Jane Eyre – 535 words – College Essay Essay
Edward Rochester is an upper-class British gentlemen of 19th century Britain. The character of Rochester features heavily in both Bronti’s Jane Eyre and Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea: similarly presented for the most part, but with differences which result in quite different conclusions.
The culture and society that each novel is portraying can be considered to be a main contributing factor to this difference: set in two very different cultures and involving two characters (Jane and Antoinette) with very different upbringings and sets of values and beliefs, the character is similar in both but also a world apart.In Jane Eyre, Rochester’s character is a dark, deceitful, brooding, selfish but romantic and passionate anti-hero: though truly loving Jane, he seeks to manipulate her for his own selfish reasons at every turn, and though he calls her his “equal”, he rarely acts as though she is. He is both a symbol of hope, and a symbol of patriarchal oppression, for Jane. In the novel, he illustrates themes of deceit, inequality, class struggles, male dominance and, eventually, female empowerment. Much of the imagery associated with him in the novel is related to fire: “the light of the fire on his granite-hewn features”, “Don’t keep me long; the fire scorches me”; the suggestion is made throughout that his overpowering personality and ruthlessness in pursuit of what he selfishly wants would somehow consume and destroy Jane’s free and equally passionate spirit: all-consuming, animalistic passion is ultimately shown in the form of Rochester’s mad wife Bertha.As Barbara Hill Rigney comments, “[Bertha] serves as a distorted mirror image of Jane’s own dangerous propensities towards ‘passion'”; Bertha’s condition in Jane Eyre is one which reflects Jane’s own dangerous situation as much as Jane’s premonitions reflect her future danger.
Rhys echoes these elements of the supernatural and foreshadowing in her own adaptation. Rhys’s own portrayal of Rochester paints a picture of his controlling nature obliterating another’s identity, Antoinette’s, who is without the strong sense of self and Christian morality Jane possesses (which gives her the strength to leave Rochester).Jane’s perception of Rochester as a god-like figure (“I could not, in those days, see God for his creature; of whom I had made an idol.”) is somewhat similar to the role he plays within his own circles and the role he plays within the patriarchal society her resides in: he is the master of the house, a well-liked figure among high society, and is dominant to Jane throughout most of the novel.
Rhys’s presentation of the character is similar in Wide Sargasso Sea: a white, British man of wealth (especially when compared with the poverty that the Cosway family find themselves stricken with because of the oppressive society of the West Indies), he held much more power than the vulnerable Antoinette does. Most of the decisions about Antoinette are made by men or Rochester himself: as Jayne Lendrum notes, “Rhys, within the marriage, establishes action as a male characteristic and inertia as female”, especially reflected in the marriage contract between Rochester and Antoinette, which is negotiated entirely by males.The removal of her identity to that of “Bertha” is an extreme reflection of the suggestions made in Jane Eyre of Rochester’s smothering, domineering personality and his attempts to control Jane (for example, when he tries to give Jane jewels for her wedding ceremony instead of the plain style of dress that would be true to her personality and identity: “..
.I shall not be your Jane Eyre any longer, but an ape in a harlequin’s jacket – a jay in borrowed plumes. …
I don’t call you handsome, sir, though I love you most dearly: far too dearly to flatter you.”). It is this respect for Jane’s identity which Rhys illuminates through her characters.Rochester’s possessive and controlling characteristics are present in Jane Eyre (“Without speaking, without smiling, without seeming to recognise in me a human being, he only twined my waist with his arm and riveted me to his side.”) though not as emphasised as it is in Wide Sargasso Sea (“Don’t laugh like that, Bertha .
.. it is a name I’m particularly fond of.”): harsher readers could interpret Jane’s minimal protests as a lack of empowerment on her part when it comes to criticising his nature, but his eventual change into Jane’s true equal – she inherits money and becomes self-sufficient, and he becomes more morally good, honest and, when crippled, is comparable to what he often says of Jane in that he is relatively helpless – not due to physically small size like Jane, but physical incapability. Up until the end of the novel, Jane Eyre, Rochester is a character who often feels sorry for his own plight (“Compare .
