The Oppressed Female in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre
In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë clearly demonstrates the relationship between sexuality and morality in Victorian society through the character of Bertha Mason, the daughter of a West Indian planter and Rochester's first wife. Rochester recklessly married Bertha in his youth, and when it was discovered shortly after the marriage that Bertha was sexually promiscuous, Rochester locked her away. Bertha is called a "maniac" and is characterized as insane. Confining Bertha for her display of excess passion reinforces a prevalent theme in Jane Eyre, that of oppressive sexual Victorian values. Bertha's captivity metaphorically speaks on the male-dominated Victorian society in which women are inferior and scorned for acts of nonconformism.
For the first half of Jane Eyre, Bertha is only known to the reader through her nearly phantasmal presence&emdash;the peculiar laugh, and the mysterious incident in which Rochester's bed was lit on fire. Only after the foiled wedding of Rochester and Jane, in which Mr. Briggs and Mr. Mason appear unexpectedly declaring that the wedding should not proceed, does Rochester explain to Jane that he has a living wife detained on the third floor of Thornfield Hall. "He lifted the hangings from the wall, uncovering the second door: this, too, he opened" (327). "In a room without a window" Bertha is found living as a wild animal sequestered from everyone but her caretaker Grace Poole. Like a ferocious beast, she is even tied down and bound.
Throughout the novel there are similar images of the restrained female, an example being Jane's detention in the "red-room" at Gateshead Hall. Both Jane and Bertha were held captive for refusing to comply with society's conventions: Jane, for not allowing her cousin John Reed to dominate her, and Bertha, for not abiding by the restrictive sexual values of nineteenth century Victorian England. Jane's captivity, however, is only temporary, whereas Bertha's containment is permanent. After her imprisonment in the red-room, Jane is never forcibly confined again. In many instances, though, at both Lowood School and at Thornfield Hall, Jane is found wistfully staring out windows. Though she is not as confined as Bertha, her longing is an expression of being trapped in a subjugated societal station nearly impossible to surmount. Unlike Bertha who is locked in a room behind double doors with no windows at all, Jane is given a little more freedom in which to explore her inner desires. Her intent looking out of windows perhaps signifies her longing for a life in which she can freely express her whole self.
As Mr. Brockelhurst had warned against conformation to nature during Jane's time at Lowood School, Jane has been socially...