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The novel Jane Eyre was analyzed from multiple points of view and with the help of different approaches. The paper aims to examine six major types of analysis (formalism, feminism, deconstruction, Marxist, psychoanalytic, and cultural) to evaluate which of them is most appropriate and applicable to the reading of the novel.
Formalism and Deconstruction
The formalist approach implies an analysis of the text that targets components of the text without covering other aspects that could potentially influence its creation (e.g., personal, cultural, political, and historical view of the novel). If the formalist theory is applied to Jane Eyre, the main point of such analysis would be the form of the novel (first-person narrative), its structure (lengths of the volumes and chapters), and the imagery (literary devices).
From a formalist point of view, the first-person narrative is dynamic and authentic, as it ensures that the reader feels as if he or she were experiencing the events described in the book together with the author. The authenticity of the narration is reflected through the author’s descriptions that directly target and focus on her feelings and emotions: “No; I know I should think well of myself, but that is not enough; if others don’t love me, I would rather die than living…” (Brontë 60).
Another interesting feature of the novel from a formalist point of view is the narrator’s communication with the reader. It remains unclear, however, whether it is the character or the author who communicates with the reader since the subtitle of the book is “An Autobiography.” Despite the fact that the structure of the novel (the bigger number of chapters in the first volume compared to the other two) and the imagery (used to reflect the character’s mood, emotions, and for other symbolic purposes) are important for a comprehensive analysis, the formalist approach still does not address the complexity of the multi-layered narration in Jane Eyre.
Deconstruction is a theory developed by Jacques Derrida; it is characterized by its critical analysis of binary or hierarchical oppositions. There are multiple hierarchical oppositions seen in the text: man/woman, passion/reason (St. John and Rochester), master/servant (John Reed and Jane), Jane’s dependence/independence (Edholm 10). However, it could be said that Brontë takes the deconstruction approach to these oppositions by making the main protagonist a rebel, who demonstrates through her actions that she does not aim to remain in the established paradigm.
As Edholm points out, “pride and passion are what causes Jane to transgress the binary oppositions; she leaves the expected role of a dependent woman,” thus destroying or at least undermining the discussed oppositions (10). The problem of the deconstruction is that it also focuses on features inherent to the text by making an attempt to deconstruct them, leaving out other potential points of view.
Feminism, Marxism, and Psychoanalysis
The feminist analysis is frequently utilized in research and literature that address problems presented in Jane Eyre. Brontë demonstrates the pursuit of the character (and assumingly her own) toward equality and independence in “Jane’s rebellion against Mrs. Reed and John”; her pursuit for esteem is reflected through her decisions to leave Rochester when she finds out about Bertha Mason, as well as her later choice to be with and support Rochester when his wealth and health are lost (Gao 929).
Jane’s unwillingness to comply with expectations and act without accordance with her desires and her wish to find a true love reflects her need for equal and mutually respectful marriage or relationship, which can also be seen as a feminist view. On a grander level, the book itself is an example of a feminist act, as female authors were unpopular and overlooked in the Victorian era, which led to the development of the stereotype that literature written for and by women is inferior to that written by men.
Another political view is presented by the Marxist point of view; according to it, the socioeconomic (class) factor is the one that should be analyzed in a literary work. Brontë’s critique of the class system in England is evident, as she emphasizes it using the relationship between Rochester and Jane. Jane’s inferiority to Rochester is translated through her own vision of herself as a poor and plain woman, who will not be able to become equal to Rochester due to his different, “higher” socioeconomic status.
From a Marxist point of view, religion also acts as a negative agent in the book since it influences the perception of the lower classes. For example, Helen’s unwillingness and inability to object to an unjust teacher’s attitude in Lowood is an example of Christian endurance and obedience, which, in turn, prevents lower classes from realizing why and how they are mistreated (Šklíbová 5). Thus, religion is depicted as the factor that only further deepens the inequality between different classes.
