JANE EYRE: Major Themes Family The main quest in Jane Eyre is Jane's search for family, for a sense of belonging and love. However, this search is constantly tempered by Jane’s need for independence. She begins the novel as an unloved orphan who is almost obsessed with finding love as a way to establish her own identity and achieve happiness. Although she does not receive any parental love from Mrs. Reed, Jane finds surrogate maternal figures throughout the rest of the novel. Bessie, Miss Temple, and even Mrs. Fairfax care for Jane and give her the love and guidance that she needs, and she returns the favor by caring for Adèle and the students at her school. Still, Jane does not feel as though she has found her true family until she falls in love with Mr. Rochester at Thornfield; he becomes more of a kindred spirit to her than any of her biological relatives could be. However, she is unable to accept Mr. Rochester’s first marriage proposal because she realizes that their marriage - one based on unequal social standing - would compromise her autonomy. Jane similarly denies St. John's marriage proposal, as it would be one of duty, not of passion. Only when she gains financial and emotional autonomy, after having received her inheritance and the familial love of her cousins, can Jane accept Rochester's offer. In fact, the blinded Rochester is more dependent on her (at least until he regains his sight). Within her marriage to Rochester, Jane finally feels completely liberated, bringing her dual quests for family and independence to a satisfying conclusion. Religion Jane receives three different models of Christianity throughout the novel, all of which she rejects either partly or completely before finding her own way. Mr. Brocklehurst's Evangelicalism is full of hypocrisy: he spouts off on the benefits of privation and humility while he indulges in a life of luxury and emotionally abuses the students at Lowood. Also at Lowood, Helen Burns's Christianity of absolute forgiveness and tolerance is too meek for Jane's tastes; Helen constantly suffers her punishments silently and eventually dies. St. John, on the other hand, practices a Christianity of utter piousness, righteousness, and principle to the exclusion of any passion. Jane rejects his marriage proposal as much for his detached brand of spirituality as for its certain intrusion on her independence. However, Jane frequently looks to God in her own way throughout the book, particularly after she learns of Mr. Rochester's previous marriage and before St. John takes her in to Moor House. She also learns to adapt Helen’s doctrine of forgiveness without becoming complete passive and returns to Mr. Rochester when she feels that she is ready to accept him again. The culmination of the book is Jane’s mystical experience with Mr. Rochester that brings them together through a spirituality of profound love. Social position Brontë uses the novel to express her critique of Victorian class differences. Jane is consistently a poor individual within a wealthy environment, particularly with the Reeds and at Thornfield. Her poverty creates numerous obstacles for her and her pursuit of happiness, including personal insecurity and the denial of opportunities. The beautiful Miss Ingram's higher social standing, for instance, makes her Jane's main competitor for Mr. Rochester’s love, even though Jane is far superior in terms of intellect and character. Moreover, Jane’s refusal to marry Mr. Rochester because of their difference in social stations demonstrates her morality and belief in the importance of personal independence, especially in comparison to Miss Ingram’s gold-digging inclinations. Although Jane asserts that her poverty does not make her an inferior person, her eventual ascent out of poverty does help her overcome her personal obstacles. Not only does she generously divide her inheritance with her cousins, but her financial independence solves her difficulty with low self-esteem and allows her to fulfill her desire to be Mr. Rochester’s wife. Gender inequality Alongside Brontë's critique of Victorian class hierarchy is a subtler condemnation of the gender inequalities during the time period. The novel begins with Jane's imprisonment in the "red-room" at Gateshead, and later in the book Bertha's imprisonment in the attic at Thornfield is revealed. The connection implies that Jane's imprisonment is symbolic of her lower social class, while Bertha's containment is symbolic of Victorian marriage: all women, if they marry under unequal circumstances as Bertha did, will eventually be confined and oppressed by their husbands in some manner. Significantly, Jane is consciously aware of the problems associated with unequal marriages. Thus, even though she loves Mr. Rochester, she refuses to marry him until she has her own fortune and can enter into the marriage contract as his equal. While it is difficult to separate Jane's economic and gender obstacles, it is clear that her position as a woman also prevents her from venturing out into the world as many of the male characters do – Mr. Rochester, her Uncle John, and St. John, for instance. Indeed, her desire for worldly experience makes her last name ironic, as "Eyre" derives from an Old French word meaning "to travel." If Jane were a man, Brontë suggests, she would not be forced to submit to so much economic hardship; she could actively attempt to make her fortune. As it is, however, Jane must work as a governess, the only legitimate position open for a woman of her station, and simply wait for her uncle to leave her his fortune. Fire and Ice The motifs of fire