Exposing the Role of Women in The Madwoman in the Attic Essay
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Exposing the Role of Women in The Madwoman in the Attic
In their book The Madwoman in the Attic, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar address the issue of literary potential for women in a world shaped by and for men. Specifically, Gilbert and Gubar are concerned with the nineteenth century woman and how her role was based on her association with the symbols of angels, monsters, or sometimes both. Because the role of angel was ideally passive and the role of monster was naturally evil, both limited a woman’s behavior into quiet content, with few words to object.
Women in the nineteenth century, Gilbert and Gubar claim, lived quiet and passive lives, embodying the ideals of the “Eternal Feminine” vision in Goethe’s Faust.…show more content…
They extend feminist theory to the literary world, specifically to the art of writing. According to this theory, woman’s role in society, reinforced by the literature of the day, left her incapable of the written language because of the power it represented. In denying her the pen, the nineteenth century woman was, to borrow Fetterley’s line, “asked to identify against herself” (562). Writing was left up to the men, as if the pen was a metaphorical extension of their manhood. In a very real way, women were “denied the autonomy - the subjectivity - that the pen represents,” not to mention the culture of the day (598). It is here Gilbert and Gubar begin to reflect the ideas of Edward Said in his theory of Orientalism. In it, Said claims “knowledge of the Orient, because generated out of strength, in a sense creates the Orient, the Oriental, and his world” (880). In much the same way, the men of the nineteenth century created the Eternal Feminine, the woman, and her world. But what was missing was a sense of the woman herself, because in the world created for her, she wasn’t allowed the power of self expression.
Being angelic seems to have positive connotations, such as a deeper sense of morality and religious faith (but what better reason to rationalize the status quo and be content in one’s passivity?). However, the
You can't get into a discussion of symbolism in Jane Eyre without running into the madwoman in the attic. Not literally, of course—that would be terrifying.
The phrase "the madwoman in the attic" is the invention of two famous feminist literary critics, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, who wrote a book with that title in 1979. (See "Trivia" for more on the book.)
The phrase, of course, refers specifically to Bertha Mason, Rochester’s sometimes-wife, now an insane prisoner locked in the attic of his house with Grace Poole for a nursemaid. Gilbert and Gubar developed a critical theory about this "madwoman in the attic" figure: she represents all the subverted rage and pain experienced by the female author of the text (in this case, Charlotte Brontë).
Bertha can be locked away, kept secret, and labeled as insane, but nobody can deny her intensity or power: she’s sexually potent, wicked smart, and absolutely ruthless. Nobody can kill her, either, because she seems to be invincible—in this novel, of course, she chooses to commit suicide.
Huh. If Bertha is representative of Charlotte, then what might it mean for Charlotte to kill off her evil doppelgänger as she’s writing?