Foreign In Jane Eyre

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“The Foreign” in Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre was published in England, in 1847, during the height of the Victorian era. Given this cultural and historical backdrop, it can be easily conceived as a socially progressive novel, unabashedly challenging the values of its day. In a patriarchal society, it exalts as a heroine a young woman whose appeal lies in her homeliness, cleverness, stubbornness, outspokenness, and self-assuredness—in short, defiance of the traditional feminine ideal. In a bourgeois society, it endorses the leveling of class hierarchies, with respect to both wealth and occupation. Kind “superiors”, who treat their “underlings” with fairness and respect, are consistently commended, and cruel ones condemned (as manifested,
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Jane Eyre, to put it bluntly, is xenophobic. The message the novel relays to its readers is, on one level, entirely lacking in subtlety—“the foreign is foul” it declares, calmly and without the slightest trace of irony, for it takes for granted this equivalence as a simple fact of reality. Wickedness emanates from virtually every non-British entity that makes an appearance in the novel. Little Adèle’s French-ness is her flaw; Bertha’s Creole and Caribbean roots are the roots of her madness; Mr. Rochester’s European-wide excursions are experiments in moral depravity; Jane, if she were to go, was destined to die in India. Still, the novel’s rejection of foreign forces isn’t purely visceral. There is an order to the degrees of degeneracy; the farther away from home one strays, the bigger the problems that come one’s way (where “home” denotes merry ol’ England), the novel seems to say. It further operates on the principle that the obvious discrepancy between the local and the foreign need not remain static and separated. In fact, this perceived British (and in some cases, Western) superiority becomes both a motivation and justification for a select kind of interaction (or interference) with those poor, pitiful, decidedly lower “others”. British forces, when mixed with non-British forces, always have the effect…show more content…
It is in Spanish Town, Jamaica, that Mr. Rochester makes the devastating decision of marrying Bertha, a woman of Creole (which seems to indicate “mixed-blood”) descent, and who was brought up in the West Indies. Here, in truly faraway territories, materialism and shallowness is taken to even greater heights than in continental Europe. At least in Europe, Rochester has a passing awareness of the despicability of his actions and of his personal discontent; he knows he cannot take seriously the women he meets; he knows the glitter and glamor of Parisian lights are artificial and transitory. Moreover, in spite of the morally dubious situations in which he finds (or places) himself while in Europe, his project there is grounded in noble intentions; he seeks to “find a good and intelligent woman, whom he could love” (Ch. 27, p.). Mr. Rochester’s and Bertha’s union, on the other hand, represents an institutional commitment to materialism. Each one marries the other for superficial reasons; Mr. Rochester, because he is attracted to Bertha’s wealth and beauty, and Bertha, because she considers Rochester to be “of a good race” (Ch. 27, p. 310). Neither individual cared to gauge the viability of the marriage on the basis of personal
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