Don’t Trust Betteredge

I cannot help but struggle with the narration of this novel. After reading Jane Eyre and the various post-colonialist critiques, I struggle with accepting and moreover trusting Betteredge’s narration of the story. As Betteredge is the head male servant to the Verinders, his judgmental commentary of the Indian men sent to retrieve the moonstone is anything but just. As he is a white lower class male, his narration of the Indian men who must disguise themselves in lower class attire in their attempt to re-obtain the moonstone. All of this is backwards and flipped on its head, as Betteredge can only move upwards, and really has no authority to be speaking or commenting on the Indian men. Moreover, Betteredge’s bias towards the white people he is surrounded by makes him an unreliable narrator. For him to claim the moonstone as the property of the white upper class, when it is a stolen piece of property from the Indian upper class screams of bias. With arguments like that of O’Conner and Spivak, accepting the narration of Betteredge would be accepting the underlying racism. Whereas with Jane Eyre the criticism focuses on the language surrounding Bertha Mason, the imperialist leanings in The Moonstone are not solely in the language, but the overall attitude regarding the Indian culture that these characters choose to remain ignorant about. Thus, the loss of the moonstone remains almost like a work of karma, yet as it was again stolen perhaps it is more an indication of the greed and entitlement of white colonists that Collins is commenting on. Whether it is Colllins’ ignorance which is the driving force behind Betteredge’s bias, or instead a way of Collins to critique the outlook of 19th Century imperialist thinking remains to be seen. Neverthless, Betteredge’s narration is biased, and accepting his word is accepting the racist undertones.

Bronte Prejudiced or Not?

I just want to start off by saying that I love Jane Eyre, however I do recognize that there are some major problems, particularly regarding race, within the novel. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I am white, or maybe it comes down to my obliviousness, but it wasn’t until I read Spivak’s Postcolonial Criticism that I saw the racial flaws in this novel. Though I noticed that Bronte emphasized the differences between dark and light, I always took it for the literal sense; never did I think to apply this contrast to the characters too. I am not arguing against Spivak however, I am curious as to whether her argument is taken slightly to an extreme. For I originally assumed that dark literally meant dark—as in mysterious, ominous, or gloomy—thus, I wonder whether Spivak racialization of the word is more of a personal projection of her own experience as a woman from a formerly colonized country. But perhaps I am being racially ignorant here.
Also, this is a little bit of a chicken or the egg situation, but was dark originally meant to mean the above words listed, or did these new definitions and implications come from racial tensions? Spivak, in her criticism accuses Bronte of being racist, but if that was the belief of the time is it still racist? I struggle to choose a side, because while I will always side with anti-racism, it is a prove fact that prejudice is learnt not inherent, so therefore the environment of Bronte’s time would affect her writing. Despite all that happens with Bertha Mason, I disregarded the character’s race, but perhaps, again I am being obtuse and/or “colorblind” in not comparing her difference in race to the protagonist/narrator. However, if these are the beliefs of the time, are they intentionally prejudiced or is this just a reflection of the time?

Gender Reversal in Jane Eyre

The proposal scene deals with a lot of movement both from the characters themselves, and within the plot. Up until this point the plot of the novel has moved relatively slowly, but then suddenly takes off when Rochester proposes. Whereas with the characters, they are walking, and Rochester’s proposal spurs Jane to pace back and forth in front of him. However, ever since I first read this novel, this scene has stayed with me for both the obvious reasons of it being a great literary scene, but also the way it reverses the two characters’ gender roles.
Beginning with Jane’s declaration of independence to her acceptance of his proposal, Jane asserts herself as the more dominant of the two characters—usually considered the more masculine—whereas Rochester is more manipulative and talkative of the two—or arguably more feminine. Moreover, even past their words, their situations reverse the two also, as Jane is independent of wealth and family, and Rochester is weighed down by both. Whereas in more typical 19th Century marriage plots, there is no semblance of independence for the woman.
Particularly when Jane voices her independence to Rochester, “I am not bird, and no net ensnares me…” (252), her dominance, or masculinity, radiates out of her. Indeed, this scene involves an overemotional, arguably hysteric Jane, which distorts the masculinity aspect of her character, however Rochester’s character reasserts this gender reversal. Moreover, despite Jane’s emotional state, she remains much more physically active than Rochester. Throughout this scene Rochester remains still, while Jane is in constant movement before him. However, though this may appear to be these characters acting within the confines of their gender, really the words of each character reverse their roles. Rochester may have been the one to propose, but Jane still has the power to deny that proposal. Moreover, post asking for her hand in marriage, Jane questions Rochester so that he must explain his motives in his past disguises and games, while also attempting to convince Jane to agree to marry him. Jane therefore maintains power over Rochester making her the more masculine of the two.

