The subject of imprisonment in regards to gender and identity is adequately presented in the novel by Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre in various contexts. Jane, who is the eponymous leading role, suffers imprisonment throughout the novel which interweaves the subject of women and imprisonment. She is subjected to suffering and mistreatment which is typical of the harsh prison's life in many places across the world. The subject of women and imprisonment is depicted within "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte as well as "A Sicilian Romance" By Ann Radcliffe to portray the concept of gender socialization in the contemporary society. These two authors disseminate the varying aspects of imprisonment in relevance to the women gender, a problem that exists in modern society. Despite the fact that women and men are subjected to equal rights in society, gender concerns such as sexual discrimination, domestic violence, motherhood, and even equal pay provoke the interest of several people. This essay analyses the novels "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte by and "A Sicilian Romance" By Ann Radcliffe from a feminist point of view with the aim to relate the female protagonists to contemporary women.
The theme of imprisonment is evident in the novel at a very early stage of the narration when Jane is restrained to the red room by her aunt, a room that to her she depicts to be of terror because that is the same room where her uncle Mr. Reed had died. Despite the fact that her aunt had promised her uncle and swore to him at the deathbed that she would take care of Jane, the exact opposite happened because the entire time Jane spent with her Aunt and cousins was very horrible. Jane is taken through torturous moments that takes puts her through regrets and lamentation; what wrong did she do to deserve such harsh treatments. This life experience is what led Jane to tell the doctor how cruel she felt being shut up alone, cruel to the extent she would never forget and let go (Bronte 10).
The red room was generally a horrible room particularly for any child like Jane having the knowledge that her uncle had passed away in this very room. This aspect of the red room clearly links the two wives of Rochester. However, a broader view of the concept of imprisonment of Jane is more evident by her orphaned condition which left her to be brought up among her venomous cousin and cold-hearted aunt. The red room can also be perceived by the reader as a metaphorical space which mirrors the rage in women, the concept of sexuality and even insanity. The scene of the red room implies a suggestive element to scrutinize how the narrator Jane understands and recreates her past life because Jane narrates clearly the whole process of her unconsciousness in the red room (Bronte, ch.10). the fundamental question that lingers in the mind of the readers at this point is the fact as to whether women require better prison facilities as compared to their male counterparts.
Another clear instance in which the author relays the message of imprisonment to the readers is that of Bertha the mad wife to Rochester who comes back to England from Jamaica with Grace Poole to be looking after her. However, the drinking habit of Grace and the cunning and malevolent nature of Bertha hence the reason why Bertha frequently escapes to set fire to her husband's room and then rips the bridal veil of Jane after which she looms over the terrified Jane like a vampire. Bertha is generally depicted as troubled and threating in the novel. Generally, Bertha is despairing for freedom from domestic monotony hence the concept of her imprisonment. Bertha is also threatening in the sense that she is the one who is responsible for covert, disrespectful laughter that Jane hears as he stands on the barricades of Thornfield Hall (Bronte, ch. 26).
On the other hand, Bronte has made descriptions of Bertha that draw on contemporary explanations of mental illness. Bertha is depicted as the obstacle between the way of marriage between Jane and Rochester and enclosed by a web of Gothic descriptions such as "goblin" and "vampire" (Bronte, ch. 20). However, the troubling perspective of Bertha is her mental instability even though Rochester perceives her madness as her own responsibility when he tells Jane that Bertha came of a family of a madwoman and drunkard and she did not make the right choice by copying her parents in both aspects. Despite the perception of Rochester of lack of sympathy for Bertha's mental illness, the author is emphasizing to the readers that mental illness is also a form of captivity.
Therefore whoever is responsible for taking care of the mentally ill should avoid anything which might arouse the impression of imprisonment. In Jane Eyre, the subjects of imprisonment are also depicted by the authority which identifies diverse realms of the sane and insane in which Bertha is recognized as a madwoman by Rochester. Even though Jane redefines the account of Rochester of his wife's insanity, Rochester affirms Bertha as outrageous. It is most likely however that Bertha embodies the rage of Jane and her insanity which doubles up although that does not eliminate the fact that the state of imprisonment of Bertha is as a result of authority from Rochester certifying Bertha as insane and Jane as Sane.
