Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Red-Room, or, "Theres's a Ghost in my Vagina"

In an attempt to break the Black/Glands duopoly that seems to have been propagated throughout the journal in a manner similar to the virulent spread of the plague of Converse All-Stars, let's see what you make of this old chestnut.

Commentary: The Red-Room, Jane Eyre, prior to Jane's Hallucinations

This passage is emblematic of Jane's struggle with a misruled, oppressive patriarchy, and her search for self-definition in an antagonistic environment.

Jane's apprehensive curiosity in the opening of the passage, expressed in the unsettling statement "the red-room was a spare chamber, very seldom slept in… yet it was one of the largest and stateliest" creates a threatening sense of mystery, augmented by intensely Gothic descriptions. The room is "chilled… silent… solemn", and Mrs. Reed's jewel box is labelled a "casket", all evoking connotations of mortality. Postponement of the revelation that this is the very room in which Mr. Reed died highlights its significance: the death of the patriarch creating a power vacuum inadequately filled by the agents of his deceased authority, John and Mrs. Reed.

This inadequacy is described in Jane's petulant account of the relationship between these two figures. John Reed, who is depicted as a grotesque caricature of masculinity, is sadistically destructive: "he twisted the necks of the pigeons, killed the pea-chicks… stripped the buds off the choicest plants"; casually misogynistic, in that "he called his mother 'old girl'… reviled her for her dark skin"; and contemptuously hypocritical - "he reviled her for her dark skin, similar to his own". Yet "no one thwarted, much less punished" John. Since he is the lone male of the household, Mrs. Reed does not oppose him; on the contrary, she displays a masochistic adoration of her son:

"John… bluntly disregarded her wishes; not unfrequently tore
and spoiled her silk attire; and yet was still 'her own darling'."

Jane displays a similarly masochistic approach to male relationships later in the narrative, notably in her attachments to Rochester and St John, both of whom hold sway over her, in spite of the emotional damage and restriction of freedom she realises each could bring.

This desperate need for patriarchal nurture and authority, which is expressed in the plaintive "I doubted not - had never doubted - that if Mr. Reed had been alive he would have treated me kindly", is precisely what Mrs. Reed fails to provide. She lacks the inclination to nurture her ward, and shows great "aversion" to Jane, the "scape-goat of the nursery"; she lacks the power to control her environment, as she is but a female agent of the patriarchy, and her limited capabilities are undermined by John's flagrant misuse of his power over her. As a result of these experiences, it is little wonder that Jane is later uncomfortable with the idea of domination by a male authority, hence her abrupt desertion of both Rochester (albeit due to his intended bigamy) and St John in turn - lest they force her to abandon the independence of her identity.

As a Bildungsroman, the development of Jane's identity is a prevalent theme throughout the novel; the red-room in particular elucidates Jane's struggle with her id, that facet of personality comprising primeval urges, atavistic desires, and hostile rebellion.

Furthermore, the Gothic furnishing, with its connotations of insanity and the occult, provides an effective precursor to Jane's paroxysms of rage. The bed is a "tabernacle", implying a preternatural spirituality, its "massive pillars" phallic emblems representing the patriarchy, as later when Brockelhurst and St John are similarly described as pillars. The coloration is strongly uterine, primarily reds and flesh tones, with "crimson cloth", and a "blush of pink", alluding to the belief that hysteria was caused by the clitoris, and that female insanity sprang from this region of the body.

The psychological instability of the passage is clearly established when Jane fails to recognise her own reflection, which she terms "the strange little figure there gazing at me", evoking a sense of division of the self, as though Jane were examining her own subconscious. The mesmerised tone of Jane's commentary continues when she describes the reflection as "half-fairy, half-imp", thus defining this image of herself as sinister, amoral, almost inhuman - a representation of the perfidious id. Her disturbed thoughts are depicted as "a dark deposit in a turbid well", an ominous emblem for the wild hysteria that soon rises to the surface of Jane's consciousness as her agitation increases.

Jane is frustrated by her constant abuse at the hands of those whom she strives to be accepted by:

"I dared commit no fault: I strove to fulfil every duty; and I was termed naughty and tiresome, sullen and sneaking, from morning to noon, and from noon to night."

Reflection on the injustice of her experiences quickly erupts into a furious mental torrent: "Why was I always suffering, always brow-beaten, always accused, forever condemned…" The blind rage that Jane exhibits is further evoked by the sentence structure of this section: divided into brief, thrusting, repetitive phrases, providing an explosive potency to the passage, and indicating her mental turmoil.

Furthermore, the broken, stumbling tension foregrounded by the fractured punctuation implies that the narrative focalisation of this anger is Jane the child. This demonstrates the immediate, overwrought pain of the juvenile bursting through the calmer control of the ironic, self-controlled adult narrator, as she is forced to relive her childhood traumas. The pyrotechnic display of Jane's innate rebelliousness, the first stage in the evolution of her personality, draws parallels with Bertha - the novel's epitome of feminine insanity, governed entirely by her id. However, she regains some semblance of emotional control, and the cooler logic of the mature Jane ("now, at the distance of - I will not say how many years, I see it clearly") interprets the inchoate rage of childhood into a meaningful comprehension:

"I was a discord at Gateshead Hall."

This bitter epiphany perfectly encapsulates Jane's position in society. Her existence in the class hinterland - orphaned daughter of a clergyman - means she does not quite belong to either the upper or the lower classes. In addition, it defines her inherent difference from the rest of her 'family'. Her cousins are presented as spoilt and decadent, in particular Georgiana, whose beauty (Jane declares, with evident bile) "seemed to purchase indemnity for every fault". This demonstrates the cosmetic superficiality of the status quo, in that it fails to recognise Jane's greater intellectual and startlingly individualistic worth. She strives to prove this through her strong moral standpoint and independence when, for example, she leaves Mr. Brocklehurst following his sacrilegious second offer of marriage.

Yet this quest for independence comes at a price, and it is here that Brontë first vividly depicts the nature of Jane's internal and external conflicts.



At 5:56 pm, Blogger Thaddeus "B." Glands said...

Vein's inability to acknowledge my recent name change amuses me.

Good to see you writing again, sir.

At 10:29 pm, Blogger Sable X. Veins said...

I've been failing to acknowledge it for months now, Thaddeus.

At 7:28 am, Blogger Thaddeus "B." Glands said...

Yes indeed!


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