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Jane and Bertha also share other characteristics that emphasize Bertha's significance in the novel. As an adult, Jane comes to certain realizations about her life and the world in which she lives. First she realizes that men and women are basically the same in that "women feel just as men feel" (117) and it is "thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex"(117). Jane is aware of this fact but there is little outside her own mind that she can do about it. It should come as no surprise that Jane hears Bertha's outburst after conceiving such unconventional thoughts. Here we can see how the two women are living parallel lives in that they are both strong women that do not wish to be held back by the constraints of a male-dominated world. Nina Auerbach maintains this idea, noting how Thornfield and Rochester share many features that are a "reflection of Jane's inner world" (Auerbach 49). When a conflict arises with either of these subjects, one of these two characters will act. If these characters are indeed living in parallel universes, then Bertha's uninhibited fervor is the result of "Jane's own fire" (Auerbach 49). While a grown up Jane would never step out of line, a younger Jane in the red reacted differently. Here we can see how Bertha comes to reflect Jane's world early in her life. Jane even senses this when she sees her reflection in a mirror. She says of the one she sees:
All looked colder and darker in the visionary hollow than in reality: and the strange little figure there gazing at me, with a white face and arms specking the gloom, and glittering eyes of fear moving where all else was still, had the effect of a real spirit. I thought it like one of the tiny phantoms, half fairy, half imp. (9)
Here we see that Bronte is preparing us (and Jane) for the turbulent events that will occur in her life. This also lets us know that Jane has this tumultuous side to her personality. In fact, we know that Jane is fiercely independent for her time. Jane retains her composure through most of the novel but it is important to note that the women are different in their ability to act independently. Jane can and does leave Rochester while Bertha cannot. Both women respond to their circumstances and environments in ways that suit them and in the only ways that they can. Jane has the will to leave and she does so. Bertha has the ability to exhibit erratic behavior and she does so when she feels so compelled. They are alike in more ways than one and their lives mirror each other more than either of them would like to admit.
Bertha Mason may be a minor character in Jane Eyre but her significance is major. She represents the side of Jane that is often suppressed. Bertha is a symbol for all of the fire and angst that Jane sometimes feels but cannot always express. Bronte places Bertha near Jane when she seems to need her most. When Jane cannot enjoy trying on dresses because Rochester is ruing the experience for her, Bertha makes a surprise entry and rips a veil. In addition, when Jane can do nothing but leave the home that she shared with Rochester, Bertha turns around and sets it on fire. Bertha reflects Jane is many ways. They are both women that must live in a male-dominated world and this can be disconcerting at times. While it would seem that two women would tear each other's eyes out, they might be good friends in other circumstances because they both posses strong personalities and, one way or another, they must be heard. When Jane cannot act, Bertha does. In this way, the two compliment each other. Bertha symbolizes the fiery side of Jane's personality that must sometimes be kept in check. Jane, on the other hand, is the strong women that women of her day all wish they could be, including Bertha. The character of Bertha is significant to the development of not just the novel, but Jane as well.
Auerbach, Nina. "Thornfield and Rochester." Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Harold Bloom, ed. Bromall: Chelsea House Publishers. 1996.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Scholastic Books. 1962.
Makley, Arnold a. "An overview of Jane Eyre." Exploring Novels.…[continue]
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