The Colonial Implications in Jane Eyre and Great Expectations

Powerful Essays
"It should not be possible to read nineteenth-century British literature, without remembering that imperialism, understood as England's social mission, was a crucial part of the cultural representation of England to the English." (Spivak, 1985, p, 12) Can these claims of Spivak be applied to Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and to what extent do these novelists draw from the colonial discourse in their representation of the `non- Western world'? The Victorian novel has performed an important service in Eurocentric epistemologies and colonial ideologies in formulating the colonial discourse and establishing the alterity of `self' and the `Other'. Both Great Expectations and Jane Eyre, like most novels produced in the Victorian period, contain colonial subtexts and form a significant part of the cultural discourse of the empire. Moreover, both Jane Eyre and Great Expectations derive greatly from the imperial discourse in their stereotypical ways of representing the non- Western world. In Jane Eyre, the character of Bertha Mason, who is a Creole by birth, provides the site for the colonial encounter in the novel. The figure of the Creole had been brought into being solely by the colonial ventures and this category is applicable only to European settlers and their descendents in the colonies or to the people of mixed European and native origins. The above position denotes an access to colonial wealth and power. However, the possibility of racial intermixture destabilizes the seat of this power and particularly, in the eyes of the Europeans, a Creole is regarded as racially inferior. Further, a Creole is differentiated from the `authentic' native and represents multiple points of disloc... ... middle of paper ... ...eady constructed by the colonial discourse. The closures of both novels lend affirmation to the imperial project and "instead of being an exploration of the racial Other, such literature merely affirms its own ethnocentric assumptions; instead of actually depicting the outer limits of `civilization', it simply codifies and preserves the structures of its own mentality." (JanMohamed, 1985, p.19) Clearly, Dickens's and Bronte's view of the non-Western world is ingrained in them as a powerful discourse which sets the limits of their perceptions regarding empire, and their representation of the colonial world is informed and shaped by the above fact. Thus, as Said has stated, Culture and the aesthetic forms it contains derive from historical experience and the individual writings of the Victorian era are very much a part of this relationship between culture and empire.