How does post-colonialism help in the interpretation and evaluation of Jane Eyre?

Topics: Western world, Jane Eyre, Edward Said Pages: 6 (2236 words) Published: November 16, 2013

How does Post-colonialism help in the interpretation and evaluation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre? Approaching Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre from a post-colonial reading, this essay seeks to address the theory of Universalism, observing how it is presented from a Eurocentric perspective in relation to Jane and her English prejudices. It will focus on the concept of ‘Other’ through the representation of Bertha Mason. Further to this it will also argue that ‘Otherness’ can also be reflected in Jane through the ‘analysis of colonizer/colonized relations’. Finally it will discuss the idea and relevance of Hybridity in the novel through Bertha’s creole heritage. The premise of this essay will be supported by the findings of literary critics such as Homi K. Bhabha, Bill Ashcroft, Ania Loomba and Peter Barry. Whilst addressing the theory of Eurocentric Universalism, the essay will begin by applying Edward W. Said’s Orientalism to the text, discussing the idea that ‘the orient helped to define Europe as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience’. The publication of Edward W. Said’s text Orientalism, developed the connotations and denotations of ‘the scholarly discipline called Orientalism’1 to accurately explain the Western World’s fabricated cultural notions. These perceptions assisted in the falsification of the Orient, and more specifically of the Middle East. These assumptions allowed Orientalism to become generated through a definitive distinction constructed between ‘the Orient’2 and ‘the Occident’ (Said, p.25) This perception of a definitive divide between the two, can significantly be seen in Bronte’s Jane Eyre. For example, the description of Jane’s appearance as ‘so little, so pale’3, in comparison to Bertha’s ‘discoloured … savage face’ (JE, p.283) immediately creates a difference between the two women. However, the perception of Orientalism is only incorporated into the text once Jane’s English nationality and Bertha’s Creole nationality are both fully established. Yet considering that Charlotte Bronte ‘had done little travelling’4, all of which was located in Europe, where did this epistemological perception of Orientalism evolve from? Said demonstrates how this ‘scholarly discipline’ was sustained by numerous ‘other disciplines such as philology, history, anthropology, philosophy, archaeology and literature’5. He continues by stating that Orientalism survives through academia and its principles about the Orient. A large quantity of scholars such as ‘writers … poets, novelists, philosophers, political theorists … accepted’ (Said, p.25) the straightforward division between the West and the East. This establishment which scholars accepted, not only created a divide between the Orient and the Occident but created a contrast. It allowed European culture to gain its own ‘identity by setting itself off against the Orient’ (Said, p.25). Said’s ‘expose of the Eurocentric universalism which takes for granted both the superiority of what is European or Western, and the inferiority of what is not’6 can be applied towards the interpretation of Jane Eyre. In one section of the novel Rochester compares Jane to ‘the Grand Turk’s whole seraglio’ (JE, p.269), Jane’s response to this, highlights her prejudices about the Eastern race, as she declares that ‘The Eastern allusion bit me again. “I’ll not stand you an inch in the stead of a seraglio,” … “so don’t consider me an equivalent for one…’ (JE, p.269). Her reaction to Rochester’s remark, emphasises her presupposed superiority over the East as she immediately becomes offended by the comment he infers. Although Jane Eyre presents a predominantly Eurocentric attitude, Britain’s imperial attitudes can also be ascertained through extended prejudices over other European countries. As Adele enters the room excitedly searching for her ‘boite’ (JE, p.129), Rochester suggests that she ‘take it into a corner, you genuine daughter of Paris, and amuse yourself with...

Bibliography: Ashcroft, Bill, Griffiths Gareth, and Tiffin, Helen, Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts, 2nd edn (New York: Routledge, 2007)
Ashcroft, Bill, Griffiths Gareth, and Tiffin, Helen, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures (London: Routledge, 1989)
Bhabha, Homi K, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994)
Brontë, Charlotte, Jane Eyre, ed. by Margaret Smith, 4th edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)
Cliff 's Notes, Jane Eyre: Charlotte Bronte (2003) [accessed 5 May 2013]
Loomba, Ania, Colonialism/Postcolonialism (London: Routledge, 1998)
Said, Edward W, 'Orientalism ', in Orientalism (New York: Random House, 1978)
Wittemore, Sarah, 'The Importance of Being English:  Anixety of Englishness in Charlotte Bronte 's Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys 's Wide Saragasso Sea ', (2008), in [accessed 6 May 2013]
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