There are few main female characters in the novel Jane Eyre. The image of Jane Eyre is flawless; she is kind, humble, and honest with herself and in the eyes of God. She represents a woman living in entirely patriarchal society. The image of Jane Eyre reflects the feminine stereotype in the society of that time. The novel reflects the common view that women are duty-bound to be mainly homemakers. Jane Eyre is described as a submissive, enduring, dutiful, hard-working, and soft character lady, so she absolutely fits the ideal of a ‘good woman’ in accordance with the expectations of society. At the same time, the spirit of protest and independence is a red line and the key motive of the novel. It is hard to believe that Jane Eyre is the first woman who tells about her feelings to her beloved. It was inadmissible to write about such things in the Victorian novel! Even the way Jane Eyre expresses her feelings shows this desire of equality. She states that she has the same heart and the same soul as men do.
At first glance, the character of Jane Eyre might resemble that of Cinderella. It seems that both of them have a difficult life and then find their prince and become rich. Nevertheless, there is something more behind Jane Eyre’s story than just a ‘rags to riches’ plot. Her personality is one of the most complicated in a literature and to shed light on it, the author introduces the character of Bertha Mason. Thanks to her the readers can see the hidden motives and desires of Jane Eyre. The key element of Bertha as the doppelgänger is that she is ‘evil twin’ of Jane. Though readers may dislike Bertha as first, they would change their view after estimating her real role in the novel. This essay will try to compare both characters and look for the hidden symbolism of Bertha’s character.
To start with, the differences between two women are obvious. While Jane is a calm and quiet person, Bertha looks like a maniac. This character personifies an inner part of Jane Eyre because she yearns to live free and can stand the oppression of the society of that time. She indeed doubles Jane Eyre’s smothered life.
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Since her childhood Jane Eyre experiences tyranny in various forms. She is nothing but the unwanted and abused child. She never knows what a good treatment is, either in school or at home. Wherever she goes, wherever she lives, she never feels absolutely free. She realizes she has no choice for another life in that patriarchic kind of society where women are always subjugated. Nevertheless, she is sometimes bothered with a thought about the meaning of her sufferings. Sometimes she wonders why she must endure the hardships of her life silently, while allowing other people to oppress her. Even being locked in the Red Room, Jane questions herself why she should be "always suffering, always accused, and forever condemned" (Brontë 46). Gradually she realizes that such kind of treatment is unfair. This enlightenment provokes her to think about "escaping from insupportable oppression" (47). Unluckily, Jane can not escape it. Moving from place to place she can only hope it might become weaker. No woman can escape oppression of ‘society of Mr. Rochester’.
Bertha Mason's life embodies oppression. Locked away in a hidden room, her freedom comes when her keeper gets drunk and falls asleep. Only then she can slink around the house and go crazy. There is a noticeable parallel between these two ‘room cases’. Bertha is locked in her secluded room just as Jane is locked in the Red Room and in wider context into her smothered life.
Both characters have some traits in common. Jane Eyre’s speech to Mrs. Reed at Gateshead expresses so many of the sentiments we would expect Bertha to hold. The oppressive nature of the Red Room and the vindictive power of John and Mrs. Reed in Jane’s life are parallel to the hardships of Bertha’s life. Just as Jane attacks John Reed, Bertha later attacks Mr. Mason. Just as Bessie takes care of Jane, Grace Poole takes care of Bessie; and in the same way like Jane returns to Gateshead to find it completely changed so does Bertha come down from the attic and find Mr. Rochester marrying a new woman.
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The way these two characters treat themselves, and the way the society perceives them is very similar. Both of them are unwelcome, ignored, and appear to look like a black swan comparing to their surrounding. Jane Eyre never feels comfortable with Mrs. Reed or her children. She feels she is nobody there (Brontë 47). No better situation happens when she has to spend time with the guests of Thornfield Hall. Jane views them as people of a much higher status who will never notice a poor orphan girl.
Equally, Bertha cannot find anything in common with her surrounding, and people know her as a "madwoman" (328), and a "covert lunatic" (320). Mr. Rochester does not even want to deal with her believing Bertha “cheated him into espousing” (320). Thus, both women feel rejection at some point in their lives, if not throughout it.
Next similarities between Jayne Eyre and Bertha Mason can be seen in the way Brontë portrays them. For that, she uses analogous metaphors and words. She frequently compares them to animals, mainly dogs. Whereas Bronte likens Jane's character to a “masterless and homeless dog” (363), people in the novel call her a “bad animal” (41) or “mad cat” (44). Bertha, the embodiment of Jane's dangerous side, gets the metaphors of wild and brutal animals: “a dog quarreling” (238) or “clothed hyena” (320). Jane likens Bertha to some kind of strange wild animal that “groveled, snatched and growled" (321). There are many evil, superstitious nouns, chosen to describe Bertha Mason and Jane Eyre. Jane often compares Bertha's laugh to a goblin's, and Rochester calls Jane a witch (180). The similar word choice for these characters comes across too clearly to ignore.
