Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre and Henrik Ibsen’s play Hedda Gabler were written within fifty years of each other in the late 1800s. Both Jane and Hedda exist within the same social contexts. They are women of the middle class in European cultures. The fact Jane is penniless through much of the novel does not exclude her from the middle class. Jane and Hedda’s experiences, education and values all belong to the middle class. Therefore it should be no surprise their words echo. In detail and outcome their stories are different. However, it is the constraints of the same social conventions which drive their different destinies. It is the same confusion of social convention with morality and spirituality that pains both their existences. Confusing social convention with legal, moral, and religious codes of conduct is a phenomena not confined to the 19th century. It is this same confusion that created Jim Crow Laws, anti-gay legislation and fuels the fire of the abortion rights debate.
Social conventions of the 1800’s did not allow women of the middle class to live independently. With few exceptions women moved from father’s household to husband’s household. It was the father’s prerogative to arrange a suitable marriage. In truth there might be a carefully selected few to choose from, but any unauthorized selection would hold severe consequences for both men and women.
Jane Eyre’s mother was disowned because she chose to marry an “unapproved” man. Jane would suffer because of this transgression, which occurred before she was even born. After being orphaned, Jane lives with her Aunt Reed. She is continually reminded she is a dependent and is unloved by her r…
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…ton: Prentice Hall, 1992.
Ellis, Kate and Kaplan, Ann. Nineteenth Century Women at the Movies: Adapting Classic Women’s Fiction to Film. Bowling Green, OH: Popular, 1999
Jane Eyre. Dir. Christy Cabanne. Perf. Virginia Bruce, Colin Clive, and Beryl Mercer. 1934.
Jane Eyre. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Perf. William Hurt, Charlotte Gainsborough, and Anna Paquin. 1996
Jane Eyre. Dir. Julian Aymes. Perf. Timothy Dalton, Zelah Clarke. 1983
Jane Eyre. Dir. Robert Stevenson. Perf. Joan Fontaine, Orson Welles, and Margaret O’Brien. 1944
Peters, Joan D. “Finding a Voice: Towards a Woman’s Discourse in Dialogue in the Narration of Jane Eyre.” Studies in the Novel. 23 no 2. (1991): 217-36.
Zonana, Joyce. “The Sultan and the Slave: Feminist Orientalism and the Structure of Jane Eyre.” Signs. 18 no 3. (1993): 592-617
Essay Considering Gertrude of Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Gertrude of Hamlet
In Hamlet, Gertrude is a woman who means no harm but whose poor judgment contributes greatly to the terrible events that occur. There are only two female characters in the play, and neither one–Gertrude or Ophelia–is assertive. But the decisions Gertrude does make eventually lead to her death and the downfall of others as well.
We first realize in Act I, Scene 2 that poor judgment is her major character flaw. As the mother of a grieving son, Gertrude should have been more sensitive to Hamlet’s feelings. Instead, less than two months after King Hamlet’s death, Gertrude remarries Claudius, her dead husband’s own brother. Gertrude should have realized how humiliated Hamlet would feel as a result, because at that time it was considered incestuous for a widow to marry her husband’s brother. There is also jealousy on the part of a son, who feels that his mother should be giving him more attention during the mourning period. Gertrude is not in touch with her own son’s feelings to see why he is angry. Hamlet expresses this outrage during his first soliloquy:
O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! (I.ii 156-157)
Gertrude is shown to be a loving mother but a parent who cannot read into her sons’s behavior. When answering Hamlet, she says that it is common for all men to die, but this is not just any man who has died, she should realize; it’s Hamlet’s own father! Also, when Gertrude asks Hamlet:
If it be,
Why seems it so particular with thee? (I.ii 74-75)
she means to calm him down, but the word “seems” only makes Hamlet more suspicious. She fails to realize that in his sensitive mood, the word “seems” will give Hamlet the …
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… him! But she finally has to admit to herself that Claudius is guilty of murdering old Hamlet and of trying to murder Hamlet. When she warns Hamlet not to drink the wine, she again is showing compassion for her son and her wish to protect him from danger.
In other words, the play’s last scene summarizes Gertrude’s two sides. As a mother, she means well and does have concern for her son but her bad decisions and failure to judge people correctly are a major cause of the tragedy. If Gertrude had been a different kind of person, many of the deaths might not have happened.
List of Works Cited
Bradley, A.C. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York, 1965.
Cohen, Michael. “Hamlet” in My Mind’s Eye. Athens (Georgia), 1980.
Coyle, Martin, ed. New Casebooks: Hamlet. New York, 1992.
King, Walter N. Hamlet’s Search for Meaning. Athens (Georgia), 1982-.