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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jane Eyre VII -- chapter 7: GOT BIG HAIR? HIGHLIGHTS? BRAIDS? Guess Where You're Going.

People do weird things in the names of Faith and Belief, but there is a narrow margin between acting for God and forgetting you're not God.  While we haven't seen direct evidence yet, I expect Brocklehurst is clergy from the school of hellfire.  Personally (and this isn't to press my opinion, but offer an example), I don't believe in scaring or intimidating a flock into submission (and forgive the unintended, pacifist rhetoric), but that doesn't mean it's wrong.  In fact, I'm sure there are some in the/a flock for whom this works better than anything else.  And that's the point I'm going for, as it's a recurrent theme in this chapter: as you read, or as you  review while answering questions, be diligent in your effort to be objective and to separate yourself from your personal beliefs, at least inasmuch as they may skew your judgment.  Remember, sometimes things that are different are just that--different, not wrong; of course, sometimes things are indeed just wrong.

Another point at issue in this chapter is the comparison between Jane's situations are Gateshead and Lowood.  Are the motives behind the privations of each adequate to justify one over the other?

Finally, this whole chapter exaggeratedly reminds me of administrator evaluations in my classroom.  You may remember your principal with clipboard in hand coming into one or more of your classrooms to judge your teachers.  These episodes are generally frustrating, often intimidating, and never accurate.  Really.  Never.  Even when they're good!  (*tongue in cheek*)  More frustrating, many principals actually believe they can get an accurate measure of the classroom, the teacher, and their product in naught but two or three quarter-hour visits.  No!  One wrong thing in the classroom is as likely to draw conclusion on an entire year's work--successes and failures--as one good thing, and I've experienced both.  It just doesn't work that way.

(Note to principals: I've been one, and I've been guilty of the same.  Feel free to defend yourselves and/or complain HERE.)

Reading Questions

  1. The act of issuing a mandate of conformity against the natural curls of Julia Severn's red hair (ought it not to be dyed also?) is an example of Brocklehurt's   stupidity / wisdom   (circle one).  Explain your selection.
  2. * hair as an excrescence
  3. "Madam," he pursued, "I have a Master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world: my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh; to teach them to clothe themselves with shamefacedness and sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel; and each of the young persons before us has a string of hair twisted in plaits which vanity itself might have woven: these, I repeat, must be cut off; think of the time wasted, of—" and I interrupt him as did the three conspicuous visitors: This remonstrance smacks of chauvinism and even cruelty to our contemporary sensibilities, but even now, contemporarily, isn't this part of what any good Christian claims to believe?  Is it so wrong to chop off one's hair and live in sackcloth and ashes?  Additionally, however, and considering the identity of the guests, whom is Mr. Brocklehurst favoring; whom is he slighting?  Does this not show what he truly believes?
  4. Is it just for physical effect that Brocklehurst is regularly described as a feature of architecture?  Something about this imagery, coupled with the essence of the man, reminds me of Claude Frollo, from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  (I can't speak of the Archdeacon as represented in the Disney movie, as I haven't seen it; I mean the book, which, by the way, I highly recommend.  It often drags, but the characters and setting are vivid, and the ending is perhaps the greatest I've ever read.)
  5. Brocklehurst's description of Jane as an "interloper" beggars a comparison: Take ten minutes and read "The Interlopers," by Saki.
  6. "You must be on your guard against her; you must shun her example: if necessary, avoid her company, exclude her from your sports, and shut her out from your converse. Teachers, you must watch her: keep your eyes on her movements, weigh well her words, scrutinize her actions, punish her body to save her soul, if, indeed, such salvation be possible, for (my tongue falters while I tell it) this girl: this child, the native of a Christian land, worse than many a little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before Juggernaut—this girl is—a liar."  Are the Brocklehursts hypocrites?  If so, take a second and fundamentally compare "hypocrite" to "liar."
  7. And what of the girls in the school?  How do they impart strength to Jane, and why does this affect Jane likely more than they know?  What of the teachers?


