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A broad focus on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre reveals multiple perspectives in which postcolonial criticism could be angled. For the most part, this study will explore the representation of a selection of foreign cultures as a foil to Europe’s presumed magnificence. Additionally, focus will be trained on the gender relations as an indicator of patriarchal colonialism. On this second point, the study will attempt to illustrate the various ways in which the character of Jane Eyre is deliberately constructed to counter the male colonialist ego. Some more illustrations will be sought regarding the relationship of classes as another appendage of postcolonial relations. The thesis undergirding this discussion is that the struggle between cultures, gender, and classes is the three-pronged assessment that illustrates the postcolonial discourse in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
The construction of Jane Eyre as a seemingly flawless and strong character serves two purposes in the text. The primary purpose is to showcase the Victorian struggle for women against patriarchal dominance. The patriarchal systems of dominance and control within the Victorian society were the sole machinery that advanced the colonial interests of the male gender against the female gender. In Jane Eyre, the female gender is portrayed as particularly weak and lacking in the necessary strengths that are required to pursue their interests. Jane Eyre becomes a rebel within the system by articulating open and consistent defiance against the status quo. Her travails, challenges, successes, and final triumph signifies the determined shift by the author in portraying women as different beings other than the weak and fragile characters that were consistent with the Victorian meta-narrative.
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Post colonialism represents a struggle between cultures (O’Reilly 88). Perceptions of the lead characters in the novel hint at the underlying construction of foreign cultures as inferior to the British worldview. The author uses Jane Eyre, Rochester, and St. John to demonstrate the fact that the British system is generally superior to any other civilization that lay beyond the boundaries of the empire. The tragic love and marriage between Bertha Mason and Mr. Rochester is explored in a manner that vilifies the foreign women so that she appears like some kind of a germ in the otherwise clean and perfect Victorian society. Her perceived weaknesses as expanded beyond her character to include her racial and cultural backgrounds. On this score, it could be argued that the author attempts to construct the story in alignment with the imperial instincts and sensibilities of the Victorian society.
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Regarding the colonialism of classes, Jane Eyre suffers consistently for the most part of the novel due to her low class status. Her rich aunt Sarah Reed and her cousins consistently mistreat her psychologically and mentally during her earlier residence at Gateshead (Bronte and Janice, 26). Their main point of contention is that she does not deserve to dwell among them given her low class status. Colonial representation of the class relations happens when a dominant and powerful class consistently seeks to subjugate the lesser classes in the society (Lewis and Sara 113). It would also be important to argue that Jane Eyre’s determined defiance against this class colonialism represents her resistance against the oppressive norm. Within the discourse of post colonialism, it might be argued that the kind of discourse that takes shape between the two classes is basically a representation of the struggle of the lower classes to reclaim their pride and sense of selfhood from an oppressive system that continually seeks to subjugate them.
The struggle for women liberation against male colonialism is illustrated in Jane Eyre’s assertion that, “I am a free human being with an independent will” (Bronte and Janice, 78). Another illustration of this struggle is to be found in her second statement that, “When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should - so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again,” (Bronte and Janice, 114). On the other hand, men’s determination to colonize the women’s bodies and souls is exemplified in a statement made by St. John Rivers and directed to Jane Eyre; “you are formed for labor, not for love. A missionary's wife you must - shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you - not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign's service,” Bronte and Janice, 205).
The British imperial and logo-centric arrogance and posturing is manifest in Mr. Brocklehurst’s rebuke of the character of Jane Eyre when he compares her to foreign cultural practices that he regards as heathen; “A little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before Juggernaut,” (Bronte and Janice, 89). The British culture represented itself as the ideal. There was always a conscious struggle to forge the external world in its own image and likeness, (Ashcroft, Gareth, and Helen, 77). Civilizations that lay beyond the borders of the empire could be conqured as a matter of self-righteous duty to model them alongside the British culture, (Mohanram, 56)
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Two women, Bertha Mason and Celine Varens are represented as the cultural foreign bodies that pollute the British satin culture. Mr. Rochester admits that Bertha Mason charmed her into marrying her purely on account of her lascivious physical attributes. This admission portrays two kinds of interpretations. The first is the obvious intention of the Victorian man to conquer and subdue the woman’s body. Sexuality was used as a tool by the patriarchal society as a way of gaining control of the presumed weaker sex. Mr. Rochester also displays the same character in his love affair with Celine Varens. In both cases, the two women use their sexual qualities to attract material resources from Mr. Rochester. Therefore, it might be argued that the two women are postcolonial heroines in the sense in which they use their physical beauties to challenge on of the fair sons of the patriarchal society.
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Mr. Rochester exemplifies the archetypical Victorian man who regards women in terms of their class and gender against his own. He is an extension of patriarchal colonialism. The action of the two women Bertha Mason and Celine Varens represents an attempt by the colonized class to wrest control from a system that continually denies them their true worth as individuals capable of expressing their interests in the suppressive and restrictive society. Interestingly, these two women are fighting the same course of freedom from patriarchal dominance just like Jane Eyre. However, they go about their struggle in different ways.
