The development of psychoanalytic theory (deriving from the work of Sigmund Freud) has had a major influence on literary criticism in a wide variety of ways. The following are particularly relevant to Jane Eyre.
The relationship between writer and text
This approach would concentrate on Brontë's own experience, such as:
- Her lack of a mother
- The time she spent at Cowan Bridge School
- Her supposed isolation and ignorance of sexual love.
These can be seen to result in a romantic plot that operates as a kind of wish-fulfilment. Such interpretations are not always based on reliable biographical knowledge.
Analysis of character in psychological terms
Here, critics might concentrate on how characters behave, treating them as psychological cases:
- Mrs Reed would be a suitable character for study, particularly in relation to the loss of her husband and her inability to handle responsibility
- The highly repressed Mr Brocklehurst, with his distaste for the ‘natural', could be seen as an example of a man who uses strict religious practices as a means of concealing his own psychological problems
- Women had been associated with ‘the flesh' and sexual passion – thus Bertha Mason, the deranged creature who lives in Rochester's attic and has a hold on his life can be seen as symbolic of his lust / passion
- St John Rivers is an example of a personality undergoing conflict between a sense of duty and his passionate feelings for someone else. This is seen in Chapter 32 (volume 3, Chapter 6), where he allows himself to give way to his feelings for a set time
- The maiming of Rochester at the novel's end could be seen as a sort of castration of his passion and physical prowess – although that does not take account of his subsequently fathering children by Jane.
Family and parent-child relationships
Critics might also concentrate on the varieties of such relationships to be found in the novel:
- As in many nineteenth century novels, there is a distinct absence of parents and hardly any of the novel's main characters – Jane, the Reed children, many of the pupils at Lowood School, Adèle – have grown up in stable or complete families
- Children might have poor relationships with their parents – Rochester, for instance
- There are a number of surrogate parents – such as Mrs Reed, Brocklehurst, Miss Temple and Mr Rochester – the first two of whom are highly unsatisfactory.
Relationship between the reader and the text
This approach would concentrate on the reader's response to the novel and how readers in some way work or collude with the author in the act of reading to construct meanings or satisfy unconscious wishes by their response to characters and events. This is a theoretical way of stating that readers usually have empathy or sympathy with one or more of the novel's characters and may, therefore, identify psychologically with the fortunes of that character:
- In the case of Jane Eyre, a good deal of the reader's understanding of the novel depends on the degree of his or her sympathy or hostility towards Jane
- Readers will also bring…