The Language of Slavery in Jane Eyre

2611 Words6 Pages

While Bronte’s novel is a story of one woman’s rise from dependant, patriarchal oppression to financial stability and emotional liberation, the narration of that story is often turns to the figurative representation of slavery. Bronte applies the metaphor of slavery to the domestic trials facing British women at the time. Time and again her narrative language turns to this device in order to draw parallels between slavery and other vehicles of oppression, namely gender and class. Just as the majority of issues in the novel are two-sided, the implications of these parallels are two-sided as well. Carl Plasa, Lecturer in English at the University of Wales College of Cardiff, clearly explains the dichotomy in his essay "Silent Revolt":

The deployment of a metaphorics of slavery as a way of representing forms of domestic oppression is, from one perspective, both rhetorically powerful and a politically radical maneuver. Yet from another perspective--that precisely of those who are or have been enslaved, experienced the metaphor, as it were--such a strategy can only be viewed as deeply problematic. (67-8)

If Bronte had turned to these metaphors solely "as a way of representing forms of domestic oppression" the effect would have been positive. Her references to slavery would have come across as "rhetorically powerful" and "politically radical". Unfortunately, Bronte goes too far. She creates a narrator, Jane, who exploits images of slavery, using them to obtain personal gain and dismissing them when convenient.

It is obvious that Bronte makes use of the experiences of the British colonies throughout the text of Jane Eyre. In an effort to make her readers more comfortable Bronte chooses not to address the issue of British dom...

... middle of paper ...

...hough her troping of the language of slavery is problematic, she creates through her novel, as Meyers says in her essay, "a fascinating example of the associations-- and dissociations-- between a resistance to the ideology of male domination and a resistance to the ideology of colonial domination" (162).

Works Cited

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 1848. Ed. Beth Newman. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996.

Burns, Sir Alan. History of the British West Indies. London: Allen & Unwin, 1965.

Meyer, Susan. "From ‘Colonialism and the Figurative Strategy of Jane Eyre.’" Post-Colonial Theory and English Literature: A Reader. Ed. Peter Childs. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1999. 149-163.

Plasa, Carl. "Silent Revolt: Slavery and the Politics of Metaphor in Jane Eyre." The Discourse of Slavery. Ed. Carl Plasa and Betty J. Ring. London: Routledge, 1994. 64-93.

Open Document