Bertha and Celine choose mischief and sexual exploitation as their choicest means to subvert the course of patriarchy. On the other hand, Jane chooses to remain upright in her manifestation of defiance. Her strengths are situated within her virtuous disposition whereas the other two men adopt social vices and materialism as their strength. Jane’s methods yield the ultimate glory, whereas the other two women have to face some kind of tragic and ignominious destiny. The author’s intention could have been a construction of Jane as an ideal British woman. She is polished in manner, patience with sound judgment. Although opportunities arise for her to get into Mr. Rochester’s life, she is determined to remain free until when it is morally right to engage with him. The other two women are presented in terms of foils to the pious but strong British woman. The lifestyle and character adopted for Jane Eyre has been structured to mirror the author’s own attitudes and preferences for the Victorian woman. The Victorian woman was largely given to the chivalrous attentions from the male-dominated society. Often times, the women were represented as damsels in distress who awaited the redeeming feature of some kind knight in armor to rescue them. However, Jane Eyre’s character departs from this tradition when she chooses to make her strong qualities obvious within the society. She is determined to make out her own living by remaining the governess to Adele even though she had innumerable opportunities to act otherwise.
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The authorial intentions of the self are most evident in her character. It has often been argued that the tribulations that Jane endures from childhood to adulthood are a hero-formation process. Finally, she becomes some kind of a thesis of ideal womanhood so that the other women in the story become basically the antithesis particularly in relation to the British culture. On this score, it might be argued that Jane Eyre also represents the colonizing forces to the foreign cultures and the foreign women to the extent that she epitomizes the system of difference.
The portrayal of Celine’s character has been designed as a cultural indictment of her French roots. Celine is portrayed as a loose woman who cannot match the British cultural requirements of fidelity. She represents a scourge on the conscience of a society that only demands the best forms of submissiveness from the womenfolk. She is strange and alien in her aspect. According to Rochester, Celine cannot comprehend the actual merits of marriage and family life. Her daughter Adele is meant to serve the purpose of cleansing her mother’s weaknesses. She is brought within the British culture so that in the very end she might assume a compensating personality to her mother’s failings. The negative portrayal of Celine’s character is supposed to represent an indictment of the French way of life. The ascetic ways of life as constructed within the British culture cannot accommodate the failings of a foreign culture.
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Both Celine and Bertha are denied voices within the story. What is learnt about them is simply from the perspectives of Mr. Rochester. This might be unfair and a disservice given that his views could be subjective and not precisely a fair representation of the real situation regarding their lives. The denial of voices is consistent with postcolonial discourses that tend to articulate the values of the dominant group while actively suppressing the genuine concerns of the inferior group. Mr. Rochester articulates the views of the colonist while the two women represent the interests of the colonized group.
One of the issues that this text appears to put across that all manners of deceit and materialism are to be found in the character of women from foreign cultures. The Creole and the French woman are portrayed with the arrogance of colonialism that shows the hidden agenda within the Victorian mindset to set up cultures as essentially inferior to their own. Such approaches were designed to give the British some kind of a self-centered authority to conquer and subdue other cultures (Moran 56). The spirit of conquest was consistent with the theme of cultural domination. The foreigners were considered as heathen civilization that needed the overwhelming presence of British ministers for the sole purpose of ridding them of their darkness. The approaches taken by Jane Eyre regarding foreign cultures recalls to the mind the kind of perceptions that informed the themes and characterization in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
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It has often been argued that Victorian authors gave force to the expansion of British Empire in different parts of the world. The authors portrayed the foreign cultures as heathen and in dire need of Britain’s civilization mission. The Eurocentric arrogance adopted by the empire during this time meant the Britain use the excuse of its superior standing among the foreign cultures to advance its imperialistic intentions. In Jane Eyre, the arrogance of Britain is captured in the attitude of St. John towards his missionary work in India. St. John is not what one would expect of a pious man of God on an honorable and worthy cause of civilization. Jane Eyre remarks that he is aloof and private. This character is consistent with that of the usual British colonialists. The condescending attitude marks out St. John as a colonialist instead of a man of God. Discourses of post colonialism have often regarded Christian civilization in terms of a replacement of a people’s cultural and social lives with the values and attitudes of the civilizing force.
The character of St. John serves the interest of imperial British. The major characters in this discourse are shown as individuals in a common agreement about the foreign culture of India. However, postcolonial arguments against Christian civilization have argued that it amounts to a deliberate way of alienating people from their authentic way of life. It is an attempt by the dominant group to supplant its presumed polished culture on a civilization whose ways do not mirror those of the dominant group. Jane Eyre agrees with St. John regarding the merits of Christian civilization in India. This agreement brings out her role as an object of perfection against which all other kinds of civilization might perceive their own weaknesses and inferiority.
The mention of Turks and Sultans in this novel is modeled around the principles of the self and the other. The foreign groups are represented as people deficient of any refined qualities such as those that attack to British culture. The portrayal is such that the only superior culture that people may want to associate with is the British culture. Any movement away from the British culture represents a movement towards otherness. The British way of life is presented as superior and worthy of some kind of world kingdom. Such portrayals make it possible for the novel to portray some people as the self and the rest as the other. The system of differences that are created between the colonizing powers and the colonized are manifest through representations and struggle. The colonized groups attempt to define themselves away from the terms of identity provided by the colonizing powers.
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On this score, it becomes important to notice that the British culture represents the conquered groups as culturally inferior to itself. Class struggle takes the form of struggle against colonial domination. Jane becomes the hero by asserting herself against a culture that attaches interest to material worth alone. The most important aspect of her life is that she finally manages to self worth against the material dominance in the society. Characters such as Mr. Rochester and Sarah Reed are what they are because they represent the wealthy class in the society. The postcolonial discourse in Jane Eyre is mainly anchored on the active portrayal of the British culture as essentially superior to Eastern cultures and the French culture. The author has used themes and characterization efficiently to bring out the salient features of this discourse.