It should be noted that the upper class is also presented in the book as one that needs transformation; this transformation is shown through Rochester, who at first serves as an example of promiscuity but later becomes a faithful husband who acknowledges his wife’s wisdom and intelligence. Jane, as a representative of the lower class, is the one who is able to overcome the inequality and misunderstanding between the classes by refusing to follow the prescribed role.
The psychoanalytic approach relies on the theories developed by Sigmund Freud, who examined the father-daughter relationships within the frames of the Oedipus complex. It can be suggested that the relationship between Rochester and Jane reflects the twisted or even sadomasochistic relationships between fathers and daughters in the patriarchal society (Newman 518). The prohibited erotic love for the parent (the father), common for the Oedipus complex, is represented through Jane’s anxieties before the wedding.
For example, in Jane’s dream about the child, Rochester finds this child disgraceful, possibly because the offspring is an outcome of the relationship similar to incest between him and Jane. The dark double (Bertha) can also be seen as a symbol of the Oedipal connection between Rochester and Jane. After all, it is Bertha who is tearing Jane’s veil apart. Thus, she becomes a character who represents Jane’s fears linked to the connection she has to Rochester. If Bertha is Jane’s double, her decision to put Rochester’s bed on fire could also be interpreted as Jane’s (dark) desire to destroy the relationship (Newman 520).
Three approaches discussed in this section present a detailed view of Brontë’s novel. However, while feminist and Marxist theories are politically biased, the psychoanalytic theory heavily relies on the interpretation of imagery and symbols hidden (or evident) in the text. In this case, themes and motifs become the foreground of the analysis, but little attention is paid to the actual structure of the novel, its style, and the form of narration.
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The cultural analysis of Jane Eyre would reflect the Victorian values and their representation in the novel. Although being an orphan, Jane’s transformation from a poor woman to an exemplary English lady is an overarching theme in the novel. Bertha, Rochester’s wife, is a good representation of the Colonialist culture, namely the fear of the other. It can be suggested that Bertha is the Orientalist Other. Compared to Jane, she is huge and corporal; despite her master’s (Rochester) attempts to tame her, she refuses to become a servant and also does not accept the life in the prison (attic) as she decides to burn the house down (Venugopal 375).
Jane’s perception of Bertha’s appearance as “vampiric” only increases the alienation of the figure, making her a background or a comparison to frank, wise, and pure Jane. Ironically, Bertha is perceived by Jane as an obstacle to her happiness, but little attention is paid to Bertha as a character who has suffered from Rochester’s actions. As Venugopal points out, Bertha “has to throw away her life in order that the white woman, Jane, may have happiness and fulfillment” (379).
Despite Jane’s rebelling spirit and unwillingness to comply with societal rules, she appears to be obedient and docile compared to Bertha. Thus, Jane still translates Victorian ideals of a woman (pure, mild-mannered, moral, loyal), which further deepens the difference between the Local (the English, in this case) and the Other.
As can be seen, each of the theories provides a unique point of view that applies to Jane Eyre. In my opinion, Marxist, feminist, cultural, and formal approaches, if combined, provide a deeper understanding of the novel and make its reading and analysis more productive. Marxist and feminist analyses allow the reader to focus on the political subcontext of the novel, the cultural approach helps him, or she evaluate the values and the way they are reflected upon by the author, and the formalist theory emphasizes the role of the novel’s structure and its impact on reader’s perception.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, 2001.
Edholm, Carin. “Upsetting Binary Oppositions in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.” DIVA. 2009. Web.
Gao, Haiyan. “Reflection on Feminism in Jane Eyre.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies, vol. 3, no. 6, 2013, pp. 926-931.
Newman, Beth. Jane Eyre (Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996.
Šklíbová, Jana. “Marxist Interpretation of Religion in the Novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.” Academia. 2015. Web.
Venugopal, Nisha. “Jane Eyre: A Post-Colonial (Re)-Reading.” The Criterion: An International Journal in English, vol. 6, no. 2, 2015, pp. 375-380.