Monday, September 19, 2011

"British Reserve"

Something that really stood out to me in reading Jane Eyre was the way emotions were conveyed. In our 21st century American culture of “share all your feelings” and “never bottle anything up”, Jane Eyre, and I suppose the English in general, seem, well…  foreign. While Jane shares her thoughts with us because she is narrating and wants us as readers to feel what she’s going through, she rarely shares her feelings with other characters. When she does, it’s with someone she is very close to, like Helen, Mr. Rochester, or the Rivers sisters. The “British reserve”, as it’s been called, comes kind of as a shock compared to our “Generation Oprah” where every single thought people have about one another needs to be laid out in the open, not only with each other, but with the entire world. To me anyway, that much sharing seems like a total disregard for the privacy of one’s own thoughts and leads to more problems.  
While Jane is very good at keeping things to herself, I think Charlotte Bronte is trying to make the point that there needs to be a healthy balance. Part of Jane coming into her identity is sharing herself with others. When she does get into an impassioned state, such as when telling Mrs. Reed that she has treated her unfairly, she does so with a sense of justice and knowing she deserves recognition as a human being, not with the intention of being right or dominating others. This is what makes Jane such a strong character, because you know what she’s going through must be very painful in order for her to mention it at all.