Extended Character Analysis
Bertha Mason Rochester is Mr. Rochester’s wife throughout most of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Mr. Rochester’s father had arranged and pushed Mr. Rochester to marry her in an effort to gain money and status. However, Mr. Rochester was unaware of the monetary gain until after he had married her. Bertha is a Creole woman from Jamaica and is described as having been “tall, dark, and majestic.” During Mr. Rochester’s visit to Jamaica, he was quickly courted by her and encouraged to marry by both of their families. He married her without getting to know her and soon found that he did not love her.
Unbeknownst at first to Mr. Rochester, Bertha’s family has a history of mental illness. Her mother had been placed in an institution, and her younger brother had mental disabilities. Mr. Rochester slowly finds this out, and as he begins to get to know Bertha, he sees that he is entirely incompatible with her. Bertha allegedly mistreats him for much of their marriage, and she is unable to hold a conversation with him without employing verbal abuse. A doctor diagnoses Bertha eventually, claiming that she is suffering from the beginnings of insanity. Bertha and Mr. Rochester live together in Jamaica for a few years after. However, Mr. Rochester falls into despair over Bertha’s mental state and her mistreatment of him. He decides, as a last effort to save himself, to move back to Europe with her.
The period in which Jane Eyre is set—the Victorian era—was a time in which the British had extensive rule over many parts of the world. Mr. Rochester marrying and then taking a Jamaican woman from her home reflects the colonialist nature of England at the time. Furthermore, Jane Eyre stands as a gothic novel not only because it is dark and gloomy, but also because it has the classic and expected “monster” present within the story. Due to Bertha’s being from a different country and being considered insane, she is drawn out as a monster. It is not Mr. Rochester, who is aggressive and often creepy, or Mrs. Reed, who is cruel and apathetic—it is Bertha who is ostracized and vilified within Jane Eyre. It is not seen as problematic for Bertha to be taken and then isolated for her mental health issues. It is only problematic for Mr. Rochester, who worries for himself and his reputation. This shows that the white English men and women are cared for and have a degree of autonomy, while Bertha, who is from another (quite different) country, is othered, trapped, and misunderstood.
In England, Mr. Rochester locks Bertha in the attic at Thornfield Hall and hires the servant Grace Pool to care for her. Bertha is purposely hidden away so that Mr. Rochester’s name and status aren’t “sullied.” Bertha lives in the attic for several years, and when Jane comes along, Bertha begins acting out. She first sets fire to Mr. Rochester’s bed, which Jane luckily catches before he is burned alive. Bertha also stabs Mr. Mason, her brother, when he visits Thornfield, and when Jane is set to marry Mr. Rochester, she goes into Jane’s room in the middle of the night and tears up Jane’s wedding veil.
Bertha is described as inhuman in many ways throughout Jane Eyre. Jane describes her laugh as “demoniac” and she is referred to as a “hyena” or “Tigress.” The turning of Bertha from human into strange wild animal highlights the loss of Bertha’s humanity in the other character’s eyes. When turned inhuman, she no longer can garner respect or empathy.
If read as feminist commentary,...
(The entire section is 940 words.)