Power, Love, and Self in Jane Eyre: Examining Theme and Language

ASSIGNMENT AND RATIONALE

As a student of literature, I have always been engaged by both the complex nature of theme and the emergence of theme through the author’s style–his or her imagery, diction, syntax, tone, and structural choices. Perhaps because of a poetic thread that runs through my family, I am the kind of reader who lingers on certain passages, phrases, and words. I say these things aloud, turn them over in my mind, look them up, bounce them off the people around me, and tuck them away for later resurfacing. In short, I read literature not only to learn lessons about the complexity of life–distilled into complex themes–but also to learn lessons about language and how language furthers theme.

Theme and language are indeed my two main interests as I continue reading Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel Jane Eyre. Looking back on the first two volumes of Jane Eyre before I begin reading the third, the themes that have gripped me most so far are those of power, love, and self. Empathizing with our stalwart narrator, Jane, I have watched her transition from a child with little apparent power to an adult with–at the very least–the power of self-awareness. This development of self has also engaged me, as has the possibility for Jane to have her self affirmed by the love of others. Resonant to readers of any age, the themes of power, love, and self are, I believe, especially resonant to high school students, who are themselves gaining a greater understanding of these themes in their own lives. If I were to lead my students in an examination of the themes of power, love, and self in Jane Eyre, I would expand the following lesson elements.

SELECTED LESSON ELEMENTS

Essential Questions / Analysis Goals

  1. How do themes of power, love, and self develop over the course of Jane Eyre? (RL.11-12.2)
  2. How do the themes of power, love, and self interact and build on one another to ultimately complicate the universal truths argued by the text? (RL.11-12.2)
  3. How do the figurative and connotative layers of Brontë’s language help to illuminate the themes of power, love, and self? (RL.11-12.4)

Process

  1. Formative Assessment: Students’ regular keeping of theme-focused annotations in the form of double-entry journals
  2. Formative Assessment: Mid-novel and end-of-novel small group and class discussions, leading to the creation of a class study-guide which notes and analyzes thematic passages (example below)
  3. Summative Assessment: Open-study guide and open-book timed writing which requires students to make an argument responding to two or more of the essential questions posited

Example Study Guide Organizer for Thematic Analysis

Textual Evidence Analysis of Thematic Complexity + Possible Complex Themes Analysis of Style’s

Relation to Theme

Quotes that intertwine the themes of power, love, and self How are the themes of power, love, and self interacting within this quote? What possible thematic statements could be supported at this moment? How do the figurative and connotative layers of Brontë’s language help to illuminate the themes of power, love, and self?
“I resisted all the way…The fact is, I was a trifle beside myself; or rather out of myself, as the French would say: I was conscious that a moment’s mutiny had already rendered me liable to strange penalties, and, like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths…‘Master! How is he my master? Am I a servant?’ ‘No; you are less than a servant, for you do nothing for your keep. There, sit down, and think over your wickedness’” (Brontë 26).
  • Jane’s motives and actions are misunderstood by the figures of Bessie, Miss Abbot, and Mrs. Reed, who chastise, punish, and demean her for standing up for herself.
  • Despite thinking of herself as a rebellious slave–which implies some self-awareness and self-advocacy–Jane at this point seems still to value highly the opinions that others hold of her. This is echoed in later chapters when she is publicly shamed at school.
  • POSSIBLE COMPLEX THEME AT THIS MOMENT: When children are denied power and love by the adults in their lives, they must detach themselves from outward reality and look inward to give value to the self.
IMAGERY: symbolism of Jane as a rebellious slave +  hostile, destructive mood
DICTION: “slave,” “master,” “servant” = connotations of oppression, subjugation, violence + powerlessness + self defined by work (no intrinsic value) + impossibility of being loved by others
DICTION (ctd.): “mutiny,” “rebel slave” = possibility for power? possibility for self in rebellion? possibility for heroic self-image?
ATTITUDE/TONE: sympathetic to Jane

Closing Thoughts

Throughout Jane Eyre, there are many passages that lend themselves to the study of multiple themes at once. Perhaps these types of passages could also lend themselves to the use of multiple critical lenses at once.

 

Works Cited

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 1847. Rpt. in Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism: Jane Eyre.

2nd ed. Ed. Beth Newman. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2015. Print. 21-437.

Newman, Beth, ed. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism: Jane Eyre. 2nd. ed. Boston, MA:

Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2015. Print.

 

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