Subjectivity and Gaze in Jane Eyre
She found it in Jane Eyre, the story, the character, the protagonist, the heroine, the symbolism of female empowerment and one of the important literary character that has given power and significance to a previously marginalized and oppressed demography: women. Jane Eyre has been commended, applauded and re-read and reprinted for many years.
Yet, the lasting charisma and relevance of the issues that Jane Eyre tackled and addressed was enough to guarantee that she will never be an anachronism in any life and era. Subjectivity and gaze are very important in defining the true essence of the significance and importance of the story.This is where one can find the reasons as to why it affects and appeals to the people in ways that allows it to be relevant, timeless and connected to socio-cultural issues. These two aspects are the main and focal points and areas of discussion and exploration to effectively dissect the literary merit of the novel Jane Eyre when it comes to subjectivity and gaze, in particular.
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1. Jane Eyre In the many different novels and stories written in many different eras that managed to have the lasting appeal, Charlotte Bronte is responsible for the one of the novels that strongly touched the issues of women empowerment.She has been instrumental in evoking the consciousness in the pursuit of defining and even re-defining women empowerment, social equality, gender roles in the society and the significance of the life of women.
Bronte will always be remembered by the literary world and the rest of the world as the woman who gave life and penned the story Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre was a story considered as the autobiography of a woman who spoke with power and without reservation, regardless of whether or not she is conforming to the norms.It is regardless whether she is poised to contribute significantly to the changing of the status quo and the tilting of the planes where men and women stood on polar position, originally predefined and pre-ordained by the previously strongly dominant male. Jane Eyre has the making of a story that will evoke strong emotions about women. She was a warrior and a survivor. She was a minority marginalized by the society and was shackled by tradition, practices and institutions designed to reflect bias against women. Jane Eyre, above everything else was heroine.
As a story, it inspired women.As a character, Jane Eyre created the prototype of the woman that every other female aspired to be. Above all her strength, one stood out that is admired and envied by all: her ability to speak out, to say what she has to say about a life that has been supremely challenging and emotionally unnerving to the weak. Jane Eyre is a story of a woman’s journey in life, how she saw it, how she defined it, how she recorded it in her memory, without consideration to the natural editing tendencies of the society she lived in. Because of these aspects, Jane Eyre was loved, as a character and as a story.Literary analysts and critics saw it fitting to delve more through the pages of Jane Eyre so that they could further understand what the author and the character was trying to say, and do so more coherently. 2.
Jane Eyre and the Gaze The analysis of the gaze in any literature always brings about the analysis and discussion of gender roles and structures in the society as represented in literary content and style. In gaze, one of the major components of the discussion and debate during literary analysis and criticism is the supposed power and dominance of male and the subjugation of the female and her perspective in narrative storytelling.It is being broken by the surfacing of authors and stories that challenge the traditional superior roles and places of men by putting forward stories which, in turn, empowers women and allows them to stand shoulder to shoulder with men. Because of its importance, the gaze is often part of the feminist literary analysis. According to Warhol and Herndl, Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte are evidences the idea that “the gaze holds powerful potential for a feminist poetics of the novel” (Warhol, Herndl 429).Bronte and Jane Eyre are important integral entities in the continued development of this pursuit. Jane Eyre as an individual has been an object of the gaze.
According to literary analysts and critics like Sally Shuttleworth in her book “Charlotte Bronte and Victorian Psychology”, Eyre was able to use this particular gaze. This includes the condition wherein she is being viewed and seen by the society and is being observed – as a catapult towards achieving a sense of self awareness in the long run which will empower her (Shuttleworth 39).The power and control present in Jane Eyre as a story and as a character become more definitive when Jane Eyre displays the ability to change the oppressive gaze and use it to improve and empower herself. Jane Eyre develops a new consciousness that allows her to create a form of resistance towards traditional control forms and sources. “She comes to self-conscious awareness only through her sense of self as an object to an external eye, whose gaze she must nonetheless baffle if she is to retain integrity of selfhood” (Shuttleworth 39). 2. 1 Foucault, Gaze and Jane EyreMichel Foucault was one of the individuals who created the concept of the gaze which can be used for literary analysis, particularly for the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
According to Foucault, the gaze pertains to the ability of the individual to look past the superficial exterior covering to discover the underlying truth. This ability is something that is lifted from the exercise of observation (Shawver 15) of the subject of analysis. As how doctors would observe their patients to know the underlying truth in their health condition, so does the literary critic by observing a particular literature to reveal its underlying truth.This kind of gaze, which Shuttleworth also discussed via her idea of the penetrating gaze, is something that is believed to be present in Jane Eyre and in Bronte’s writings in general (Shuttleworth 39). Similar to the idea of Foucault (and taking also some key components in the idea of Bichat), Shuttleworth goes on to explain that the penetrating gaze is actually an effort to look at what is happening underneath the superficial bodily covering of the physical self as how physiologist will answer the query on physical health transcending the superficial and physical.It breaks apart and exposes “the opaque envelopes that cover our parts are no more for their practiced eyes than a transparent veil revealing the whole and the relationship between the parts” (Shuttleworth 39). The question now is, what is the underlying truth discovered in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre through the use of the gaze? 2.
