seen a sign of unequality towards Bertha. Bertha is described as a large. Florid. Giggling mad woman while Jane is described as plain and small. Gilbert and Gubar suggest that ‘Bertha is Jane’s true and darkest form’.

The other important women at Thornfield are little Adele Varen who is looked upon as a ‘little woman’ although supposed to be an orphan, she is thought to be Rochester’s child. She is potrayed as cunning and manipulative like her French mother. Blanche presents a slightly different image – she is worldly and comes from a respectable background and her aim seems to make a good marriage. Grace Poole is seen as a lonely mysterious person, a prisoner in her own cell, which is very like how Jane feels about herself. After the aborted marriage Jane refuses to stay on at Thornfield as Rochester’s mistress and leaves.

Her wanderings across the moors is seen as ‘essential homlessness, namless, placeless status of women in a patriarchal society’ by Gilbert and & Gubar. At Moor house Jane encounters St John Rivers another patriarchal figure and his two sisters Diana and Mary who it turns out are her ‘good’ relatives. St John Rivers helps gain status by offering her a teaching job. Jane finds strength in the sisters learned and independent qualities. St John offers Jane marriage. She realizes that marriage to him would be one of labor not love and refuses.

Her strength of character and adherence of her principles show just how far she come towards maturity. When she inherits a large sum from her uncle in Maderia she shares it equally among her relatives and is now truly an independent woman. She is able to act just as she pleases and return to Thornfield ,on discovering Bertha’s death she goes to Ferndean and marries Rochester who she finds has lost his sight as well the use of an arm and now sees as an equal. Ferndean is set in deep forest and suggests an isolation of a spiritual nature for the lovers as if trying to avoid the strictures of society.

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