How are Jane, Edward and Bertha all imprisoned in different ways and circumstances? What berates them? How do these different processes indicate individual responsibilities and pursuing freedom?

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Miquelle Radich eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jane, Edward and Bertha, though in very different positions in the novel, are all constrained or "imprisoned" by different surmountable and insurmountable factors. 

The beginning of the novel emphasizes Jane's quite literal imprisonment in the Reed's house, where she is once actually locked in a room until she faints. Her parents' early death leaves her an orphan, and she is consequently financially limited and dependent wherever she goes--at the Reed's and then at Lowood. It is not until she is at Thornfield Hall that Jane begins to feel liberated from these constraints. She gains some sense of freedom when she decides to leave Lowood, find other work, and even when she leaves Mr. Rochester. Ultimate freedom comes when she becomes truly financially independent, but there is much to be said for Jane's increasing ability to make her own decisions. 

Edward's imprisonment also goes back to his family history. To some extent, he is constrained even before the novel begins by his father's wishes--it is apparently not his own choice to marry Bertha. Later, he is imprisoned by Bertha herself: first because he must deal with her increasing insanity, later because he must take care of her, and finally because he cannot remarry and truly find happiness while she is still alive. Even in the end of the novel, Edward is somewhat imprisoned by his blindness. 

Bertha is perhaps the most literally imprisoned character in Jane Eyre, as she is actually locked in the attic of Thornfield Hall. Also figuratively imprisoned by her own insanity, Bertha's only means of liberation is suicide. 

 

asears2 | Student

These major characters are all imprisoned in different ways according to their societal status and relationship to one another.

Jane’s upbringing is riddled with imprisonment as we see her quite literally trapped in the red room at the Reed family’s cold home. She also becomes mentally entrapped at the Lowood school where figures like Mr. Brocklehurst stifle Jane’s rambunctious personality, molding her to the perfect, passive governess of the time. Although Jane’s first real job at Thornfield allowed her to gain some inklings of freedom through being away from Lowood and teaching Adele, her romantic desires for her boss—Mr. Rochester—make her so conflicted that she feels compelled to leave Thornfield. While some may argue that Jane’s independent return to Thornfield after becoming financially independent was her ultimate liberation, others could argue that Jane’s final decision to return to Rochester—a man who lied to her and trapped Bertha in a closet for years—perpetuates her captivity. From a feminist perspective, while Jane is financially independent, she returns to a much older man who probably doesn’t deserve her, agreeing to take care of his daughter and becoming his wife with only his love in return.

Rochester is imprisoned as well, but unlike Jane’s experiences of abandonment, his imprisonment comes from his family’s privilege. Rochester is subject to his father’s wishes as indicated by their letter correspondence. Rochester cannot make personal decisions (marriage) for himself because of his dad, and then his life becomes coopted by Bertha’s growing insanity. Keeping Bertha hidden and trapped in Thornfield’s walls only reifies his self-imposed entrapment of guilt and loneliness. At the end of the novel, Rochester is “freed” once Bertha dies in the house fire and he loses his sight, allowing him to fully and authentically attach himself to Jane.

Bertha Mason, in my opinion, is the most “imprisoned” character in this novel. While she is literately trapped in a hidden room and trapped in her marriage with Rochester, Bertha is subject to much more than the plot lets on. Bertha is trapped because of her gender. She is originally described as beautiful and exotic, but as her beauty quickly fades to a pale, vampire-like appearance, Bertha is depicted as a frightening and hideous figure actively destroying Rochester’s life. The focus is never on Bertha’s position; all attention is given to Rochester. Looking at the text from a postcolonial perspective, Bertha was destined for her trapped life the moment she married this foreign man because her Creole roots permanently separate her from her English husband. After years of confinement, Bertha’s only plausible attempt at achieving freedom was suicide when she set fire to Thornfield.