2 Jane Eyre and the Returned Gaze Literary analysts and critics believe that one of the characteristics of Jane Eyre when it comes to the aspect of gaze is the novel’s featuring which is what E.Ann Kaplan refers to as the “returned gaze” (Kaplan 40). It was named as such because it was the person objectified in the past via the view of the ruling class who is now providing the perspective from which life is seen. This includes the life of the oppressors and former ruling group subjugating the oppressed. The returned gaze is the opposite of the imperial gaze. The imperial gaze defines the lives of those oppressed by the oppressor, based on the oppressor’s own perspective. It is a case of a superior entity defining the condition of those who are inferior to him or her.
In the case of Jane Eyre, she is the person who is oppressed, not the oppressor. The novel allows her to narrate to the audience the condition of her life as well as the condition of the lives of her oppressor from her own point of view, which is an important and admirable characteristic in a novel. The oppressed is seen here as a character who is empowered nonetheless to define her or his life as how the person deems and perceives it to be, and is not dictated by the influence and power of the oppressor which is often the case in many literary materials.The returned gaze is important because it allows the individual freedom and autonomy to see themselves from a personal perspective. This is contrary to the restrictive and dictatorial imperial gaze, wherein the oppressed express, perceive and define their conditions based on how the oppressor sees it to be. The presence of the returned gaze in the novel Jane Eyre is yet another admirable mark in the novel especially from a feminist point of view because of its implications – not just literary implications but also social implications.More than being able to present one’s life as an oppressed individual based on the own perspective of the oppressed, the individual is actually challenging the act of oppression, both in society and in literature (Waugh 514).
“Returning the gaze of the oppressors can thus be seen as a challenge to oppression, a claim of equality” (Waugh 514). For most of her life, Jane Eyre was the one oppressed. This is seen in the life of Jane Eyre from childhood to adulthood. While with the Reeds and during her life at Gateshead, Jane was oppressed and abused by her aunt and her cousins.During her education at Lowood School, Jane was again the target of oppression among many of the students, teachers and school administrators. When she became a governess at Thornfield Manor, the actions of Mr. Rochester (i.
e. his lying about his wife) and the actions of his wife towards Jane Eyre are again clear signs of oppression. When she fell to poverty after leaving Thornfield Manor, she was also subjected to the oppression of the society. The storytelling’s returned gaze characteristic, then, is a powerful symbol that alludes to women empowerment.Like Jane Eyre, women are attacked and oppressed in many different ways by many different entities (men, society, institutions, etc. ). The growing power of women lies in many things that are now endowed to her.
This includes the ability to tell the world about her own life, how she is oppressed, and how her perspective is nonetheless without the influence, control and dictation of the powerful and traditional external forces oppressing and trying to control the woman. Jane Eyre’s tone of narration is proof of the existence of the returned gaze.She sees the condition based on her own perspective. She defines what is happening to her and her life not on how the oppressors of her life would see it, but how she sees it. She talks about her own oppressors based on her own condition and not on the condition of her oppressors. The ability of the returned gaze breaks down every restriction and prohibition that oppressors might have put up to refrain the oppressed from speaking what they truly think and feel. In Jane Eyre, Jane is not just candid but is also powerful, critical and unrestrained in her presentation of the narrative of her life.
