When reading a novel like Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre', with both a female author and narrator, a series of implications arise by the structuring of a feminine language within the constructs of a patriarchal society, and thus, a masculine discourse; such an oppression innate to language is a visible limitation in Bronte's writing, illustrating the source of conflict behind her protagonist's conscious and unconscious representation within the novel. The application of the critical approach named gynocriticism by feminist Elaine Showalter may allow an insightful reading into this linguistic conflict; as described by M.H. Abrams and Geoffrey Galt Harpham,
One concern of gynocritics is to identify distinctively feminine subject matters in literature written by women to show that there is a distinctive mode of experience, or 'subjectivity' in thinking, feeling, valuing, and perceiving oneself and the world. Related to this is the attempt to specify the traits of a woman's language,' or distinctively feminine style of speech and writing, in sentence structure, types of relations between the elements of discourse, and characteristic figures of speech and imagery.
The distinct mode of experience is a singularly female one in 'Jane Eyre', and the traits of a woman's language can be recognized in Bronte's style as specific semiotic patterns arise which reflect and reproduce the struggle that all female writers encounter within their chosen medium, being a language dominated by patriarchal conventions.
[...] Language compels Jane into rendering her paintings entirely vulnerable to subjectivity, to the linguistic subordination that results from her attempt to structure an original feminine expression in the search for her female identity; an attempt that fails to discard masculine imagery and succeeds tremendously at conveying isolation, oppression, and a fragmented, dichotomized self. The struggle explicit in Jane's representation of her paintings alludes to a disjunction between the reality of her womanhood and the socially constructed identity. The discord is doubly represented: in her unconscious expression she manipulates a light paint to create dark and foreboding images, in her conscious expression she manipulates the structure of a masculine language to release femininity, as well as employing complex masculine words to further uncertainty of meaning; both levels of expression which she entirely discredits to herself. [...]
[...] What this demonstrates is that Jane has no particular claim or presence in the description of her painting, in its form; the content, or the denotative qualities that are deliberately meant to convey the physical aesthetics of the artwork also disguise any clear intention of Jane's, and consequently any notion of identity other than one darkened, subordinated, disembodied, and oppressed. She manipulates syntax to a deliberate extent, she subordinates her practically eliminated linguistic equivalent in the structuring of her sentences. [...]
[...] The central figure of this painting is the resemblance of a woman, which Jane describes in impersonal terms; rising into the sky was a woman's shape to the bust, portrayed in tints as dusk and soft as I could combine.” The figure is further anatomically disembodied: bust the dim forehead the lineaments below the eyes the hair the neck” (Bronte, 127- 128) It is noticeable that although it is definitely a female figure, Jane does not use the feminine pronoun to designate any cohesive entity, the anatomical parts of the feminine figure share only the context of the painting, not the context of the female body, rendering the figure unidentifiable and further mystifying female sexuality. [...]
[...] To examine the literary devices that Bronte uses to overcome the discord between Jane's suppressed female unconscious and her articulated feminine conscious (her narration), several manifestations of oppression become apparent on a linguistic level. To examine closely a concentrated section of text, an ideal and multidimensional opportunity is presented in chapter thirteen (Bronte,127-128). In this part of the novel Mr. Rochester learns of Jane's artistry and demands to see her portfolio to satiate his curiosity; this particular moment stands out from the text, because our narrator breaks her formal narrative style to address the reader; “While he is so occupied, I will tell you, reader, what they are: and first, I must premise that they are nothing wonderful” (Bronte, 127). [...]
[...] Her use of language to essentially repaint her artwork in words provides a special context, as the paintings themselves are inspired expressions of Jane's suppressed unconscious; this section of Jane's narrative thus illustrates her identity crisis through the aesthetic turmoil of her paintings, her struggle to apply an appropriate linguistic description to them, and her neglect of any pride for their creation. The medium of watercolors provides Jane the opportunity to form these expressions without the pressure of conformity that language confronts her with; however, the validity of her visual expressions undergoes a conversion by Jane's application of language that hinges on a predictable notion of alteration. [...]
using our reader.