Date of Award

10-2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Karla Alwes

Abstract

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a study in contrasts. Critics have argued the implausibility of the novel, that an orphaned governess who marries her dashing employer is too far-fetched to be believed. However, a proper understanding of Jane Eyre must be based not on a sequence of events, but on the thematic form of the novel in which the signifiers relate to each other and shift throughout. Ferdinand de Saussure explains in his "Course in General Linguistics," that the mental concept one has of a word is its "signifier" (62). Charlotte Bronte relies not simply upon a sequence of events to convey understanding, but on metaphors in which hot and cold temperatures act as signifiers. These temperature metaphors indicate a realization in Jane of her power through her conscious action of speaking. This power is conveyed and contrasted within the novel through Freudian imagery which further communicates the socially accepted "proper" position of the Victorian female. Nicola Nixon in her "Wide Sargasso Sea and Jean Rhys's Interrogation of the "nature wholly alien" in Jane Eyre," examines female stereotypes in Victorian literature. Nixon explains that in spite of the similarities between Bronte's plot structure in the novel and a fairy tale in which a damsel in distress finds her salvation with a strong man, there is more at work than a simple Cinderella story (269). She writes that "Bronte is conscious of the artificiality of this [romantic novel] structure, addressing ... directly the assumptions inherent in the romance paradigms upon which her novel is premised" (268). Nixon quotes Nancy Miller, stating that Bronte "provides a commentary on female plot itself" (Subject 208). Bronte ultimately calls the reader's attention to the inequity of a society in which a woman must marry "above her state" to gain any success in life, or at least be financially independent, something that rarely if ever happened for Victorian-era women.

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