This understanding and explanation of the presence and power of gaze in Jane Eyre and in Charlotte Bronte is something that is galvanized by the ideas of other writers working on literary analysis and criticism of the gaze and involving Charlotte Bronte’s work and her other literary creations. In the book “Feminisms: an Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism”, the authors explain that the presence of gaze in Jane Eyre is not merely the providing of the opportunity for woman to challenge men and male perspective.More importantly, this gaze as it is present in Jane Eyre, is something more powerful. It is a chance to destroy previously socially established gender-based status quo and the resulting conditions dictated by such state in the society involving the places and roles, powers and responsibilities of the male and female character (Warhol, Herndl 429). Through the uncurtailed, unrestricted, unhampered voice of Jane Eyre, Warhol and Herndl believe that Bronte and her writings including Jane Eyre reflect “envisioning the possibility of disrupting the politics of gaze” (Warhol, Herndl 429).Furthermore, Bronte’s writing and the novel Jane Eyre are both testament to the idea about gaze and the importance of the presence of such characteristic in this narrative story telling. Jane Eyre is “not a simple inversion in which the woman is permitted to turn the tables with an appropriating look back but a destruction of the hierarchical positioning of male and female that the gendered gaze entails” (Warhol, Herndl 429).
Writer Anthony Channell Hilfer explains that this kind of oppressive action by the oppressor (commonly the male or the institutions and groups in the society influenced directly or indirectly by men) on the oppressed through the form of the gaze is something that many individuals have talked and written about, developed and created (Hilfer 15). This includes the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault, who, according to Hilfer, explained that gaze is a “more efficient form of tyranny than more overt forms of violence” (Hilfer 15).It is no wonder then that feminist readers and literary analysts supportive of women’s rights and equalities across gender celebrate Jane Eyre and its own characteristic of the gaze, especially the returned gaze. It has become a tool to fight a tyrannical oppression by men inside a patriarchal and male controlled society, in fiction and in real life. The use of the returned gaze in Jane Eyre is fitting considering the character, what she has gone through and her actions and what it represents especially in the fight for equality by women and feminist advocacy groups. Jane Eyre fought the many types of oppressors in her story and in her life.The manner by which she talks about it only strengthens this kind of power that Jane Eyre as a story and as a character possesses.
Critics and literary analysts do not claim the authority to know but instead explore the more important query on this matter. “What kind of subjectivity did Charlotte Bronte construct for Jane Eyre? ” (Gunter, Wagener 10). It seems easy to dispense of answers but it does not mean they are accurate and correct. As with the case of Jane Eyre, subjectivity, particularly female subjectivity in the story and in the character is something that remains to be investigated.The investigation should be undertaken by individuals detached from any emotional string involved in this text. This has been done so that the feminist bias is avoided and a clearer and more organized set of ideas regarding female subjectivity can be created and presented to the public. 3.
Jane Eyre and Subjectivity 3. 1 Subjectivity as Jane Eyre’s Strength Many critics and literary analysts commend the subjectivity, particularly female subjectivity, in Jane Eyre, in the belief that this is one of the most important characteristics of the novel itself.This is one of the characteristics responsible for making this Victorian-era novel timeless and well applauded among literary critics and analysts and the ordinary reader alike. Knies, for example, describes the subjectivity in Jane Eyre as intense and powerful. The narrator speaking in first person is empowered with such freedom to freely talk about her life in a way that is unencumbered by the restrictions and limitations created by other approaches, say third person ominous (Knies 546). The use of the first person perspective sets the tone and anticipation for female subjectivity via the story telling of Jane Eyre.The author allowed the narrator blanket autonomy to talk and speak as she sees, feels and deems things to be, and as a character that is intense, her subjectivity on the aspects of her life as she saw it was characterized by the same high degree of intensity as she speaks about it.
This, in turn, gives the novel one of its strong characteristics. Knies, in his journal article, notes how “Walter Allen described Jane Eyre as a novel containing intense subjectivity and how this is the novel’s strength” (Knies 546).The presence of and voicing out of female subjectivity side by side, the importance of female subjectivity in feminist readings and criticism is one of the solid take-off points that Jane Eyre used to capture the attention and admiration of many readers, particularly female readers. Here, literary analysts and critics explain that the reader easily appreciates and relates to the fact that female subjectivity was used in the story to create and develop the female character that the readers have come to know and love in Jane Eyre the film and Jane Eyre as the empowered character herself. The main theme is thus the development of a central narrative voice, as the character, Jane Eyre, learns a use of language, while spinning the tale of her life and locating her identity and subjectivity within that narrative” (Azim 174). Other writers and analysts or literary critics made related observations and input when it comes to this aspect of the novel. For example, Lessard added a dimension in the discussion of the female subjectivity in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and the growing appreciation for the value of and discussion of female subjectivity in this particular story (Lessard 331).
