Explore the role of colonialism and 'the other' in Jane Eyre, with particular reference to the characters of Bertha and St. John.
By 1847, when Jane Eyre was first published, slavery had been abolished for nearly 14 years, and yet themes of racism, colonialism and slavery are prevalent throughout the novel. They show the fraught life of Bertha Mason, the cold-hearted religion of St. John and the similarities Bronte draws between the protagonist Jane and slavery in Africa. In fact, slavery is often used as a metaphor for marginality and I will explore how this overlap of colonial imagery with apparently 'civil' 19th century Britain helps to characterise Jane and helps to exclude Bertha.
The theme of colonialism is present before anyone of the so called 'dark races' appears: right from Jane's childhood at Gateshead. In the opening scene she sits in her window seat 'cross-legged, like a Turk' and, whilst clashing with John Reed, calls him 'a slave-driver' and describes herself as 'like any other rebel slave', syntax which Susan Meyer suggests 'disguises the trope as a simile' but does, in fact, 'designate Jane a slave and then describes her as behaving like others in the same position'. So, it is clear that the parallels Bronte draws between Jane and slaves are more metaphors than similes, showing that the class system in which she is brought up is similar to the system of slavery going on in Africa at the time. Although written in 1847, Jane was born in about 1815 (if we analyse when she says she was married and assume the book finishes in Bronte's present) therefore slavery would be ongoing in this period. However, there are inconsistencies in the way Bronte uses history. For example, St. John gives her a 'new publication', Scott's Marmion, which was published in 1808 and Blanche Ingram's love of Byron's 'Corsairs', published in 1814, show chronological problems.