and ice permeate the novel from start to finish. Fire is presented as positive, creative, and loving, while ice is seen as destructive, negative, and hateful. Brontë highlights this dichotomy by associating these distinct elements with particular characters: the cruel or detached characters, such as Mrs. Reed and St. John, are associated with ice, while the warmer characters, such as Jane, Miss Temple, and Mr. Rochester, are linked with fire. Interestingly, fire serves as a positive force even when it is destructive, as when Jane burns Helen's humiliating "Slattern" crown, and when Bertha sets fire to Mr. Rochester’s bed curtains and then to Thornfield Manor. The first of Bertha’s fires brings Jane and Mr. Rochester into a more intimate relationship, while the second destroys Thornfield and leads to Bertha's death, thus liberating Rochester from his shackled past. Although the fire also blinds Rochester, this incident helps Jane see that he is now dependent on her and erases any misgivings she may have about inequality in their marriage. Although Brontë does not suggest that the characters associated with ice are wholly malignant or unsympathetic, she emphasizes the importance of fiery love as the key to personal happiness. Gothic elements Brontë uses many elements of the Gothic literary tradition to create a sense of suspense and drama in the novel. First of all, she employs Gothic techniques in order to set the stage for the narrative. The majority of the events in the novel take place within a gloomy mansion (Thornfield Manor) with secret chambers and a mysterious demonic laugh belonging to the Madwoman in the Attic. Brontë also evokes a sense of the supernatural, incorporating the terrifying ghost of Mr. Reed in the red-room and creating a sort of telepathic connection between Jane and Mr. Rochester. More importantly, however, Brontë uses the Gothic stereotype of the Byronic hero to formulate the primary conflict of the text. Brooding and tortured, while simultaneously passionate and charismatic, Mr. Rochester is the focal point of the passionate romance in the novel and ultimately directs Jane’s behavior beginning at her time at Thornfield. At the same time, his dark past and unhappy marriage to Bertha Mason set the stage for the dramatic conclusion of the novel. External beauty versus internal beauty Throughout the novel, Brontë plays with the dichotomy between external beauty and internal beauty. Both Bertha Mason and Blanche Ingram are described as stunningly beautiful, but, in each case, the external beauty obscures an internal ugliness. Bertha’s beauty and sensuality blinded Mr. Rochester to her hereditary madness, and it was only after their marriage that he gradually recognized her true nature. Blanche’s beauty hides her haughtiness and pride, as well as her desire to marry Mr. Rochester only for his money. Yet, in Blanche’s case, Mr. Rochester seems to have learned not to judge by appearances, and he eventually rejects her, despite her beauty. Only Jane, who lacks the external beauty of typical Victorian heroines, has the inner beauty that appeals to Mr. Rochester. Her intelligence, wit, and calm morality express a far greater personal beauty than that of any other character in the novel, and Brontë clearly intends to highlight the importance of personal development and growth rather than superficial appearances. Once Mr. Rochester loses his hand and eyesight, they are also on equal footing in terms of appearance: both must look beyond superficial qualities in order to love each other. Quotes and Analysis 1. God and nature intended you for a missionary's wife. It is not personal, but mental endowments they have given you: you are formed for labour, not for love. A missionary's wife you must - shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you - not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign's service. St. John Rivers St. John makes this statement when he is attempting to convince Jane to marry him and become a missionary in India. St. John's declaration that Jane is formed for "labour, not for love" emphasizes his belief that love and passion have no place in a moral life. St. John's argument of ownership also highlights his view of Jane as a subservient companion, not a woman with independent thoughts. Although Jane approves of St. John's morality, she is unwilling to sacrifice love to become the kind of woman that St. John wants her to be. 2. I knew you would do me good in some way, at some time; - I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you: their expression and smile did not - did not strike delight to my very inmost heart so for nothing. People talk of natural sympathies: I have heard of good genii: - there are grains of truth in the wildest fable. My cherished preserver, good-night! Edward Rochester This quotation occurs immediately after Bertha Mason has set Mr. Rochester's bed on fire and Jane has rescued him. Mr. Rochester discards his sarcasm for one of the first times in the novel and acknowledges that he feels a significant emotional connection to Jane. This intimate moment is only possible because of Mr. Rochester's vulnerable position, and both the reader and Jane begin to see some of the person who lives beneath his brooding and tormented exterior. Bronte will continue to explore the idea that Jane and Mr. Rochester are kindred spirits as the novel continues, but even these few lines lay the seeds for the fiery passion that will pervade Jane's relationship with Mr. Rochester. 