This is considering how Jane Eyre and the narrative form her recollection of her life in this self confessed autobiographical work. All of these point to the subjectivity of Jane and the female subjectivity, in general. It has caught the attention not just of literary critics and analysts but even masters and musicologists who ventured in this realm and sought to interpret it in operatic music, in the hope of highlighting female subjectivity in the story.Its analysis provides answers to questions pertaining to the same query on female subjectivity (Lessard 331). The real question is how the novel displays the subjective female as how Jane Eyre is perceived by many who criticized and analysed this literary work through many different timelines. It is affected by the socio-cultural movements happening vis-a-vis the viewing and reviewing of Jane Eyre, its contents and its implications (i. e.
for example in relation to the changes in feminist movement, lesbian rights and women empowerment, etc).Amigoni explains that the female subjectivity of Jane in the story is affected by many different conditions and reflects in many different ways (and how the two are connected together). He explained that the female subjectivity is affected by social expectations (Amigoni 63). The reader wants Jane Eyre to be the candid narrator of her life. And yet, part of the reader expects Jane Eyre to be artistic about it, to be detailed about it, and in some respect, to follow certain traditional forms of personal autobiographical narrative.Bronte’s response to these impending expectations of the readers is the diversification of the character of Jane Eyre, someone who “juggles between genres in telling her story” (Amigoni 63). Jane Eyre immediately establishes her subjectivity or female subjectivity in this narrative by explaining to the reader that the story is a recollection of memories she can retrieve.
Thus, her story is subject to the limits as well as extent of her own memory and capacity for retrieving such episodes in her life which in turn impacts her subjectivity in the entire story.In the long run, the female subjectivity to which Jane Eyre is being viewed with, is displaced in many different components – to the autobiographer self, to the heroine self and to the objectified character. “We call for Jane to be less of an autobiographer, more of a novelistic narrator, and character, and heroine” (Amigoni 63). This discussion of Amigoni in the characters that Jane Eyre struggled to balance all throughout the story was a preparation and introduction to the true perspective of Amigoni regarding the female subjectivity in the novel.In this topic, Amigoni believes that the constant characteristic of the female subjectivity of Jane Eyre is found in its shifting form (Amigoni 63). The female subjectivity shifts depending on the shift in the tone and storytelling, depending on what Jane Eyre wears at a specific time and discussion somewhere in the story. Her being subjective as a female character is not compartmentalized on a scene per scene basis but is changing, shifting, evolving from one state of life to the next.
This is to consider how the experiences in her life during that stage impacts and affects her subjectivity. The point that we can make here is that Jane’s subjectivity is being constructed and reconstructed as the narrative shifts from one focus of spatial attention to the next. She uses these experiences so that she can create a mindset that helps her justify her actions and create a rationale to explain how and why things happened as they did in her life, affecting her subjectivity. 3. 2 Childhood as Roots to Subjectivity Some of the literary critics and analysts studying Jane Eyre believes that this novel speaks about a particular natural characteristic of the subjectivity. Subjectivity in adult life is strongly connected with subjectivity as well as experiences in childhood.As a Bildungsroman novel that allows the reader to travel with Jane Eyre from her early childhood years to adulthood, the reader is also allowed to see the experiences of Jane Eyre as a child.
These experiences became important considerations to the formation of Jane Eyre’s own subjectivity in her later, adult life. 3. 3 Criticisms As expected in literary criticism, the concept of female subjectivity and its presence in Jane Eyre and subjectivity as one of the novel’s strongest and most important characteristics are challenged by those who believe otherwise.Kaplan who wrote a criticism regarding subjectivity and Jane Eyre, believed that such subjectivity is not reflective in Jane Eyre (Kaplan 40). This novel, actually, is a futile attempt to delve into the psyche of the poor female character and bring about her own subjectivity on the issues affecting her life. The author and the novel appear to be out of touch with the true reality of the subjectivity of the poor as how Jane Eyre was perceived by some to be. This is in consideration to Jane Eyre and her financial and personal background as an orphaned, penniless individual who struggled for most of her life.
Kaplan’s assessment with regards to the subjectivity in the novel is scathing and powerful. Her accusations blunt are yet sharp and straightforward. She calls the novel “bourgeois” and its content bereft of any subjectivity, lacking actual insight in the mind frame of the true poor, struggling, oppressed, marginalized woman like Jane Eyre (Kaplan 40). “Nineteenth-century bourgeois novels like Jane Eyre tell us almost nothing about the self-defined subjectivity of the poor, male or female.For, although they are rich sources for the construction of dominant definitions of the inner lives of the working classes, they cannot tell us anything about how even these ideological inscriptions were lived by them” (Kaplan 40). There are also other possible criticisms that can be put forward especially with regards to the celebration of the female subjective in the story Jane Eyre. For one, the critical praise showered towards Jane Eyre as a character and as a story is highly questionable in some instances and cases considering the implication of the social condition that gave power to Jane Eyre.