Bertha's closeness to Jane submits that the characters are ‘twins’. It is enough for Jane to encounter Bertha or to hear her maniacal laughter, as she starts feeling lonely and goes deep in thought. In a symbolic sense, noises from the third floor are meant to represent Jane’s calling for freedom. She cannot hide from her own thoughts and desires for freedom. Jane cannot admit it and she is afraid of Berta and her proximity. She worries that Bertha is as close as “hardly separated from [her] by a single door” (Brontë 239). The door of that room is also symbolic. It is both the only hindrance between two women, and the only hindrance keeping Jane Eyre from her wild and oppressed ego. Bronte only highlights their relation by telling that Jane is the only person who can hear Bertha. It all means the fact that Bertha is living “upstairs” in Jane’s head and conscience.
The other method Brontë uses to express that doppelgänger effect is one of the most popular techniques: a mirror. Mirrors play an important role throughout the novel and always show Jane a look of her face and herself that she can not recognize. The first example of it takes place when Jayne is sitting in the Red Room. There she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror that leads her to some sort of analysis. She notices that the reflection in the mirror is colder and darker. She cannot recognize that little figure in it and she calls it “the effect of a real spirit” (46).
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Another incident with the mirror serves as another proof of the connection between Bertha and Jane. There Jane looks in the mirror to see Bertha, dressed in a white robe and veil, stares back. This moment shows that seeing Bertha is not just a coincidence. It is supposed to mean that Bertha Mason is a doppelgänger of Jayne Eyre. The importance of this event becomes even clearer after the next time Jayne looks into the mirror. It happens on Jane’s wedding day. When she gets dressed and gets ready to come downstairs Sophie stops her and asks her to look in the mirror again. Looking in the mirror Jane sees some figure that is dressed like her, but has nothing in common with her. It looks like a stranger to her (315). This strange figure is no one else but Bertha Mason, which never leaves Jane alone.
Bertha often behaves strange, but all that is understandable in a doppelgänger context. The more Jane wants to be free, the more extreme behavior displays Bertha. As far as Jane's marriage to Rochester, it would have doomed her to a life of oppression forever, if the truth about Edward has not been revealed. Although Rochester and Jane Eyre love each other, there would always be a serious inconsistency between their places in life. Rochester would always play the master, and Jane would always play the slave. Accordingly, as Jane comes closer to such slavery, the more intense Bertha’s actions become. The communication with Bertha develop from laughter to an attack, and, finally, to the culmination in Jane's bedroom when the doubles meet.
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Two days before Jane’s wedding the first face-to-face encounter between two counterparts occurs. It is the exact moment when Jane faces the issue of her final imprisonment in an unequal marriage. Giving Jane the veil, Rochester displays his superiority and dominance over his wife. Therefore, Bertha rips this symbol into two to symbolize Jane’s objection to live trapped for the rest of her life. This culmination lastly makes Jane realize her darker side, while looking into Bertha’s face. Thus, not being able to handle this fact, she looses consciousness. (311). Finally, Jane notices the invisible chains that Rochester made to pressure her and realizes which part of herself she needs to liberate. After Jane achieves her freedom, her inner doppelgänger dies. For reaching that she has to flee from Thornfield.
Even after marrying Rochester, Jane Eyre does not lose her self-control and sobriety. She guards her independence and does not want to become her husband’s puppet. She still keeps on teaching his daughter, rejects his rich presents and constantly reminds him that she is poor and nor pretty. Of course, at that time each unofficial alliance was considered to be a disgrace and a crime in the eyes of society. But that is not a reason Jane Eyre rejects suggestion to go abroad. Her decision is easy to explain from the point of view of psychology. Jane Eyre is a proud and innocent character and she cannot accept an idea of living far away from her motherland, lying during her entire life and depending solely upon the mood of her despotic, though beloved, husband. She makes her choice to the favor of poverty and separation.
So, the character of Bertha Mason is meant to express the alter ego of Jane Eyre. That alter ego has helped her to make the key decisions of her life. Charlotte Brontë effectively articulates Jane's unease of mind and even her hidden craziness through the oppression of Bertha. Jane tries to hide it as Rochester tries to hide his lunatic wife upstairs. Bertha reflects the inward struggle between the feelings and the sense of duty. Bertha and Jane have similar lives and symbolize each other's advance towards freedom. Brontë expresses this doppelgänger effect with the help of the word choice, mirrors, and physical nearness. Evidently, Bertha is a means for revealing Jane’s inner conflicts and she does it perfectly. Thus, without Bertha’s character it would be difficult to see real Jane Eyre and understand her inner world.