  1. 1. On first sight of Julia Severn's curled hair, among other things, Mr. Brocklehurst cries, "Why [does she] in defiance of every precept and principle of this house, conform to the world so openly?"His complaint implies that Julia, by curling her hair, is defying God's NATURAL order and complying with vanity of the WORLD. In almost the next breath, when he learns that her hair curls NATURALLY, he says, "Yes, but we cannot conform to nature: I wish these girls to be the children of Grace." This sentence to me seems in direct opposition to his previous statement. He is making excuses! Or should I say, justifications. Does he not realize how hypocritical his statements seem in the way they are stated and described here? A rather "stupid" mistake in my opinion. I think more so than stupidity or wisdom, this idea of straightening Julia's hair and his reasoning behind it render him an hypocrite. That idea is greatly magnified by the later arrival of his wife and daughters, with curled hair and silk dresses in high fashion, which you discuss in another question.

    Perhaps some of the hypocrisy between the way that the girls and teachers dress and behave compared to the way the women of the Brocklehurst home dress and behave has to do with a need to control. Hearing all of Mr. Brocklehurst's ideals of Christianity and the appearance of, and then witnessing the apparel of his wife and daughters makes me think that he does not have much control in that area at home. Perhaps he would like to have more control in such areas. He therefore disciplines very strictly (in an almost obsessed manner) the dress and behavior and altogether physical parts of life for the tenants of the Lowood Institution. He can control that, so he does. Then again, there is always the issue of caste that has also been brought up. Why must these girls be Christians in this hell-fire way, while the Brocklehurst women (and the man himself, I believe) be Christians in an almost entirely different way because of their higher caste?

  2. Playing devil's advocate to your last question, perhaps he believes that because of his caste, he is naturally without the inherent flaws of the lower caste. As far as the hypocrisy is concerned, he appears a perfect example; so which is worse, lies or hypocrisy? It would be very easy to demonstrate to the man that his words and actions are hypocritical; would it possible to relate to him the similarity between to the two sins? This hypocrisy, which in "Hunchback" leads directly into lies by Frollo, is beyond me--it demonstrates such total stupidity!

    One thing that really stands out to me here in this chapter is Jane's new--demonstration of maturity--ability to keep her mouth shut. From the moment Brocklehurst singled her out I dreaded what she might do in reaction.

    Three cheers for Jane!

  3. I agree that he is stupid, but let me also play devil's advocate and say that, even though I think he is wrong to bring it up, he might have a point. Is there anything more vain and useless than everyone's obsession with beauty from middle school into the next few decades of their lives? I would argue not. People start judging each other by categories that do not matter, such as physical appearance or the ability to "clean up well," and don't worry enough about the things that really matter, intellect, and most importantly, spiritual well-being/charity for others. Does he go a little far, and does he explain himself well? Of course to the first and of course to the second. But is there a real danger in vanity? I would say that there is.

  4. Devil's advocate: is there a difference between vanity and cleaning up well?

  5. No. But everyone has a certain amount of vanity, so we can deal with it.

  6. Are ascetics therefore better off? I know those who would argue certain levels of self-attention as a hobby, and some also a talent, especially as they share that ability with others. And (devil's advocate, to maintain the trend here) what of self-esteem that may be assisted by careful grooming and self care? At what point would one ideally draw the line between the extremes, utter self-loving indulgence and complete self-neglect?

  7. Well, I admire ascetics, although I could never live that lifestyle. You're right that it's a hobby, so that complicates it a little, except that I think beauty, perhaps more than any other trait, is something which people use to make knee-jerk judgments about others, so it may potentially be a more dangerous hobby. Not many people are necessarily going to be drawn to the person with the biggest baseball card collection, and those people don't think they're better than others because of their collections. As for self-esteem, I'm not a big believer in the concept. I think too often it leads to arrogance. The main problem with self-care as self-esteem is I think a lot of the time it's based upon judging how people look compared to other people, so it comes down to having an opinion of yourself based upon what others think. I think that this is pretty vain, although, again, EVERYONE, myself as much as the next person, does this. It's just not a good trait, I don't think. The last question, I think, is unanswerable for the time-being because I really don't want to take it lightly by doing it in a quick little comment. It's a very important question, though. I think the question is whether it is possible to have indulgences in things that matter. And of course someone could well tell me that self-care/beauty DOES matter, and I guess I would disagree since I think character and intellect are the two most important traits. But I guess there's no way I can ever empirically "prove" that.

