In the novels Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, the theme of loss can be viewed as an umbrella that encompasses the absence of independence, society or community, love, and order in the lives of the two protagonists. They deal with their hardships in diverse ways. However, they both find ways to triumph over their losses and regain their independence.
The women in both novels endure a loss of personal freedom, both mental, and physical. Jane Eyre, in her blind infatuation with Mr. Rochester, allows her emotions to enslave her. She realizes her obsession when she states, "My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for his creature: of whom I had made an idol" (Bronte 241). By design, Rochester seduces Antoinette and deliberately makes her depend on him. Christophine, Antoinette’s servant, in a conversation with Rochester accusingly contends “you make love to her till she drunk with it, no rum could make her drunk like that, till she can’t do without it. It’s she can’t see the sun any more. Only you she see. But all you want is to break her up (Rhys 153). After becoming totally enslaved by her feelings for him, Rochester adds insult to injury by physically abusing Antoinette. Her complete and total love for Mr. Rochester, who is passionless and devoid of any empathy, causes her to lose her mind. She realizes her mistake in marrying this cold, calculating man and vehemently states, “You see. That’s how you are. A stone. But it serves me right…” (Rhys 148). Jane and Antoinette’s uninhibited desire to please those whom they love becomes detrimental to their peace of mind. Jane does everything she can to please St. John, her cousin, which ends with her completely paying no heed to her own thoughts and feelings. She realizes her dependence on his opinion, declaring “As for me, I daily wished more to please him: but to do so, I felt daily more and more that I must disown half of my nature, stifle half my faculties, wrest my tastes from their original bent, force myself to the adoption of pursuits for which I had no natural vocation. He wanted to train m...
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...'I scorn your idea of love,' I could not help saying, as I rose up and stood before him, leaning my back against the rock. 'I scorn the counterfeit sentiment you offer: yes, St. John, and I scorn you when you offer it'" (Bronte 359). Jane similarly leaves Rochester when she finds out about his deceit. When Antoinette realizes Rochester does not love her, she scorns him, saying “my mother whom you all talk about, what justice did she have? My mother sitting in the rocking chair speaking about dead horses and dead grooms and a black devil kissing her sad mouth. Like you kissed mine” (Rhys 147).
Although the two women are fundamentally different people, they face many similar challenges throughout their lives. Jane and Antoinette respond to each type of loss they experience differently, and these choices ultimately demonstrate Jane’s inner strength and Antoinette’s inherent vulnerability, resulting in two very different endings, one happy and the other tragic.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. Ed. Angela Smith. London: Penguin, 1997.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London, Penguin Books Ltd.: 1996. (Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Michael Mason).
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