The Madwoman in the Attic Essay
The short writing assignment will ask that you analyze “The Woman in the Attic” through ONE of the following lenses: -Feminist – (subjugated by patriarchy) -Post-Colonial (images of the Other, the Colonized v. British Empire) -Psychological/Psychoanalytic – (Is she a fragment of Jane’s Unconscious, etc. ) -Marxist (analyze in terms of class, economic status) The Signal From the Madwoman Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre supports a feminist methodology through the depiction of the paradigmatic madwoman in the attic, Bertha Mason. Imprisoned by her husband, Rochester, Bertha represents the suppression of Victorian marriage.
Displayed as a madwoman, Bertha’s loss of freedom reflects Jane’s loss of autonomy when agreeing to marry Mr. Rochester. Jane’s struggle throughout this novel reinforces the significance of the female role in both marriage and in society. Through a feminist lens, women are appreciated, celebrated, and valued. However, Rochester degrades and suffocates the women in his life to ensure his authority and dominance. Bronte’s use of clothing as the symbol of suppression, demonstrates Jane’s battle of finding autonomy as she sees the repressed madwoman in the attic.
Overall, Bronte addresses the highly challenging, yet ubiquitous concurrence of madness and feminism. Through the deceiving, masked facade of clothing, Rochester knows how to gain power with a woman. Dressed as a gypsy to deceive Jane, Rochester connives into a masked identity to hear Jane’s opinion of her master. After the gypsy eagerly asks Jane questions about Rochester, she confesses that she “‘did not come to hear Mr. Rochester’s fortune: I [she] came to hear my [her] own’” (Bronte 171).
Rochester cunningly dresses up as a gypsy, using this false identity to his advantage in tightening his string on Jane. His ravishing garments mask away his strong, masculine features. However, no mask or garment can hide his strive for power over the women in his life. Jane Eyre, a character searching for autonomy, sacrifices her own sovereignty when manipulated under Rochester’s powerful spell. Even before the marriage date, Jane expresses her doubts, especially when Rochester is determined to manage even just the slightest things about Jane, like controlling the raiment on her plain pale and pure body.
After searching for a dress and veil, Rochester grows determined to dress his little obscured doll how he pleases, “I felt he was either deluding himself, or trying to delude me. ‘I will attire my Jane in satin and lace’” (Bronte 221). The symbolism of the gaudy satin and lace personifies Jane’s role as a future wife who will satisfy Rochester’s desires, as he dominates and deludes Jane. Rochester pushes Jane to wear the ravishing garments, symbolizing his persistence to control Jane, degrading her as his perfect little doll.
The veil plays a crucial role with the discovery of Rochester’s first wife, Bertha, who became stifled by marriage. Jane envisions mysterious and supernatural dreams and her veil becomes ‘“torn from top to bottom, in two halves! ’ I felt Mr. Rochester start and shudder” (Bronte 243). Bertha, the untamed resident of the third floor asylum, is the one who destroys the veil. The first wife is perceived as a mad, dark, sensual woman. However, Mr. Rochester is the instigator of her containment and psychotic behavior when isolating her in the third floor.
Bertha signals a burning warning to Rochester’s new victim. The veil is the SOS sign needed in order for Jane to recognize her role in this Victorian marriage. Before the marriage, Jane places the veil on only to see “a robed and veiled figure…the image of a stranger” (Bronte 242) in the mirror. Readers learn Bronte’s support for feminism earlier in the book, “Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel…they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation” (Bronte 93).
The representation of Bertha is absolutely not calm and rebukes the Victorian period’s expectations for women. Bertha’s home in the third floor is physically and metaphorically a restraint, like a garment of a corset. Bertha, the symbol of female hysteria and estrangement, foreshadows what Jane can potentially turn into when being suppressed under Rochester’s tight raiment of marriage. Bronte understands women’s needs and desires to unlace their suppression and restraints when using Bertha’s role to help Jane bust out of the binding life Rochester holds for her.