Reactions To Patriarchal Oppression By Jane Eyre And Bertha Mason

3847 words - 15 pages

Reactions to Patriarchal Oppression by Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason
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Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason are both oppressed by the British patriarchal system were men are the makers, interpreters, and enforcers of social and political rules. However, these two women differ greatly in the ways that they accept and cope with the reality of their place in society, and it is these differences that ultimately determine their fate. Jane Eyre follows the rules. Although she initially revolts against what she believes to be unfair restrictions at Gateshead and Lowood, she soon discovers that rebellion carries a high price and, over time, she learns to modify her behavior to conform to socially accepted norms. Bertha Mason, on the other hand, never accedes to society's restrictions on women's behavior. Bertha blatantly breaks all of the rules at Spanish Town and at Thornfield, but when Rochester punishes her for her unacceptable behavior, she only becomes less restrained. As Wyatt notes, the novel's "doubling of the female self into the good girl Jane and the criminally passionate Bertha reflect [sic] the experiences and corresponding psychic patterns of women living under patriarchy," and true to their individual responses to patriarchal control, "Jane reasons out the causes and effects of women's domestic oppression, [but] Bertha burns down the imprisoning house" (199-200). Jane, therefore, is successful in securing her desired place in society because she ultimately learns the value of conforming to the rules and operating within the context of their established structure. Bertha does not conform and therefore does not survive.

On the surface, two more opposite female characters could not be conceived. As an adult, Jane is a "plain, Quakerish governess," a "quiet...disciplined and subdued character" who is "given in allegiance to duty and order" (246; ch. 24, 76; ch. 10). By contrast, Bertha is "a big woman, in stature almost equaling her husband, and corpulent besides" with a "virile force" and "purple...bloated features" (279; ch. 26). Jane is an impoverished orphan, and an English clergyman's daughter who is reared in a charity school; Bertha is an exotic Creole, and the pampered daughter of a wealthy Jamaican planter. Jane is modest, decorous, and virginal; Bertha is "'at once intemperate and unchaste'" (291; ch. 27). Edward Fairfax Rochester, husband to each, cannot imagine two women less alike. However, it is not these obvious physical, behavioral, class, and socioeconomic differences that are important when comparing the two. Rather, it is the difference in the way they accept their roles as women in a patriarchal society that defines the characters and determines the outcome of the story.

Bertha and Jane have no choice but to live within the male-dominated society into which they were born. Accordingly, their only feasible survival options involve "attaching themselves to . . . powerful or economically viable men" in...

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