Friday, April 24, 2015

Jane Eyre, Beauty and the Beast, Cupid and Psyche and Little-Burnt Face: The myth of the monstrous man.

Jane Eyre is quite an innocent when her tiny slipper crosses Mr. Rochester's threshold.  She has lived through much, having survived Lowood and Mr. Brocklehurst, but she is still quite new to the world. Jane has a tolerably hopeful opinion of it when she sets out to become a governess and even when she is nearly run down by a large dog and a horse. 

Jane has been surrounded by good women and good girls to a good degree. She knows about cruelty from her aunt and the man her aunt entrusted her to, but for the most part the scales are tipped toward the good in humanity in her eyes.

She is totally unprepared for the depth of deception Mr. Rochester is capable of. Mr. Brocklehurst was cruel, a children’s school despot. Brocklehurt's evils were direct and without subtlety. He did not try to hide his nature. He was too stupid to know how. Still, one may wonder why Jane would trust another man in a superior position so soon or at all? 

We know that superiority did not move Jane. She had not learned to fear it or even be a little suspicious of it, making her an innocent. Mr. Rochester is a "gentleman" in wealth and appearance. He is a gentleman who knows how to keep secrets like an illegitimate daughter, a wife and a mistress. He is of higher rank than Jane but of lower morals (since his were not trained.)

Still, Jane does not distrust Mr. Rochester even when she is warned by Mrs. Fairfax. She knows something is wrong in the house but innocently leaves Mr. Rochester blameless because he does not look the part of a villain like Grace Poole. Appearances are deceptive in this story. Nothing is as it seems, yet Jane trusts Edward. She never wonders why a man of his station would want to marry her. Her naive view of the world as a place of equality of spirit blinds her to her possible danger.
Rochester is the “lover” in the story, but he is far from a romantic ideal. In fact, he is a bit of a monster. He is cruel, calculating and manipulative, yet Jane loves him. How can that be? Aren't lovers always good? Not necessarily. As romance readers today will attest, ”everyone loves a bad boy.” 

This is not a new concept. We have "bad boys" even in ancient myth. One of the first is Cupid. In the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Cupid kidnaps Psyche and takes her to a castle where unseen hands serve her and an unseen lover services her. Psyche is informed, by  her sisters,  that her husband is a monster,  specifically a giant snake. Very phallic indeed and very familiar.

Cupid may have been one of the first monstrous lovers, but he is not the last. The fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast has many similar elements: a beastly lover, a hidden castle where the Beauty is served by invisible servants, and a prince who must be seen as other than a monster.

Sound familiar? Let's look again at Jane Eyre. Jane goes to a beautiful mysterious mansion. She is a servant, but her not-so-handsome lord and master is not what he seems. A loving eye is necessary to see Rochester truly for what he is. Only the right way of looking at this "monster" will allow Jane to recognize his pain and his misery.Seeing is essential when dealing with monstrous lovers and men.

There is a similar example in Native American Culture. It is one of my childhood favorites. It is called, “Little Burnt-Face.” Like Jane, Little Burnt-Face does not have a great childhood, as her name suggests. She is burned and beaten constantly by her sisters. One day, a Great Chief's sister comes to the village looking for a wife for her brother. She asks only, "what does he look like?"  to all the girls in the village. Some girls say, "I don't know." Others say, "he is handsome," or "he has a nice fur tunic," or " he has nice moccasins." The sister sends them away.They have not seen him.  Finally, only Little Burnt-Face is left. She drags herself into the tent. The sister is kind to her. She is asked the same question. What does he look like? Little burnt-face says that he has a rainbow as  his bow,  the stars are his eyes ,and the earth are  his shoulders. She has seen him! She is healed and marries him.

In all these stories, the art of seeing is the key (suffering of the heroine is also important because it gives her the ability to empathize with the monster's pain and recognize the inner beauty that others cannot see.)  Jane must see past rank, deception, and lies to the truth of a terrible marriage and the heartache of a desperate man. Rochester’s pain is on the inside unlike the Beast, perhaps suggested by his ugliness. When he passes through the fire, a fire that redeems him, frees, and brands him, his wounds are laid out in the open for the world to see. He is even more unacceptable to others, but Jane still sees the good man that loves her within. Seeing is an art especially when it comes to the heart. To see beyond the hideous pain of another to the real need for love and companionship that is at the heart of the monster, of the beast, of the Great Chief, of Mr. Rochester is one skill a heroine must have in order to get her happy ending.

Candice Raquel Lee