    Sorry for the long, rambling response, but these aren't easy questions!

  8. Beauty as self-esteem, I think, is as bad as possessions as self-esteem: I've got a big car, so I'm cool, man! And, really, I think they amount to the exact same thing. However, just toning it down a bit, I think--though it's very hard to prove, as you say, empirically--is very important. I don't think I would have said the same before having a family. I think the best comparison is simply this: why do we bother wearing nice clothes to church or Sunday dinner or going out for "a night on the town"? There's something to the hackneyed truism: if you look good you feel good. What it all boils down to in the end though is that this, perhaps more so than any question we've tackled these last few months, is gray. Brocklehurst manages to represent both extremes, black and white.

  9. Yes, I almost mentioned status symbols of wealth, but I figured I was getting wordy and possibly confusing enough as it was.

    I think what I'm getting at is, yes, it does make us feel better, but perhaps it shouldn't. It feels great to look good and drive a fancy car, so that people will think well of us, but why does it matter? It doesn't. It's this sort of immortality concept that we have to live through other people's eyes instead of just living through our own. This value in what others think of you is a totally delusional concept, but it's also quintessentially human, and it would take someone odd to disregard it completely.

  10. So ideally, appearance--except where by issue of cleanliness it infringes upon physical and therefore emotional/spiritual health--should count for zero. As if we were all blind. But, as we're humans, there will always be some way to demarcate status....

    I think we might be just slightly misconnecting here: I watch my little girl, who--though generally she couldn't care less about her appearance--every once in a while gets done up for something and, without a care for what anyone else thinks, beams with pleasure and excitement. Second, tending to physical appearance in preparation for certain occasions can demonstrate respect and reverence--or I'm just as brainwashed as every other human....

  11. I think we are slightly disagreeing, but (and I'm not sure if this is even possible in a disagreement) I think we're both actually right. I think that having it count as little as possible is a good thing, but you're right in that if we get rid of this, we're removing a very essential part of the human experience. Beasts don't care what others think of them, as long as they fear them. Our obsession with status and beauty demonstrates the fact that humanity strives for a little bit higher--not only to be feared, although that can be important, but also to be LIKED.

    But at the same time, I think the things that make me truly happy are things that I do when no one else is watching. It's almost like charity/philanthropy. A lot of companies do it just in order to brag about doing it. The true philanthropist would give anyway. And I guess if someone were to want to be beautiful for its own sake, regardless of what others think, then I would admire it more. But then--is that actually possible? Because a lot of people would say beauty is relative and based upon society's belief of what beauty is. Yikes, more questions.

  12. Even in little kids, true philanthropy appears to bear with it the greatest joy.

  13. (additional thought) -- interesting, though, in the discussion of children, how even these little philanthropist are drawn toward to the desire to receive credit for their service, an impulse they feel despite their inexperience, as if it is truly innate.

  14. regarding mr. brocklehurst's daughters and wife entering the school while he's lecturing regarding the looks of his "students": i agree with carson, they are more controllable than his wife and daughters. but i also think the question of caste also pertains, which carson also touches on. i get the impression he thinks it's his duty to keep these women in their place of womanhood and in their lower caste. from what i can tell, none of the women at lowood--student and teacher alike--are from esteemed families; thus, they are below a man like brocklehurst--even more so in his perception of the idea.

  15. I'm reading another book right now ("The Four Feathers"), which takes in the same time period. If I go back in my mind and through what I understand of British history, I understand how the caste system came about, but it is such a vanity, hypocrisy, and superstition that it astounds me that it held its prevalence for so long. Social pressures and real pressures, and in the male-dominant context of the time, the husband/father is far more to blame than the women. Again, this is diving into an area of criticism that I'm not well-practiced in at all, but there's a whole can of worms here which I think we're only just beginning to open--like we've got the can opener out of the drawer, but haven't really even done more than remove the can from the pantry.


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