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The Language Of Slavery In Jane Eyre

2615 words - 10 pages

While Bronte’s novel is a story of one woman’s rise from dependant, patriarchal oppression to financial stability and emotional liberation, the narration of that story is often turns to the figurative representation of slavery. Bronte applies the metaphor of slavery to the domestic trials facing British women at the time. Time and again her narrative language turns to this device in order to draw parallels between slavery and other vehicles of oppression, namely gender and class. Just as the majority of issues in the novel are two-sided, the implications of these parallels are two-sided as well. Carl Plasa, Lecturer in English at the University of Wales College of Cardiff, clearly explains the dichotomy in his essay "Silent Revolt":

The deployment of a metaphorics of slavery as a way of representing forms of domestic oppression is, from one perspective, both rhetorically powerful and a politically radical maneuver. Yet from another perspective--that precisely of those who are or have been enslaved, experienced the metaphor, as it were--such a strategy can only be viewed as deeply problematic. (67-8)

If Bronte had turned to these metaphors solely "as a way of representing forms of domestic oppression" the effect would have been positive. Her references to slavery would have come across as "rhetorically powerful" and "politically radical". Unfortunately, Bronte goes too far. She creates a narrator, Jane, who exploits images of slavery, using them to obtain personal gain and dismissing them when convenient.

It is obvious that Bronte makes use of the experiences of the British colonies throughout the text of Jane Eyre. In an effort to make her readers more comfortable Bronte chooses not to address the issue of British dominance and colonization directly. Throughout the text Jane conjures images of slavery from the Far East, conveniently failing to mention Caribbean slavery. During Rochester’s courtship of Jane she likens him to a sultan, saying: "The eastern allusion bit me again: ‘I’ll not stand you an inch in the stead of a seraglio,’ I said; ‘so don’t consider me an equivalent for one; if you have a fancy for anything in that line, away with you, sir, to the bazaars of Stamboul without delay; and lay out in extensive slave-purchases some of that spare cash you seem at a loss to spend satisfactorily here" (267; ch.24). Jane is not reluctant to speak of "slave-purchases" if they are in Stamboul rather than Jamaica. Even with the integral connection the story has to Jamaica, Jane refuses to make a direct reference to the slave trade in that area. Rochester goes on to make clear references to Jane as being his slave, "it is your time now, little tyrant, but it will be mine presently: and when once I have fairly seized you, to have and to hold, I’ll just--figuratively speaking--attach you to a chain like this" (269; ch.24). By turning to the East, Bronte is incorporating the sexual dominance that goes hand in hand with slavery in that...

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