The other aspect of imprisonment in Jane Eyre is in the school at Lowood where food is inedible with beatings and dishonors together with the tiresome teaching approaches which are comprised of stiff religious methodology. By the time Jane was admitted at Lowood, she thought it was an escape from the imprisonment at Gateshead because the condition was not as mentally immoral as at Gateshead given the fact that Jane was contented and liked the company of her friends particularly Helen. However, there is the aspect of physical imprisonment in Lowood because there is no other place for her to go during the holidays which implies that she has to spend all her time there just like the terrifying events in the Castle which had frightening sounds and extraordinary lights in which Julia and Emilia were left by their father Ferdinando Mazzini in "A Sicilian Romance" By Ann Radcliffe (Radcliffe, ch 4).
The aspect of imprisonment in "A Sicilian Romance" By Ann Radcliffe not only depicted by the way the protagonist Julia is kept separated in a Castle with terrifying lights from a deserted wing but also by the way Julia is burdened by her immodest stepmother and authoritarian nature of her father. Her tyrannical father imposes authoritarian decisions to Julia like his proposal to marry Julia to wicked Duke instead of her dearly loved (Radcliffe, ch. 6).
Consequently, women are also imprisoned in their matrimonial lives like depicted in "Jane Eyre" Charlotte Bronte by as well as "A Sicilian Romance" By Ann Radcliffe. Marriage is a source of imprisonment for Jane in the light of the terrifying discoveries that exist in marriage which forces Jane to flee and find another family amongst Rivers and his sisters. In "A Sicilian Romance" By Ann Radcliffe Julia is imprisoned in her marriage despite her efforts to escape with her beloved Hippolytus to run away from the contemptible Duke of Luovo. However, in the time of her escape with Hippolytus, men sent by her father seemingly killed her beloved which left Julia with the only one possibility to flee from her tyrannical father and a life convicted to a loveless and unfortunate marriage. The aspect of marriage imprisonment is also portrayed by the revelations that happen to Julia when she tries to escape as she closely avoids detention and tails along a secret tunnel in the reckless and troubled southern apartments of Mazzini only to find her mother who she thought had been dead and yet had been restrained for three years by her father (Radcliffe, ch 14).
The two novels relate to contemporary women in the sense that all women want in contemporary society is identity and freedom in a society that is governed by the males. From the novel Jane Eyre, this aspect is depicted in the sense that the main aim of Jane was not to get married but to uphold her identity and freedom. This is the exact reason why Jane is depicted to be courageous and upstanding to confront the rules of her society and speak out her opinions every time she is mistreated. As for Jane, she is not concerned about her bully cousins and aunty or even the cruel Headteacher in school at Lowood. From the initial stage of the novel, Jane has the strength to stand up to her aunt which is why she punished by being restrained in the red room. In the contemporary society, women are perceived to submissively admit their proportion in life particularly the poor ones which are the contrary for the case of Jane evident by her conduct of talking back to people which is completely improper. Jane cannot keep silent and simply accept her state as a poor orphan which is also evident by her feminist ideals in her relationship with Rochester.
Similarly, in "A Sicilian Romance" By Ann Radcliffe, the protagonist portray the same feminist ideals of the contemporary woman just like Jane in the novel Jane Eyre by her relentless efforts to break out of the Castle with mysterious sounds and terrifying lights where she was imprisoned. The quest of Julia for freedom and identity is also portrayed by her multiple escape attempts from her lunatic father who wanted to force her marriage with the wicked Duke. The undying efforts of Julia to escape with her beloved Hippolytus are an exact reflection of the contemporary woman who is in the endless pursuit of freedom and identity in the society dominated by males.
Radcliffe, Ann Ward. A Sicilian Romance. Printed By B. Smith, For J. Moore, 1791.Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Vicens Vives, 2008.
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