The binary one/other in jane eyre, the creation of the identity

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by Raúl Bujardón del Campo

In the prologue to his famous book Orientalism, Edward Said describes the European conception of the Orient and its peoples as an invention created to favour and to maintain European hegemony by promoting “the idea of European identity as a superior one in comparison with allthe non-European peoples and cultures” (7).Thus, Orientalism is an European construct based on a hierarchisized binary opposition where European beliefs and values should always occupy the upper side; a binary which reproduces the European dichotomised response to the perceived world as good or evil. In connection to Said’s ideas, Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre, apart from narrating apowerful Bildungsroman story, is also used by its author to convey the creation and development of “a consistent, narrating (female) subject”(Azim, 172), as well as to portray “the relationship between that subject and its Other(s)” (172). Such relationship was depicted by Brontë as “a colonial encounter, highlighting and dramatising questions regarding human subjectivity, rationality andcivilisation” (Azim, 178). In other words, Bertha Mason, Jane’s Other in the novel, represents that part of the Victorian female subject which must be repressed, and even suppressed, to make possible Jane’s evolution as a coherent fully grown female subject. Consequently, the Other in Jane Eyre, through its relation to the colonial other, is constructed in a way that reinforces Orientalist discourses andsupposes, in fact, a thorough validation of British Imperialism.

The novel’s hierarchical, dichotomised perception of the world, a reflection of Jane’s mind, can be observed throughout the whole text, not only in relation to Bertha, but also, in relation to all those not British. Not only does Jane agree to follow the paternalist St John to India, “amidst savage tribes” (Brontë, 470), in hisChristian imperialist enterprise “of carrying knowledge into the realms of ignorance” (431), but also Adèle’s naughtiness, for example, must be doubtlessly blamed on her French origins:

I took her on my knee; (…) not rebuking even some little freedoms and trivialities into which she was apt to stray when much noticed, and which betrayed in her a superficiality of character, inheritedprobably from her mother, hardly congenial to an English mind (Brontë, 170).

Jane conscious efforts to constantly accept as true the suspect affirmations of the repressive, authoritative and deceitful Mr Rochester contribute to reinforce the novel’s colonialist discourse. Thus, despite Mr Rochester’s confession of his dissipate past in Paris Jane willingly believes and supports hisshameless negation of paternity over Adèle, “I sought in her countenance and features a likeness to Mr Rochester, but found none” (Brontë, 170). Nevertheless, we, as readers, do not have any reason to believe him; even more so after we acknowledge his mischievous manipulation of Jane in relation to his silenced previous marriage; does Jane really not see any resemblance between Mr Rochester and Adèleor is it that it is more convenient for her not to do so?. Furthermore, it is Jane’s acceptance of Mr Rochester’s dubious claims what validates his merciless biased attack to Bertha Mason; a reinforcement of traditional Orientalist representations hardly problematized by Jane’s feeble condemnation, “Sir, I interrupted (Mr Rochester), you are inexorable for that unfortunate lady: you speak of herwith hate – with vindictive antipathy. It is cruel – she cannot help being mad” (Brontë, 347). Despite these amiable words, the rest of the chapter (Brontë, 352-353) is devoted to reproduce Mr Rochester’s demonization of Bertha, that Jane will never doubt, as a being racially inferior to him that had “allured him”, as devoid of any virtue in her nature, with tastes obnoxious to his, a “pigmy...
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