Daisy Miller – No Plot

Throughout Henry James’ Daisy Miller, the character of Daisy Miller is constantly referred to as beautiful by the men she entices. The main character, and arguably the narrator, Mr. Winterbourne struggles to decide whether her appeal, besides her beauty, comes from her free-spiritedness, innocence, or her foreign ignorance. However, the expression of Daisy’s beauty is always followed by the expression of her innocence. Moreover, her innocence is always noted by the men besotted by her, but never by the men would have been rejected by her in some way. Nevertheless, despite his alternating opinions of Daisy, her beauty remains, and in the end of the short novel Daisy’s other suitor, Mr. Giovanelli, also refers to her as “the most beautiful young lady I [he] ever saw” (82).

Looking at this, the repetition of beauty and innocence, from a Freudian lens, it is obvious that Daisy has nothing more to her than physical appeal. Moreover, her beauty and “innocence” is a façade to hide her conceit and agitating ways. In truth, Daisy is an ignorant foreigner, travelling through some of the world’s most beautiful countries, and is arguably unphased by her surroundings. Instead she remains fixated on the attention she receives from her male suitors, disregarding the custom of women to remain passive to men’s opinions.

Daisy’s perceived beauty and “innocence” from the young men who interact with her, says more about them than her. Daisy is obviously unintelligent and manipulative, but still the desire to have her remains high amongst single men. This either means that men are easily enticed by foreign objects, for that is essentially how she is treated, as an object, or, that her beauty, and lack of personality, mimics the lack of plot in the book. I would argue the latter. Like Peter Brooks states, plot is essential in understanding the novel, yet this novel does not seem to have any plot whatsoever. Thus, it is impossible to find the intention of Henry James, for he does not give much to analyze. Though I could analyze the repetition of the words beautiful and innocent, there is not much more to the character of Daisy Miller besides those words, so thus is impossible to analyze this novel under Freud’s or Brooks’ argument. Instead this novel just reasserts gender roles, as the male protagonist is a deep thinker trying to explore the different layers of the main, female character. However, the female character is one dimensional and manipulative, so regarding her layers, there is nothing more than her physical beauty.

The Wine

“Others, men and women, dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even in handkerchiefs from women’s heads, which were squeezed dry into infants’ mouths; others made small mud-embankments, to stem the wine as it ran; others, directed by lookers-on up at high windows, darted here and there to cut off little streams of wine that started away in new directions; others devoted themselves to the sadden and lee-dyed pieces of the cask, licking, and even champing the moister wine-rotted fragments with eager relish” –(31).

As a class, we discussed the significance of this passage at a metaphor for the war that would later happen in France—the wine was meant to symbolize blood. While I agree that this metaphor is a possibility, I feel that there is more going on within the passage than just the imagery of spilt blood running down the streets. The scene that Dickens depicts is one that is, at the least, chaotic. Mothers are using their headwear to absorb wine to feed their children, and others are using everything that they can to stop the flow of wine, so that they may gather it all for themselves. Simply put, it is a scene of pure desperation.

            If I am to go along with the assumption that this scene is meant to metaphorically replace blood, from war, tainting the streets red, then I feel that I would fail to acknowledge the layers that are set up within the scene. Dickens’ portrait is not one that takes place solely on the ground, but up above, too. There is the mention of “lookers-on up at high windows” (31) telling those down below where to go to gather wine. Is this not more indicative of the social hierarchy in both England and France, than of the oncoming war? For those down below are depicted in such desperation to feel the need to, quite literally, pounce on the spilt wine, that they lose all sanity for a moment. Though, I am aware that the late 18th century was not a time of great hygiene, I am sure that most people did not eat or drink from the ground often. Nevertheless, this is what the scene portrays—people doing whatever they could, despite the pieces of earth and other debris that would have been inevitably intermixed, to absorb the wine.

            Though not obviously, I feel that there is a connection from this scene to the scene within the Cruncher’s household as young Jerry is the spitting image of his father, though smaller, and follows his every demand. I feel that there is a strange parallel set up here between the two, which uses the different elevations as metaphors critiquing the social standings of the time. Even though one scene is more chaotic than the other, the image of height is used and associated with power. As height is only able to be used as a comparison between two things, thereby the more height one has, the more power they hold over the smaller being to which they are being compared.

Thus, I feel this scene is a direct reflection, and even critique, of the social standings of the time. Those down below, who are in the middle of all the chaos, are being directed by the onlookers who sit up above. There is not only a level of separation within the actions of the two groups, but in height. This quite literally sets up a hierarchical scene where those above direct those below. Moreover, those above are yelling from their windows, balconies, or at least some elevated surface that protects them from the chaos below. Whereas those down below are using their bodies as ways to contain the wine. While one has protection, and directs with their voice, the other uses their body and follows the orders of those above.