Bertha Of Jane Eyre: Friend Or Foe?
Bertha of Jane Eyre is a character that has been deemed everything from demon to heroine. This review tries to cover both aspects.
Bertha is a very odd and disturbing character in many significant ways. The necessary evil of Bertha's nature is an oxymoron; she is a destroyed person who grudgingly plagues her way through the second half of Jane Eyre. Part of what makes Bertha such an intriguing individual is in trying to understand her place in everything, and where her true evil really lies.
We are first given the suggestion that something (or someone) is not quite right at the Rochester Estate in chapter 15. Jane finds Mr. Rochester's bed on fire, while a haunting animalistic growl echoes off into the distance. This scene allows the typical 'damsel in distress' roll to be played out to a key, however, with the sex roles ironically reversed. Here we already have tension forming between Jane and with who we later learn is Bertha. There seems to be a bit of the 'light versus dark controversy' being set up here. Jane is vying for Rochester's attention in terms of love, while Bertha on the other hand is seeking the same interest from Rochester by using mayhem and chaos.
The next time Bertha emerges from the shadows, it is in a scene not unlike her first appearance in the novel. In the opening to chapter 20, another character is mysteriously attacked with little explanation. Once more, Bertha plays the evil role by attacking and maiming someone. As for Jane, yet again she is there to counteract the evil by caring for Mason while the surgeon comes. Also of note, in both these scenes, Rochester plays a neutral role. Each time he is thankful of Jane's kindness, yet cannot ever fully unveil his true emotions as a way of protecting Bertha. It is as though at this time he cannot fully choose whether he should embrace the 'good' of Jane or the 'evil' of Bertha.
There are many more examples of this 'good versus evil' symbolism throughout the story. For example in the closing of chapter 25, Jane is awakened by the sound of a form emerging from a darkened closet, holding Jane's white veil. First Bertha puts on the veil as though to say it was her who belonged with Rochester, then summarily tore it apart. Here we have the 'darkness' of Bertha's character once more invading the 'light' of Jane's.
When the revelation of Bertha's relationship to Mr. Rochester is unveiled at the wedding, those simple words succeeded in doing what Bertha herself was never capable of doing, with even her most motivated interventions into Jane's life. Jane had finally lost Rochester. And for the time being, Bertha had won.
As the story progresses, we learn that Bertha has been held captive in the mansion for many years. While this idea does not exactly generate sympathy for Bertha from any of the characters (or the narrator for that matter), it does make the reader start to question what should become of her. The important question here is whether Bertha was locked away because she was insane, or if Bertha became insane due to her incarceration. After all, Jane spent merely one day locked away and it critically affected her life for a very long time. There are many references throughout the novel of Bertha being a savage, and of Rochester as being a colonist. Perhaps Bertha was a failed attempted at 'domestication'?
For the story to come to a close, the relationship between Jane and Rochester needs to be finalized. Bertha, as the main force standing between the two, needs to be eliminated. While her death seems to be a little extreme, one must understand that all of Bertha's physical attacks on Rochester had little effect. The only thing she ever did to hurt him was to rebel, which was why she was locked up in the first place. By burning down the house that leads to her death, Bertha finally wins out over Rochester by finally being free of his will. It is a very ironic statement that it takes her mental will and escape to finally harm Rochester in the physical way she had tried so many times previously.