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Gynocriticism and 'Jane Eyre': The conflict of the female identity in language

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  1. Introduction
  2. French feminists argument on language
  3. Jane's passive reversal of subject and object
  4. Jane's singular use of the pronoun
  5. Conclusion

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. [...]

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