Jane Eyre vs Wide Sargasso Sea Novel: Compare & Contrast

Jane Eyre vs Wide Sargasso Sea Novel: Compare & Contrast
  • Date:
    Jan 15, 2021
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    Jane Eyre
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The two books Jane Eyre’s novel by Charlotte Brontë and Wide Sargasso Sea Novel by Jean Rhys, reveal various motifs including the concepts of feminism and postcolonialism. As such, the authors bring up substantial ideas on the way of living for people after colonization. They also reflect on the diversity of women globally by introducing a different approach to address human issues whereby a system of fairness, justice, and equal rights replaces the presiding patriarchy. This essay will explore the concepts of postcolonialism and feminism theory, as presented by Jane Eyre’s novel by Charlotte Brontë and Wide Sargasso Sea Novel by Jean Rhys.

In the novel Jane Eyre, Brontë reveals a firm stance on feminism by critiquing the assumptions about social class and gender. She also places the context within the postcolonialism era during the Victorian society age. Throughout the novel, Jane is subjected to some kind of oppression, where she has no financial or social freedom. The challenges she faces existed during the Victorian era, whereby women were considered powerless and as objects to serve their families and society. Jane fights gender hierarchies and class to ensure a status quo.

Jane is the epitome of femininity, the first instance where Jane starts to reveal feminism is when she fights with her cousin, blamed even if she was not the one at fault, and locked up for a night. She says to Mrs. Reed, “I’m not deceitful. If I were, I should say I loved you, but I declare, I don’t love you (Brontë, 2016).” Jane’s words seem mean; nonetheless, they are true. It is only fair to precisely tell others what one feels, instead of pretending as Mrs. Reed did even though she did not like Jane. The words are also ironic. In some way, Jane is trying to tell Mrs. Reed that she is deceitful as she had always acted as if she loved Jane and therefore being unfair.

More feminist ideals are revealed in Jane’s relationship with Rochester. The two do not belong to the same social class. Jane is a governess and, therefore, less than a family member. Her financial status can also not be compared with Mr. Rochester, who is successful and wealthy, while Jane is just an employee. Despite the clarity on the differences between the two, Jane refuses to consider herself inferior. For example, she says to Mr. Rochester, “Do you think I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong — I have as much soul as you, — and full as much heart…I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; — it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal, — as we are” (Brontë, 2016). The statement shows Jane denying being of lesser status. She even ignores the fact that she is a woman and Rochester, a man, and instead focuses on a spiritual stance to define their identities, which demonstrates equality.

Further, more ideas on feminism theory reveal Jane’s belief in love. When she realizes Mr. Rochester is married; she does not agree to marry him. Jane believes marriage should be based on respect, equality, true love, not appearance, social class, or material possessions. Jane further demonstrates the same belief when she turns down John after proposing. Jane believes John’s love would be “one of duty and not of passion” (Brontë, 2016). This reveals Jane’s irony reflection of her determination to pursue true love.

Brontë’s work also demonstrates postcolonialism whereby Western culture is considered Eurocentric. This means that European values are universal and natural compared to Eastern ideas that are inferior (Hobson, 2012). For instance, Bertha, a foreign woman, reflects the Eurocentric and dominant ideologies of England in the 19th century concerning race. Bertha is the racial other and colonized madwoman who threatens British men and women as embodied in Mr. Rochester and Jane. Jane presents Bertha Mason as Vampiric, who sucks away from Mr. Rochester’s innocence. According to Mr. Rochester, he was innocent until the savage woman took his goodness. Also, Jane, a British, cannot get married because Bertha has occupied the wife’s position, denying Jane’s identity. The situation shows how British people characterized and feared women and foreigners during postcolonialism. The fear was not because they thought the subjects were powerful, but because they considered them inferior and evil. The “blood-red” moon reflected in Bertha’s eyes represents her sexual potency, whereby Bertha refuses to be controlled. Her stature is almost equal to her husband’s. According to postcolonialism, Bertha’s death is meant as a sacrifice to restore British people’s superiority, whereby Mr. Rochester acquires freedom to marry Jane while Jane achieves her self-identity.

Further, in the postcolonialism era, men considered women to be their appendages (Katrak, 2006). Men would work, own business, and remain in public. However, only family life and marriage belonged to women. They had to depend on men spiritually, financially, and physically. For example, Adele and her mother demonstrate this idea, whereby they depend on Mr. Rochester for everything. Their dependence is further despised by the British people like Jane and Mr. Rochester consider them sensual and materialistic, characteristics associated with foreign women at the time.

Jane’s description of Bertha Marson and Adele and her mother is ironic. Jane is driven by feminism theory. The goal of feminists is to ensure there is gender equality in all humanity. As such, no woman should be discriminated against, oppressed, or subjected to the hierarchy (Tong, 2018). Nonetheless, Jane plays a significant role in discriminating against foreign women. She represents Jane as Vampiric and Adele and the mother materialistic. By doing so, she supports Mr. Rochester, who considers himself innocent even though that is not the case. The actions go against what she stands for.

