Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Does Jane Err?

Our class discussion of Jane Eyre has been lively, but not as brutal to the heroine of the story as it was for poor Miss Manette in Tale of Two Cities. Jane, the Usual Suspect points out, does many stupid things (including a faint or two!), but he does not dislike her.

We are using the excellent Lost Tools of Writing along with our literature studies, which often requires that we consider the choices our characters make as an essay prompt. This is particularly effective, as there are always plenty of poor decisions made by the characters in any great novel. Jane Eyre is no exception, and, in fact, if you hear the students discuss it, she makes more mistakes than any character in the western canon. According to them, Jane does indeed err.

Part discussion, part exercise, finding flaw in a character's actions is entertaining fodder for discussion and argument. Students asked:

Should Jane have married Rochester? Should she have left Thornfield? Should she have walked far? Should she have knocked on a door and sought help (this particular moment of indecision nearly spoiled the novel for some students)? Should she have taken her jewels when she left? Should she have married St. John? 

Fortunately for Jane, the questions were not limited to her character. Students considered the actions of Rochester as well, from his decision in youth to marry Bertha, to his hiring a governess for Adele, to his care and keeping of a mad wife, and finally to his proposal and near bigamous marriage to Jane. Certainly, Jane is not alone in her errors.

Other interesting points for discussion were atmosphere, spirituality, Jane's odd art (what's up with that, really?), beauty, ugliness, clothing, and more. A favorite scene, students said, is Rochester's impersonation of the Gypsy fortune teller, which, as several pointed out, could have been left out of the story.  But, they realized through discussion, this scene provides the reader with the only real view of Jane from a perspective outside of herself. Was Rochester right to do this to Jane? If we consider that Bronte, through Rochester, does this for the sake of the reader, well, yes. And doesn't it give us some insight into Rochester's character, too? Is he just teasing her?

Like TTC, I suspect this is a novel which will stick with us through the rest of the year, prompting comparisons and inspiring deeper reading.

Between novels, we take a look at poetry. Next week, the students are reading Whittier's Maud Muller...

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Ana Braga-Henebry said...

I too think that scene could have been done without. I got to know Jane without it.

Ana Braga-Henebry said...

I too think that scene could have been done without. I got to know Jane without it.

Jessica Schaefer said...

Really interesting take on Rochester and Bertha in Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, if anyone is interested in follow up.

Jessica Schaefer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MacBeth Derham said...

Jess, I was looking at that. Is it appropriate for high school?