Reactions to Patriarchal Oppression by Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason

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Reactions to Patriarchal Oppression by Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason
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Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason are both oppressed by the British patriarchal system were men are the makers, interpreters, and enforcers of social and political rules. However, these two women differ greatly in the ways that they accept and cope with the reality of their place in society, and it is these differences that ultimately determine their fate. Jane Eyre follows the rules. Although she initially revolts against what she believes to be unfair restrictions at Gateshead and Lowood, she soon discovers that rebellion carries a high price and, over time, she learns to modify her behavior to conform to socially accepted norms. Bertha Mason, on the
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24, 76; ch. 10). By contrast, Bertha is "a big woman, in stature almost equaling her husband, and corpulent besides" with a "virile force" and "purple...bloated features" (279; ch. 26). Jane is an impoverished orphan, and an English clergyman's daughter who is reared in a charity school; Bertha is an exotic Creole, and the pampered daughter of a wealthy Jamaican planter. Jane is modest, decorous, and virginal; Bertha is "'at once intemperate and unchaste'" (291; ch. 27). Edward Fairfax Rochester, husband to each, cannot imagine two women less alike. However, it is not these obvious physical, behavioral, class, and socioeconomic differences that are important when comparing the two. Rather, it is the difference in the way they accept their roles as women in a patriarchal society that defines the characters and determines the outcome of the story.

Bertha and Jane have no choice but to live within the male-dominated society into which they were born. Accordingly, their only feasible survival options involve "attaching themselves to . . . powerful or economically viable men" in one-way or another (Rich 143). However, in neither woman's case do the attachments provide a framework for independence, self-expression, or variation from society's rigid expectations, because "the asymmetrical power structures of the patriarchal family . . . have severely limited female development" (Wyatt 201). Intolerable oppression and injustice bring
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