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Bertha Mason In Jane Eyre: College Literature

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Question:

Discuss about the Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre for College Literature.

 

Answer:

The passage centres round the character of Bertha Mason, the first wife of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre. It is a novel by the English writer Charlotte Bronte. The novel was first published on 16 October 1847, by Smith, Elder & Co. of London, England, under the pen name "Currer Bell".

At Thornfield, Mr. Rocehster, Mr. Mason and Jane climbed up the third story and Jane comes to know that Bertha had bit and stabbed her brother in that room. He lifted a tapestry for unrevealing a door. In that room she finds Bertha Mason and her carer Grace Poole. Bertha tries to strangle her husband. In this novel she is an abused wife roughly interpreted as the mad woman in the attic (Pike 261). Years of confinement has contributed to her mental illness and increasing violence. Her insane and violet behaviour has become frightening to tolerate. She behaves like a beast crawling on her limbs and snarling like a monster (Wootton 25). She was imprisoned in the attic room for long 10 years under the control of a hired nurse, Grace Poole. Bertha’s first introduction with Jane was described as, “it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.”

The setting plays an important role in the novel. The attic room described in the novel is a prison for Bertha where she has spent a long ten years of isolation, taken advantage of Poole’s absence and harm others in the house (Pietrzak-Franger 268). The entry to the room is secretive. The door is black and low which is opened by a master key. The secrecy of the room records the shame associated with a mad wife from the perspective of Mr. Rochester (Giles 80). The room is tapestried, has a great bed along with a pictorial cabinet. This represents a typical Victorian room and does not match with the violent character of Bertha. Immediately after this picture, the reader come across a warning that reminds Mr. Mason of a memory of violence. The attic room had no window which clearly reveals that the human living there is not recognised as a human being. In the room fire is guarded also. Grace Poole is found to be cooking for Bertha. This denotes a complete separation from the outer world where, the food is also cooked inside the room. Complete desolation in the attic reminds the readers of the Red Room where Jane herself used to feel like a ‘mad cat’ (Pietrzak-Franger 271). The mad woman is not referred to as woman at first but referred to a “clothed hyena” that “rose up and stood tall on its hind-feet”. Just like a master of a wild beast in the zoo, Rochester pacifies violent Bertha and binds her with a cord in a chair then turns to the spectator with a smile of satisfaction (Owsley 56). It is the satisfaction of winning of a powerful over a powerless.

 

The gothic paraphernalia can be seen in the secret attic that is prison like immediately reminds Jane of the Red Room in her childhood where her uncle died. The dark red colour of the room gave it a feeling of horror and death (Spivak 75). The attic room also described having the same feeling of nugatory from where strange sounds can be heard. The supernatural incidents that Jane had imagined adds gothic elements to the novel.  In this novel, the threat associated with the room expresses the existence of Bertha as the alter ego of the protagonist Jane Eyre. Both the women are victims of the actions of their respective families (Kapurch 167). Jane was tortured for being an orphan and Bertha due to her genetic disease. Jane was hated for her orphan background and Bertha was pressurised by her family to marry Rochester who had no idea of her mental illness. Her madness is gift of her family and her brother Richard Mason’s profit motifs resulted her failed married life (Kapurch 167). This supressed anger to her brother led Bertha to stab him brutally. She loves her husband though he tortures and she cannot accept her husband’s second marriage. He cannot accept the fact that Rochester will be of another woman’s belonging therefore she harms both Jane and Rochester (Wootton 25). Just as Jane expressed her frustration by leaving Rochester knowing that he has married before similarly the ‘mad woman’ reacted but her expression was violent.

The phrase, ‘madwoman in the attic’ was first used by  Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar that exactly in tune with the description of the beasty and violent Bertha imprisoned and hidden in the Attic. The syntax as well as style of the sentences have been uber-complex. The phrases and clauses are interwoven elaborately, but manage to be balanced as well as exact. Through the language, Charlotte Bronte has heightened the interest and added the philosophical as well as emotional tensions of the attic episode (Hope 66). The beastly exposure of Bertha has become the dark secret of the lives of the people living in Thornfield hall. The mystery surrounded her appearance has become the core source of suspense.

The incident of contradiction between jane Eyre and Bertha is most probably the most famous episode in the novel. This particular episode has given rise of any interpretations. Bertha is the representation of Victorian failed marriage. Her husband claims that she is a mad woman therefore needs to be imprisoned. To the researchers, it can be a cause effect relation in which, several years of imprisonment as well as isolation has made her insane and violent. It discloses the repressive aspect of the Victorian wifehood that suggest the lack of freedom in the conjugal life can result to suffocation, harmful for their psychological health. Therefore, from the above analysis it can be concluded that the setting, language and foreshadowing have successfully added the gothic elements into the novel.

 

References:

Giles, Heidi. "Resolving the Institution of Marriage in Eighteenth-Century Courtship Novels." Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 66.1 (2012): 76-82.

Hope, Trevor. "Revisiting the Imperial Archive: Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, and the Decomposition of Englishness." College Literature 39.1 (2012): 51-73.

Kapurch, Katie. "" Unconditionally and Irrevocably": Theorizing the Melodramatic Impulse in Young Adult Literature through the Twilight Saga and Jane Eyre." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 37.2 (2012): 164-187.

Owsley, Lauren. "Charlotte Brontë’s Circumvention of Patriarchy: Gender, Labour and Financial Agency in Jane Eyre." Brontë Studies 38.1 (2013): 54-65.

Pietrzak-Franger, Monika. "Adapting Victorian novels: the poetics of glass in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights." Adaptation 5.2 (2012): 268-273.

Pike, Judith E. "ROCHESTER'S BRONZE SCRAG AND PEARL NECKLACE: BRONZED MASCULINITY IN JANE EYRE, SHIRLEY, AND CHARLOTTE BRONTË’S JUVENILIA." Victorian Literature and Culture 41.2 (2013): 261-281.

Spivak, Gayatri C. "Critique of Imperialism”." Postcolonial Criticism (2014): 145.

Wootton, Sarah. "Introduction." Byronic Heroes in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing and Screen Adaptation. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2016. 1-29.

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