3. I am very happy, Jane; and when you hear that I am dead you must be sure and not grieve: there is nothing to grieve about. We all must die one day, and the illness which is removing me is not painful; it is gentle and gradual: my mind is at rest. I leave no one to regret me much: I have only a father; and he is lately married, and will not miss me. By dying young I shall escape great sufferings. I had not qualities or talents to make my way very well in the world: I should have been continually at fault. Helen Burns This speech comes when Helen Burns is dying in Jane's arms at Lowood School. Although she only appears for a few chapters, Helen and her view of Christianity become very significant to Jane as she grows into adulthood. Helen argued for turning the other cheek: accepting the injustice and unhappiness of the earthly world because of the joys that await in heaven. Although Jane does not wholly agree with Helen's passivity, particularly in the face of the torments at Lowood, she admires Helen's strength of faith. Still, Jane fears for her friend's death and the inevitable loneliness that will come when she is gone. Helen strives to convince Jane not to be unhappy because she is finally fulfilling her destiny and finding peace with God. 4. Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had: he and I, the parson and clerk, were alone present. Jane Eyre This quotation comes after Jane has gone to Ferndean and discovered the newly-blinded Mr. Rochester. Up until this point in the text, Jane has always maintained a subservient position to Mr. Rochester. However, with the inheritance from her uncle, Jane is now an independent woman and can take charge of her own destiny. Moreover, with the loss of Mr. Rochester's eyesight, he becomes vulnerable and dependent on Jane; he can no longer maintain his former position as the superior male. Thus, instead of using the subservient "He married me," in which Mr. Rochester is the dominating partner, Jane takes the superior in the relationship: "I married him." However, this inequality is resolved when Mr. Rochester regains the use of one of his eyes; Jane and Mr. Rochester are finally able to support a relationship of mutual respect and quality. 5. You never felt jealousy, did you, Miss Eyre? Of course not: I need not ask you; because you never felt love. You have both sentiments yet to experience: your soul sleeps; the shock is yet to be given which shall waken it. Edward Rochester This speech occurs when Mr. Rochester tells Jane about Adele's origins and his affair with Celine Varens. Mr. Rochester's assertion that Jane has never felt love is not necessarily false. At this point in her sheltered life, Jane has barely experienced familial love, not to mention romantic love. Mr. Rochester's conclusion about Jane's emotional experience also emphasizes her inferior position in their relationship. Because he has experienced many kinds of love, Mr. Rochester is ultimately wiser and thus, superior to his naive governess. However, Bronte suggests that Jane actually possesses far more wisdom and clarity about love that Mr. Rochester: she is the only one of the two who is able to resist the call of animal passion and resist the temptation to become his mistress. 6. Why, I suppose you have a governess for her: I saw a person with her just now - is she gone? Oh, no! there she is still behind the window-curtain. You pay her, of course: I should think it quite as expensive, - more so; for you have them both to keep in addition...You should hear mama on the chapter of governesses: Mary and I have had, I should think, a dozen at least in our day; half of them detestable and the rest ridiculous, and all incubi - were they not, mama? Blanche Ingram Jane overhears this speech by Blanche Ingram during one of the social gatherings at Thornfield. Blanche expresses the upper-class prejudice against governesses and other members of the lower-class. Instead of respecting governesses for the work that they must do, Blanches mocks them openly and without any consideration for Jane's presence in the room. In her mind, a governess is nothing more than a servant and worthy of even less respect. This attitude is one that Jane constantly faces as a governess; Mr. Rochester is the only member of high society who ever treats her with respect. 7. She bit me. She worried me like a tigress, when Rochester got the knife from her...She sucked the blood: she said she'd drain my heart. Richard Mason This speech takes place after Richard Mason has been attacked by Bertha. Although Mr. Rochester forbids Jane and Richard Mason to speak about what has occurred, Jane cannot help overhearing this clue to the mystery of Thornfield. Through Mason's description, Bronte is able to present Bertha's nature as bestial (as a tigress) and even vampiric, a term in itself that alludes to the Gothic literary tradition. Not only is Bertha akin to the animal world in all its chaos, she is even carnivorous and attempts to suck the life out of her brother in the same way that her presence threatens to suck the life out of Mr. Rochester's happiness with Jane. Bertha's uncontrollable animal nature comes in stark contrast to Jane's placidity and rationality; although Jane possesses some of the same fiery passion that Bertha has, Jane is able to control her inclinations with her humanity. 8. If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should - so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again. Jane Eyre This speech occurs during one of Jane's conversations with Helen Burns at Lowood. Although Helen prescribes to the idea of "turning the other cheek" when mistreated, Jane believes that people should defend themselves to ensure that they are never mistreated again. Jane is unable to mirror Helen's passivity at Lowood and her passion and strength of character will help her to overcome many obstacles in her life. Eventually Jane learns to hide her passion and anger at injustice, but Mr. Rochester will still recognize a kindred spirit beneath her calm exterior. 