Jane Eyre Essay

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Emma Gleaden

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Compare and contrast the ways in which Bronte and Rhys construct the adult selves of Jane and Antoinette and consider how this shapes their relationship with Rochester.

Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea present the childhoods and later lives of two women, who similarly marry the complex character, Mr. Rochester. Both begin their lives as outsiders, Jane because of economic differences to the rest of her family and Antoinette because of racial distinctions to the rest of her community. However, the characters undergo oppositional journeys in life, which in turn, shape their contrastive relationships with Rochester. Bronte presents ‘Bertha Mason’ as a minor character, positioned in her novel as a mere obstacle in Jane and Rochester’s quest for happiness. However, in Rhy’s enlightening prequel to Bronte’s Jane Eyre, an unforeseen importance is placed upon Bertha’s alter ego, as Rhys expresses her own thoughts on Bronte’s doomed character through the voice ‘Antoinette Mason’. Rhy’s lexis, ‘There is always the other side, always’[1] underlies her opinion that Bertha was condemned by Bronte, having never allowed the character to share her side of the story. Rhys therefore offers the readers of Jane Eyre an entirely different perception, a chance to gain insight into the life and mind of the ‘mad woman in the attic’. One of the most prominent differences between the two novels is the composition of the character’s development. Where Jane Eyre’s childhood experiences contribute somewhat to the independent and courageous woman she becomes, Antoinette’s clearly disturb her, as she grows to be an un-stable, vulnerable and dependent character. Jane Eyre is constructed by Bronte as a novel of development, we, as readers, witness Jane’s character flourish and mature from being a passionate little girl to a well-educated and complex young woman. We follow Jane as she battles through isolation and heartache and ultimately achieves contentment and marriage in the novel’s ending. Bronte’s famous lexis ‘READER, I MARRIED HIM’[2] evokes confidence in Jane’s character. By writing this at the beginning of the final chapter, Bronte effectively illustrates that the words are of significance and perhaps was insinuating that her ‘novel of development’ had drawn to a close, and Jane, at last, had reached her full potential. Rhys constructs Wide Sargasso Sea differently. By splitting the novel into 3 parts, and allowing the reader only one part of autobiographical insight into Antoinette’s childhood, we feel a sense of loss and disconnection from her own emotions and thoughts through parts 2 and 3, as we see Antoinette drift gradually into insanity. Rhys therefore interprets regression rather than development through her structural technique. The placing of Antoinette’s marriage to Rochester at the beginning of the novel was perhaps an insinuation that this was wedlock was partly to blame for Antoinette’s bleak ending. Despite structural differences portraying oppositional states of development and regression, Bronte and Rhys appear to use similar authorial techniques such as first person narrative and retrospective chronology along with autobiographical materials, consequently allowing us as readers to understand more clearly the characters’ thoughts and emotions as well as creating a sense of intimacy and understanding. This is particularly important when it comes to empathising the women’s childhoods as this provides us with a highly suggestive portrait of their viewpoints as children. From this, we are directed as to why they turn out to be the contrastive women they do and how the construction of their adult selves define their relationships with Rochester. The early chapters of both novels portray the protagonists as children and we immediately perceive a sense of conflict, insecurity and isolation, an indication that neither childhood will be particularly contented. The first thing Antoinette talks about is...
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