Additionally, Wide Sargasso Sea Novel by Jean Rhys also reveals aspects of feminism theory and postcolonialism. Rhys is a British born writer who wrote the novel Wide Sargasso Sea in 1966 in response to Jane Eyre’s novel by Charlotte Brontë. Rhys describes the marriage of Rochester from Antoinette, his mad wife. The author creates another picture and perspective of Antoinette by focusing on the reasons behind her madness. During the postcolonialism era, the English people prejudiced against the West Indies. Antoinette was from this discriminated group, and she was married to an English Black man. Therefore, Antoinette went through a double tragedy due to racism that was common during the postcolonialism period. First, she grew up in slavery and received barely any attention from her mother. The black community also did not accept her as she was white. Additionally, her marriage was arranged, and she got married to a man that did not like her and, together with his English community, discriminated against her (Rhys, 1992). These events reveal oppressions which Antoinette had to overcome. All her life, Antoinette was caught up between the black native and English imperialists; hence, she tried to fight for acceptance, love, and happiness. Her efforts represent the propositions of feminism theory, whereby equality in all humans is necessary. However, this leads to her being renamed and enslaved in the Thornfield attic.

According to Rhys, patriarchal oppression and imperialism drove Mr. Rochester’s first wife mad (Olaussen, 1993). The reasoning represents the feminism concept where oppression, discrimination, and torture for women was real. This is unlike in Brontë’s Jane Eyre, whereby Antoinette’s madness represents the evilness and inferiority of foreign women.

Further, the idea of inequality and dependence of women on men is revealed more in Rhys’ work. This can be seen as the author intertwines madness, enslavement, and womanhood. The author presents feminine deportment ideals to the protagonists since she was young while studying at the convent school. Two Creole girls, including Helene de Plana and Miss Germaine, symbolize the feminine virtues that Antoinette should emulate. These include even-tempered manners, chastity, and mild and beauty. Further, mother St. Justine praises the “imperturbable” and the “poised” sisters. This indicates that Creole women in the 19th century were supposed to assume such ideals of womanhood. Nonetheless, Antoinette’s nature was at odds with the suggested requirements as she was fiery and hot. Consequently, her behavior contributes to her implied madness and melancholy.

It is unexpected that positive energy attracts problems, as in Antoinette’s case. This also reveals more irony. People turn a blind eye to the challenges the protagonist goes through. The problems have the potential to affect someone as they did to Antoinette. However, still, no one seems to consider that, based on the statement that her fiery and hotness contributed to her madness and melancholy. The irony can be noted in Mr. Rochester’s words when he says, “I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers, and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever color, I hated their beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know. I hated its indifference and cruelty, which was part of its loveliness. Above all, I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty, and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it” (Rhys, 1992). This statement has antagonism where the beauty that attracts Antoinette to Rochester initially drives her away in the end. Rochester’s words also indicate that she does not like the loveliness of her wife and home, too, as they threaten to bewitch and ensnare him. The passage palpably exposes his cruel desire to gain control over Antoinette. Again, an indication of women’s oppression associated with feminism during the postcolonialism period.

Moreover, Rhys represents women as appendages to men who depend on them for financial and legal support (Friedman, & Fuchs, 2014). In the beginning, Antoinette’s mother depends on her husband, Antoinette’s father, who was a slave. When the father dies, Antoinette’s mother seeks a second marriage and uses it as a way to regain status and escape her poverty life at Colibri. Also, men increase their wealth by marrying women and gain access to the inheritance of their wives. The two scenarios present womanhood as synonymous with dependence exhibited by children by relying on the nearest man for survival. Antoinette seeks to assuage her fears of a vulnerable outsider by marrying the White English man; however, the husband, Mr. Rochester, betrays and abandons her.

Another aspect that comes out in Rhys’ novel Wide Sargasso Sea is irony. To begin with, the representation of the entire book, whereby she antagonizes Brontë’s Jane Eyre, is ironic. Rhys considers Antoinette as a woman who has gone through many challenges in life and became mad while trying to discover her happiness. This is quite the opposite of Brontë’s version, which represents Bertha’s madness, an unfortunate and inferior behavior associated with foreign women. Brontë’s heroine, Jane, does not examine the case of Bertha in-depth when she finds out Mr. Rochester is married. Instead, she believes in Mr. Rochester’s version of the wife, which gives the representation of the Creole woman. This kind of stereotyping was common in England in the 19th century (Dhawan, 2000).

The Wide Sargasso Sea novel also portrays irony as the author tries to describe the idea of postcolonialism. Rhys wants readers to realize that being a casted woman is demanding. Therefore, with Antoinette’s Creole character, individuals have to understand that they cannot change their inevitable, and thus they should accept events as they turn out.

In conclusion, aspects of feminism and postcolonialism contributed a lot to the works of the 19th century. Rhys and Brontë reveal this as they reveal the representation of women in the Victorian era. The authors also utilize irony to develop feminism further and postcolonialism ideas.-