9. 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, weight well her words, scrutinize her actions, punish her body to saver 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! Mr. Brocklehurst Mr. Brocklehurst represents the worst kind of Christianity in the novel. His evangelical sermons, extreme stinginess, and cruel treatment of his students come in sharp contrast with his family's luxurious lifestyle and his embezzlement of school funds. In this particular scene, Mr. Brocklehurst demonstrates the extent of his cruelty by tormenting Jane with false accusations in front of her school peers. Although Mr. Brocklehurst is eventually removed from his position at Lowood, he remains one of the worst obstacles that the child Jane must overcome in order to continue her quest for independence. 1. QUESTION TO THINK ABOUT FOR EXAM How does the novel comment on the position of women in Victorian society? As a woman, Jane is forced to adhere to the strict expectations of the time period. Thought to be inferior to men physically and mentally, women could only hope to achieve some sort of power through marriage. As a governess, Jane suffers under an even more rigid set of expectations that highlight her lower-class status. With this social construct in mind, Jane has a submissive position to a male character until the very end of the novel. At Lowood, she is subservient to Mr. Brocklehurst; at Moor House, she is under the direct control of St. John Rivers; and even at Thornfield, she is in a perpetually submissive position to Mr. Rochester. Over the course of the narrative, Jane must escape from each of these inferior positions in an effort to gain her own independence from male domination. After her uncle leaves her his fortune, Jane is able to achieve this independence and can marry Mr. Rochester on her own terms, as an equal. Yet, Bronte emphasizes that Jane's sudden inheritance and resulting happy ending are not typical for women during the time period. Under most circumstances, Jane would be forced to maintain a subservient position to men for her entire life, either by continuing her work as a governess or by marrying an oppressive husband. Goblin Market" Christina Georgina Rossetti Poem by Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894), composed in 1859 and published in 1862 in Goblin Market and Other Poems.. INTRODUCTION "Goblin Market," an early work considered to be one of Rossetti's masterpieces, was intended simply as a fairy story. Despite Rossetti's assertions that she meant nothing profound by the tale, its rich, complex, and suggestive language has caused the poem to be practically ignored as children's literature and instead regarded variously as an erotic exploration of sexual fantasy, a commentary on capitalism and Victorian market economy, a feminist glorification of "sisterhood," and a Christian allegory about temptation and redemption, among other readings. Additionally, in attempts to decode what is often described as the poem's subversive text, critics have looked to Rossetti's life for interpretive keys. The biographical aspects which have been examined by critics as means toward achieving a greater understanding of the poem include Rossetti's love affairs, her work with the Oxford Movement's "women's mission to women" in which she helped "rehabilitate" prostitutes, and her association with her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the Pre- Raphaelite brotherhood. Since the language of "Goblin Market" suggests a variety of meanings, critics rarely agree on what the poem is about. Although scholars have failed to concur about something as elemental to the poem as its themes, "Goblin Market" is generally viewed as one of Rossetti's greatest works. Biographical Information Although Rossetti was a frequent contributor to her brother Dante's Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ, she achieved immediate and significant recognition as a skilled poet with the 1862 publication of Goblin Market and Other Poems. The publication of the volume was hailed as the first literary success of the Pre-Raphaelites, earned critical and popular acclaim, and paved the way for the publication of Rossetti's next volume of poetry, The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (1866). Rossetti went on to publish religious poetry, devotional prose, and nursery rhymes for children. Due to the early success of "Goblin Market," Rossetti rarely fell out of favor with critics or her reading public and remains a focal point of critical study of nineteenth-century literary figures. Plot and Major Characters The story narrated in "Goblin Market" is often described as simple. Two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, who apparently live together without parents, are taunted by goblin merchant men to buy luscious and tantalizing fruits. Lizzie is able to resist their coaxing and runs home, but Laura succumbs. She pays for the wares with a lock of her hair and gorges herself on the exotic fare, but her desire increases rather than being satisfied. She returns home and informs Lizzie that she will venture back into the glen and seek the goblins again. But Laura can no longer hear the call of the goblins and grows increasingly apathetic. She refuses to eat and begins to age