Pro-feminist literary analysts dance around Jane Eyre as if it was a deity or something god-send that fuels the fire of women empowerment. It is one thing to accept that the society has indeed controlled, subjugated and silenced women, but it is an entirely different issue for women to pick up anything and translate it as a heroine text. With cynicism and scepticism, it is easy to see that those who hail the triumph of Jane Eyre are not actually basing it on literary merit.They try (albeit sometimes, in vain) to find something in Jane Eyre as well as in other texts and literary materials for things that they can use to inspire female and feminine power. This includes the praising of female subjectivity in Jane Eyre. In fact, similar to the earlier discussion on the lack of subjectivity of Jane Eyre especially on the life of the poor, people are misleading and misreading Jane Eyre for their own purposes and to satisfy their own need. Sometimes, it goes even to the extent of and expense of feigning literary merit and recognition when none exists in the first place.
As Azim has pointed out, the other face of Jane Eyre criticism especially on subjectivity is all about misreading Jane Eyre and misinterpreting it to extract whatever fake literary value they can conjure and use to convince the people about the greatness of Jane Eyre, say, on female subjectivity (Azim 172). “Women – feminist and non-feminist alike – have read and re-read Jane Eyre to celebrate it as a text where the female author, the female protagonist and the female reader are joined together in sisterly harmony and recognition” (Azim 172).The other question that needs to be answered in criticism and literary analysis, is the exploration of the possibility that maybe there is actually nothing more into it than that. The author, the character, the story and the readers are all intertwined and connected because of the similar desires, agendas and purposes one serves for the other. There is actually no real literary merit for discourse, like on female subjectivity. Other critics, who do not easily buy into the idea of Jane Eyre’s greatness as a story and a character, look at other flaws besides the spirit of sorority among women and feminist patrons supporting this text.There are those who believe that the process of literary analysis and merit discussion regarding aspects like the true value of female subjectivity and its real presence and essence in Jane Eyre is somewhat affected by the “rush to reclaim Jane Eyre as the heroine of a feminist novel” (Gunter, Wagener 10).
Thus, it compromised a significant part of the analysis. Attacking the real value of the female subjectivity in Jane Eyre and the idea that Jane Eyre as a character represents the position of women as narrating life and the world as she sees it free from the shackles of social and patriarchal influence and control.It can be disputed and easily a point of argument with no clear cut victory for either side. It is questionable whether Jane Eyre’s female subjectivity and her concept of representing autonomy and freedom via her story is actually applicable when in fact, everyone – normal and deviant – merely react to the expectations and behavior modification styles of the society. Jane Eyre’s subjectivity and even her defiance of the imperial male gaze are actually just one of the many ways individuals respond to the design of society.In the end, there is no autonomy or freedom represented and subjectivity was merely misread and misinterpreted for the readers’ own convenience and use. “Theoreticians point out that there is no autonomous and transcendent ‘I’ that is not marked by social coding” (Gunter, Wagener 10).
Conclusion Jane Eyre is one of the novels that has been identified by critics when it comes to dissecting the use of and presence of subjectivity as well as gaze. This is because author Charlotte Bronte was skilled enough and was equipped with literary knowledge, skills set and competence to guarantee that her story has that important and significant aspect.Subjectivity has been an important focus in the debate and discussion regarding analysis of literary content, as important as the discussion of gaze. These are seen in Jane Eyre because of the manner by which the character relates to the reader; by the quality of the tone of her narrative; by the things she focused on and the things she ignored; by the very fibre of her life spread in every letter of ever word in every page to which the readers hang on dearly.Fitting enough, the concept of subjectivity and the female subjectivity in Jane Eyre is not always meant with universal agreement since there are those who see differently. As for gaze, the inspection of the story reveals the presence of a variety of gaze, including the returned gaze and imperial gaze and the penetrating gaze, among others. Readers are invited to read more, to see more.
Jane Eyre herself is looking more and more inside her life as her narrative progresses, while many women stood by her side and saw what she saw, understood what she meant and sympathized with her emotions.