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Discuss the treatment of women in society with reference to Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre' and Margaret Atwood's 'A Handmaids Tale.'

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Introduction

Discuss the treatment of women in society with reference to Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre' and Margaret Atwood's 'A Handmaids Tale.' In this essay, I will compare a pre-twentieth century novel with a modern novel, and examine the discussion of the treatment of women in society. 'Jane Eyre' was first published in 1847, and was written by Charlotte Bronte. It is the story of a young woman, Jane Eyre, ill treated through childhood, but determined and intelligent. Through the novel, the reader watches her grow and develop as a person, and overcome many problems, to become a respectable, independent woman. It is said that 'Jane Eyre' contains many autobiographical elements from Bronte's own experiences of life. Bronte uses this novel to observe and criticize oppressive social ideas that were common in nineteenth century Victorian society. Jane's?position as a governess (another autobiographical element, as Charlotte too was a governess) is an imperative tool in the novel, as it provides a neutral vantage point from which to observe these practices of Victorian society. Governesses were expected to have the education and culture of the aristocracy, but were still looked at as the same status as servants, as they were paid employees. They were seen as lower class, as shown by Lady Ingram in chapter 17: "Don't mention governesses, the word makes me nervous. I?have suffered a martyrdom from their incompetence." "In hers [physiognomy] I see all the faults of her class." Female oppression is another prominent issue in the book. Bronte creates struggles that Jane must overcome to achieve equality with men, and she resists the superior attitude of men who believe women should have submissive positions. For example when St. John Rivers asks her to become his wife in order to go to India as a missionary with him. A Handmaids Tale was written by Margaret Atwood and published in 1986. It is set in the future, in a place called Gilead, when religious extremists have taken power and women's rights have been reversed. ...read more.

Middle

This is quite symbolic of how she would have been viewed by both Jane and Mr. Rochester, and represents what mentally disabled people were seen as in Victorian times. When describing Bertha, Bronte uses cold language, as if she is describing an animal rather than a human being: "The maniac bellowed: she parted her shaggy locks from her visage and dazed wildly at her visitors." "It grovelled seemingly on all fours; it scratched and growled." -Chapter 26 Jane sees Bertha as a lunatic and the reason she cannot be with Mr. Rochester. Jane resents Mr. Rochester's deceit more than Bertha's existence and sees her as part of the problem she faces and a factor in the decision she has to make rather than a rival or third party in the situation. Mr. Rochester detests her presence in his life and regrets every issue with her. This is another example of how she is not recognized as a person. Neither expresses anything about hating Bertha because you cannot hate someone for who they are if they do not have feelings or a soul, which is how Bertha appears to be seen. Despite this, Bertha does possess a lot of power in the novel. I think the burning of Mr. Rochester's house symbolises the end of Bertha's reign over Mr. Rochester. She dies in the fire, and in doing so allows Jane to marry Mr. Rochester with a clear conscience, and without the shadow of Bertha over them. This shadow always would have existed in the house where she had lived as his wife. A wife to a rich man was seen as a better person than a governess or mistress. This is also a factor that 'Jane Eyre' and 'A Handmaid's Tale' have in common, that despite these wives status that society considers superior; their faults (though unavoidable) drive the men to seek refuge with women of a 'lower class'. ...read more.

Conclusion

She could have been a lucky one or an unlucky one. There was just as much chance of either scenario. There would have been hundreds of other handmaids and Offred was only an individual to us as the reader because we saw the world through her eyes. This prospect of loss of individuality, and in turn loss of identity is quite frightening and makes a solid impression on the reader. It makes you realise that women do have a right to be a person, an individual and appreciated for their independence, giving this book a strong feminist message. Both writers are talented and successful in their different styles of writing. They use different tools to get their message across through the novel. Charlotte Bronte uses Jane to voice her then radical feminist opinions, whereas Margaret Atwood uses a horrifying situation and the reaction of a normal woman to it to get this message across. Margaret Atwood was trying to say that although western woman are nowadays very confident in their position and almost take for granted their equality with men, in parts of the world woman are still oppressed. The message is that this balance between men and woman is delicate and its future uncertain. In reading the book you realise that it is entirely possible for woman to lose their rights completely, and the social clock, in relation to woman in society, could be turned back. The Handmaid's Tale is set in the future an any signs of the rights of women as we know them are banished and barren, except in the pain ridden memories of women living reduced roles. Charlotte Bronte, although more subtle in her approach than Atwood, displays just as much passion concerning rights of women. At several points she acknowledges that women's role in society is questionable, and should be a prominent issue in women's minds. I thoroughly enjoyed reading both books and feel that both are excellent pieces of literature that put across a strong, important message. Katie Warr 11E1 ...read more.

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