prematurely. Fearing for her sister's life, Lizzie decides to seek out the goblins in order to purchase an "antidote" for her sister. When the goblins learn that Lizzie does not intend to eat the fruit herself, they throw her money back at her and verbally and physically abuse her, pinching and kicking, tearing at her clothing, and smearing the juice and pulp of their fruit on her. Lizzie refuses to open her mouth and returns home with the penny in her purse. She invites her sister to suck the juices from her body, which Laura does. The juice of the goblin fruit now tastes bitter to Laura, and she writhes in pain from having consumed it. But the antidote works. Laura returns to her former self, and the epilogue of the poem describes Laura and Lizzie as wives and mothers. Laura now tells the story to their children, reminding them that "there is no friend like a sister." Major Themes Critics look to the language and structure of "Goblin Market" to identify the poem's themes. The argument for the poem's erotic and sexual nature is supported by the language of the poem. The nature of the goblins' fruit is extensively detailed and described as luscious and succulent. Laura consumes the fruit ravenously ("She sucked until her lips were sore" [1. 136]) and physically pays for it with a lock of her hair. Once Lizzie decides to seek the goblin men, their taunts carry heavy sexual overtones as well. First they "Squeezed and caressed her" (1. 349) and then invite her to "Bob at our cherries / Bite at our peaches" (11. 354-55), and to "Pluck them and suck them" (1. 361). When she refuses to eat, they "Held her hands and squeezed their fruits / Against her mouth to make her eat" (11. 406-07). Finally, when Lizzie returns home, battered and bruised, she invites her sister's embrace: "Come and kiss me. / Never mind my bruises, / Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices / . . . Eat me, drink me, love me; / Laura, make much of me" (11. 466-68; 471-72). This erotic language has been used to support readings of the poem as a sexual fantasy and an examination of the sexuality and cruelty of children. Some critics focus primarily on Lizzie's suffering and subsequent offering of herself to her sister, reading this not as a sexual advance but as a sacrifice similar to Christ's redemption of humanity's sins or as exemplifying the power of sisterhood in a secular or feminist sense. The language of the poem is also filled with terms of commerce, economics, and exchange. The goblins sell exotic fruits to Laura, who pays for them with a lock of her hair. Lizzie attempts to pay for the fruit with money, which is refused. Such elements of the poem have been examined as statements about capitalism and the Victorian economy, as an exploration of the role of women within the economy and society, and, more specifically, as a discussion of the place of female literature within the economy. Some critics take this one step further and maintain that the poem represents Rossetti's own aesthetic theory. The theme of renunciation in the poem, demonstrated primarily through Lizzie's actions, is sometimes used to prove that Rossetti believed in the necessity of renouncing pleasure or art's gratification in order for poetry to have purpose or significance. On a more religious level, renunciation of pleasure is read as a means of achieving spiritual redemption. The basic structure of the poem lends itself to a reading of "Goblin Market" as a Christian allegory of temptation, fall, and redemption, and some critics have contended that this is the main purpose of the tale. In this reading, Laura represents the biblical Eve who yields to temptation, and Lizzie is the Christ figure who sacrifices herself to save her sister. Yet other scholars have maintained that the sexual language of the poem compromises its reading as a moral tale. Additionally, some aspects of the poem fail to coincide with the allegory. For example, as several critics have noted, Laura's desire itself is never criticized by either the poem's narrator or by Lizzie, and Lizzie's act is not one of overcoming temptation or desire, for she never longs for goblin fruit herself. This, some critics argue, undercuts Lizzie's standing as a Christ figure. Critical Reception Twentieth-century criticism of "Goblin Market" is remarkably similar to its contemporary commentary. In an early review (1863), Caroline Norton wrote that the poem "is one of the works which are said to 'defy criticism.' Is it a fable—or a mere fairy story—or an allegory against the pleasures of sinful love—or what is it?" These comments reflect modern criticism, as "Goblin Market" still perplexes and inspires scholars. Perhaps the most common means of investigating the poem is based in biography. Most modern analyses of "Goblin Market" refer in some way to aspects of Rossetti's life. Some critics, such as Lona Mosk Packer (1958), suggest ways in which Rossetti's romantic relationships influenced the poem. Packer describes Rossetti's "intimate friendship" with William Bell Scott, and Scott's subsequent, perhaps romantic, friendship with another woman. By Packer's account, Rossetti's sister Maria may have informed Christina of Scott's new interest and "saved" her sister from misplaced desire in much the same way that Lizzie saves Laura. Another biographical angle from which the poem is approached is that of Rossetti's work as a "sister" within the Anglican Sisterhoods of the Oxford Movement during the 1850s and 1860s. The work of the sisterhoods involved the reform of prostitutes and the reintroduction of reformed women into mainstream society. Critics