.. this form with that bulk; then judge me, priest of the gospel and man of the law, and remember with what judgement ye judge ye shall be judged!”), and this is also reflected in Wide Sargasso Sea (“my lunatic”). Through and because of Jane, he experiences more hardships than simply not getting what he wants, eventually seeing ‘the error of his ways’.Another theme illustrated by the character of Rochester in Jane Eyre is that of morality and religion: the ultimate triumph in the novel is that of morality and Jane’s purity, even going so far as to redeem Rochester himself through a true ‘baptism of fire’.
Mr. Rochester’s lack of morality (“‘My principles were never trained, Jane: they may have grown a little awry for want of attention.'”) is one of the obstacles which Jane must overcome. Rochester is presented as a character without the crutch of strong moral principles that Jane does, which help her through hardship and which, once he takes these values upon himself and sees Jane as truly an equal, eventually enable him to try to rescue his mad wife, overcoming his own hateful nature.
In contrast, Wide Sargasso Sea’s portrayal of religion mostly centres on the West Indian tradition of obeah, rather than Jane’s strong sense of Christian morality brought on by her childhood experiences: this is one of the differences between the characters Jane and Antoinette, affecting the way that Rhys shows Rochester’s interaction and treatment of Antoinette. As much as Bronti suggests that God and religion is what allowed Jane her strength in the face of her oppressors, Rhys uses the religion to exacerbate tensions between Antoinette and Rochester when he believes himself to be poisoned.Brontis Rochester is every inch the Byronic hero: retaining his flaws, and yet still capable of truly loving Jane and achieving a happy ending despite them (and despite initial differences of class, morality, wealth); he may be popular with readers “because of his difficult nature rather than despite it”, as Elizabeth Gregory comments. Rhys strips a younger portrayal of the character of what redeeming characteristics he holds in Jane Eyre: he is controlling without conceding, and what flaws exist originally are magnified in Rhys’s vision of his younger self. Rochester’s Byronic hero image in Jane Eyre is offset in Wide Sargasso Sea by his ultimate inability to love Antoinette: he marries her for her looks and money, and believes slanders against her immediately, “I felt no surprise.
It was as if I’d expected it, been waiting for it.”. He is much more of a villainous character, almost seeming to prey upon the weakened Antoinette for her “wealth, property and identity”, as Jayne Lendrum comments.The idea of imprisonment is another issue which spans the course of both novels; throughout Jane Eyre, Bertha is physically trapped within Thornfield Hall, and Jane is in peril of becoming similarly imprisoned within an illegal, immoral marriage of bigamy and deceit. Bertha almost ‘saves’ Jane by scaring her away just before the wedding: another example of female empowerment in the novel, where the oppressive male power of Rochester is almost overcome by Bertha, and finally is overcome by Jane’s strong will. This victory of the righteous and victimised over the oppressive, dominating figure is a key idea in Brontis novel.
Jane Eyre can often be compared to Cinderella, the tales of Scheherazade and other stories such as Beauty and the Beast; the latter in particular is especially relevant, as Rochester himself is not a conventionally handsome man and is described as being “some wronged and fettered wild beast or bird, dangerous to approach in his sullen woe”, late in the novel. He (unsuccessfully) tries to receive praise regarding his looks, as the character of the Beast does.Rochester’s presentation as a wild beast is mostly consistent in that he is described throughout as being, although cultured and well-travelled, quite unconventional and less “tamed” than those in his social circle: and there is a clear indication that Jane must “tame” him or suffer hurt herself. In contrast, Wide Sargasso Sea’s Mr. Rochester is wholly untamed by Antoinette; when she tries to make him love her through magic (which, even in Jane Eyre, is not enough to prevent his immorality: Rochester wishes to marry Jane because he loves her, despite knowing that he will be going against her principles by forcing her to commit bigamy); it does not work, and he believes he has been poisoned.
Although similar and comparable, the characters of Brontis Rochester and Rhys’s Rochester are placed in different cultures, written in different centuries and have different circumstances. Rhys’s villain is not given the fond treatment that Brontis Byronic hero is at the end; however, the presentation of both characters is consistent in many areas. Rochester, despite redeeming himself at the conclusion of the novel, is a symbol of the male oppression, of the patriarchal society and of the lies and deceit which bring about Antoinette’s imprisonment and almost bring about Jane’s.