such as Mary Wilson Carpenter (1991) argue that interaction with these women accounts for both the feminism and homoeroticism of "Goblin Market." Other critics suggest that the poem was meant as a means of cautioning these women about returning to their former ways. Additionally, critics such as Janet Galligani Casey (1991) suggest a more secular interpretation of "sisterhood." Casey points to the work of Florence Nightingale, and Rossetti's interest in this work, arguing that Nightingale popularized the notion of "sisters" as nurses. Casey goes on to suggest that, having been familiar with this concept and the fact that Nightingale attempted to elevate the role of nurturer (a traditionally female role) to that of the nurtured (a traditionally male role), Rossetti perhaps intended to emphasize that Lizzie heals or nurtures Laura and that the idea of "sisterhood" is really genderless. One other way in which critics have used Rossetti's life as a key to interpreting the poem centers on Rossetti's involvement with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, in which Rossetti's brother Dante played a prominent role. The Pre-Raphaelite movement was primarily Christian in emphasis and was a reaction against both Victorian materialism and artistic neoclassicism. At the time of its publication, "Goblin Market" was considered to be the first major literary achievement of the movement. Dorothy Mermin (1983) described "Goblin Market" as a "vision of a Pre-Raphaelite world from a woman's point of view." Furthermore, Mermin supports a biographical reading of the poem in which Rossetti imagines a Pre-Raphaelite sisterhood which she did not feel existed in reality. Finally, some critics have sought to synthesize various biographical aspects in interpreting "Goblin Market." Sean C. Grass (1996) attempts to account for the "commingling" of the influences of Rossetti's love affairs, her work in the sisterhoods of the Oxford Movement, and her association with the Pre-Raphaelites, through her writing of "Goblin Market." Grass emphasizes the importance of letting the poem point to the most "fruitful" ways of approaching it and identifies the use of lists within the poem as the "interpretive key." In his analysis, Grass finds that Rossetti experienced a conflict between her love of nature's variety and her belief that reveling in nature would cloud moral judgement; this conflict, concludes Grass, is the focus of "Goblin Market." Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. The Forcefulness of Love Romeo and Juliet is the most famous love story in the English literary tradition. Love is naturally the play’s dominant and most important theme. The play focuses on romantic love, specifically the intense passion that springs up at first sight between Romeo and Juliet. In Romeo and Juliet, love is a violent, ecstatic, overpowering force that supersedes all other values, loyalties, and emotions. In the course of the play, the young lovers are driven to defy their entire social world: families (“Deny thy father and refuse thy name,” Juliet asks, “Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, / And I’ll no longer be a Capulet”); friends (Romeo abandons Mercutio and Benvolio after the feast in order to go to Juliet’s garden); and ruler (Romeo returns to Verona for Juliet’s sake after being exiled by the Prince on pain of death in 2.1.76–78). Love is the overriding theme of the play, but a reader should always remember that Shakespeare is uninterested in portraying a prettied-up, dainty version of the emotion, the kind that bad poets write about, and whose bad poetry Romeo reads while pining for Rosaline. Love in Romeo and Juliet is a brutal, powerful emotion that captures individuals and catapults them against their world, and, at times, against themselves. The powerful nature of love can be seen in the way it is described, or, more accurately, the way descriptions of it so consistently fail to capture its entirety. At times love is described in the terms of religion, as in the fourteen lines when Romeo and Juliet first meet. At others it is described as a sort of magic: “Alike bewitchèd by the charm of looks” (2.Prologue.6). Juliet, perhaps, most perfectly describes her love for Romeo by refusing to describe it: “But my true love is grown to such excess / I cannot sum up some of half my wealth” (3.1.33–34). Love, in other words, resists any single metaphor because it is too powerful to be so easily contained or understood. Romeo and Juliet does not make a specific moral statement about the relationships between love and society, religion, and family; rather, it portrays the chaos and passion of being in love, combining images of love, violence, death, religion, and family in an impressionistic rush leading to the play’s tragic conclusion. Love as a Cause of Violence The themes of death and violence permeate Romeo and Juliet, and they are always connected to passion, whether that passion is love or hate. The connection between hate, violence, and death seems obvious. But the connection between love and violence requires further investigation. Love, in Romeo and Juliet, is a grand passion, and as such it is blinding; it can overwhelm a person as powerfully and completely as hate can. The passionate love between Romeo and Juliet is linked from the moment of its inception with death: Tybalt notices that Romeo has crashed the feast and determines to kill him just as Romeo catches sight of Juliet and falls instantly in love with her. From that point on, love seems to push the lovers closer to love and violence, not farther from it. Romeo and Juliet are plagued with thoughts of suicide, and a willingness to experience it: in Act 3, scene 3, Romeo brandishes a knife in Friar Lawrence’s cell and threatens to kill himself after he has been banished from Verona and his love. Juliet also pulls a knife in order to take her own life in Friar Lawrence’s presence just three scenes later. After Capulet decides that Juliet will marry Paris, Juliet says, “If all else fail, myself have power to die” (3.5.242). Finally, each imagines that the other looks dead the morning after their first, and only, sexual experience (“Methinks I see thee,” Juliet says, “. . . as one dead in the bottom of a tomb” (3.5.55–56). This theme continues until its inevitable conclusion: double suicide. This tragic choice is the highest, most potent expression of love that Romeo and Juliet can make. It is only through death that they can preserve their love, and their love is so profound that they are willing to end their lives in its defense. In the play, love emerges as an amoral thing, leading as much to destruction as to happiness. But in its extreme passion, the love that Romeo and Juliet experience also appears so exquisitely beautiful that few would want, or be able, to resist its power. The Individual Versus Society Much of Romeo and Juliet involves the lovers’ struggles against public and social institutions that either explicitly or implicitly oppose the existence of their love. Such structures range from the concrete to the abstract: families and the placement of familial power in the father; law and the desire for public order; religion; and the social importance placed on masculine honor. These institutions often come into conflict with each other. The importance of honor, for example, time and again results in brawls that disturb the public peace. Though they do not always work in concert, each of these societal institutions in some way present obstacles for Romeo and Juliet. The enmity between their families, coupled with the emphasis placed on loyalty and honor to kin, combine to create a profound conflict for Romeo and Juliet, who must rebel against their heritages. Further, the patriarchal power structure inherent in Renaissance families, wherein the father controls the action of all other family members, particularly women, places Juliet in an extremely vulnerable position. Her heart, in her family’s mind, is not hers to give. The law and the emphasis on social civility demands terms of conduct with which the blind passion of love cannot comply. Religion similarly demands priorities that Romeo and Juliet cannot abide by because of the intensity of their love. Though in most situations the lovers uphold the traditions of Christianity (they wait to marry before consummating their love), their love is so powerful that they begin to think of each other in blasphemous terms. For example, Juliet calls Romeo “the god of my idolatry,” elevating Romeo to level of God (2.1.156). The couple’s final act of suicide is likewise un-Christian. The maintenance of masculine honor forces Romeo to commit actions he would prefer to avoid. But the social emphasis placed on masculine honor is so profound that Romeo cannot simply ignore them. It is possible to see Romeo and Juliet as a battle between the responsibilities and actions demanded by social institutions and those demanded by the private desires of the individual. Romeo and Juliet’s appreciation of night, with its darkness and privacy, and their renunciation of their names, with its attendant loss of obligation, make sense in the context of individuals who wish to escape the public world. But the lovers cannot stop the night from becoming day. And Romeo cannot cease being a Montague simply because he wants to; the rest of the world will not let him. The lovers’ suicides can be understood as the ultimate night, the ultimate privacy. The Inevitability of Fate In its first address to the audience, the Chorus states that Romeo and Juliet are “star-crossed”—that is to say that fate (a power often vested in the movements of the stars) controls them (Prologue.6). This sense of fate permeates the play, and not just for the audience. The characters also are quite aware of it: Romeo and Juliet constantly see omens. When Romeo believes that Juliet is dead, he cries out, “Then I defy you, stars,” completing the idea that the love between Romeo and Juliet is in opposition to the decrees of destiny (5.1.24). Of course, Romeo’s defiance itself plays into the hands of fate, and his determination to spend eternity with Juliet results in their deaths. The mechanism of fate works in all of the events surrounding the lovers: the feud between their families (it is worth noting that this hatred is never explained; rather, the reader must accept it as an undeniable aspect of the world of the play); the horrible series of accidents that ruin Friar Lawrence’s seemingly well-intentioned plans at the end of the play; and the tragic timing of Romeo’s suicide and Juliet’s awakening. These events are not mere coincidences, but rather manifestations of fate that help bring about the unavoidable outcome of the young lovers’ deaths. The concept of fate described above is the most commonly accepted interpretation. There are other possible readings of fate in the play: as a force determined by the powerful social institutions that influence Romeo and Juliet’s choices, as well as fate as a force that emerges from Romeo and Juliet’s very personalities. Motifs Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. Light/Dark Imagery One of the play’s most consistent visual motifs is the contrast between light and dark, often in terms of night/day imagery. This contrast is not given a particular metaphoric meaning—light is not always good, and dark is not always evil. On the contrary, light and dark are generally used to provide a sensory contrast and to hint at opposed alternatives. One of the more important instances of this motif is Romeo’s lengthy meditation on the sun and the moon during the balcony scene, in which Juliet, metaphorically described as the sun, is seen as banishing the “envious moon” and transforming the night into day (2.1.46). A similar blurring of night and day occurs in the early morning hours after the lovers’ only night together. Romeo, forced to leave for exile in the morning, and Juliet, not wanting him to leave her room, both try to pretend that it is still night, and that the light is actually darkness: “More light and light, more dark and dark our woes” (3.5.36). Opposite Points of View Shakespeare includes numerous speeches and scenes in Romeo and Juliet that hint at alternative ways to evaluate the play. Shakespeare uses two main devices in this regard: Mercutio and servants. Mercutio consistently skewers the viewpoints of all the other characters in play: he sees Romeo’s devotion to love as a sort of blindness that robs Romeo from himself; similarly, he sees Tybalt’s devotion to honor as blind and stupid. His punning and the Queen Mab speech can be interpreted as undercutting virtually every passion evident in the play. Mercutio serves as a critic of the delusions of righteousness and grandeur held by the characters around him. Where Mercutio is a nobleman who openly criticizes other nobles, the views offered by servants in the play are less explicit. There is the Nurse who lost her baby and husband, the servant Peter who cannot read, the musicians who care about their lost wages and their lunches, and the Apothecary who cannot afford to make the moral choice, the lower classes present a second tragic world to counter that of the nobility. The nobles’ world is full of grand tragic gestures. The servants’ world, in contrast, is characterized by simple needs, and early deaths brought about by disease and poverty rather than dueling and grand passions. Where the nobility almost seem to revel in their capacity for drama, the servants’ lives are such that they cannot afford tragedy of the epic kind. Symbols Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. Poison In his first appearance, in Act 2, scene 2, Friar Lawrence remarks that every plant, herb, and stone has its own special properties, and that nothing exists in nature that cannot be put to both good and bad uses. Thus, poison is not intrinsically evil, but is instead a natural substance made lethal by human hands. Friar Lawrence’s words prove true over the course of the play. The sleeping potion he gives Juliet is concocted to cause the appearance of death, not death itself, but through circumstances beyond the Friar’s control, the potion does bring about a fatal result: Romeo’s suicide. As this example shows, human beings tend to cause death even without intending to. Similarly, Romeo suggests that society is to blame for the apothecary’s criminal selling of poison, because while there are laws prohiting the Apothecary from selling poison, there are no laws that would help the apothecary make money. Poison symbolizes human society’s tendency to poison good things and make them fatal, just as the pointless Capulet-Montague feud turns Romeo and Juliet’s love to poison. After all, unlike many of the other tragedies, this play does not have an evil villain, but rather people whose good qualities are turned to poison by the world in which they live. Thumb-biting In Act 1, scene 1, the buffoonish Samson begins a brawl between the Montagues and Capulets by flicking his thumbnail from behind his upper teeth, an insulting gesture known as biting the thumb. He engages in this juvenile and vulgar display because he wants to get into a fight with the Montagues but doesn’t want to be accused of starting the fight by making an explicit insult. Because of his timidity, he settles for being annoying rather than challenging. The thumb-biting, as an essentially meaningless gesture, represents the foolishness of the entire Capulet/Montague feud and the stupidity of violence in general. Queen Mab In Act 1, scene 4, Mercutio delivers a dazzling speech about the fairy Queen Mab, who rides through the night on her tiny wagon bringing dreams to sleepers. One of the most noteworthy aspects of Queen Mab’s ride is that the dreams she brings generally do not bring out the best sides of the dreamers, but instead serve to confirm them in whatever vices they are addicted to—for example, greed, violence, or lust. Another important aspect of Mercutio’s description of Queen Mab is that it is complete nonsense, albeit vivid and highly colorful. Nobody believes in a fairy pulled about by “a small grey-coated gnat” whipped with a cricket’s bone (1.4.65). Finally, it is worth noting that the description of Mab and her carriage goes to extravagant lengths to emphasize how tiny and insubstantial she and her accoutrements are. Queen Mab and her carriage do not merely symbolize the dreams of sleepers, they also symbolize the power of waking fantasies, daydreams, and desires. Through the Queen Mab imagery, Mercutio suggests that all desires and fantasies are as nonsensical and fragile as Mab, and that they are basically corrupting. This point of view contrasts starkly with that of Romeo and Juliet, who see their love as real and ennobling.
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