Jane Eyre Essay #3

What makes a good critical reading?

The term ‘critical reading’ suggests an academic method of dissecting a text without any enjoyment gained while reading the text itself. A search for meaning within the words; whether that meaning be plainly evident or hidden within symbolism. Critical reading has a scholarly connotation – an elderly bespeckled man, a professor, gaining a deep understanding of the nuances contained in the book in his hands but deriving little pleasure from the actual reading of the book. Or maybe, for this person at least, the pleasure gained is from recognizing the subtle references written down by the author, and seeing how they are connected to make this book a true literary work. Ask the average person how they would define critical reading and what would the typical response be? Someone with an advanced college degree may answer that a critical reading is done to look at how ( in terms of good and bad writing) a book is written, and not the content. Another person without the advanced degree, but who enjoys reading, may call critical reading the picking-apart of the content of the text, analyzing the what and not the how

Personally, I fall into the latter group. Content interests me more than style; if what is there engages either my mind or my heart, I will follow through with it until the end.  Not to say that the how isn’t important as well. Sometimes bad writing may cause me to stop reading, even if what I am reading is about my favorite subject: wolves. For instance, books by Rick Bass (The Ninemile Wolves)

and Doug Smith (Decade of the Wolf)

were read in one sitting. From the first page, I was hooked. It wasn’t work reading those books, it was play. However, another book about wolves, the Rene’ Askins’ memoir, A Shadow of the Mountain,

detailed Askins’ lifetime spent working for the recovery of wolf populations. Wolves are my favorite subject but reading her account was like work, not play. Subsequently I never finished it. I credit the inability of the subject matter to overcome Askins’ bad writing skills.

Then, to say what makes for a good reading to me is a combination of subject matter, the quality of the writing, and the attachment to characters. Subject matter is most important when reading works of non-fiction. Biographies, historical studies, the social sciences, etc. At one time books about the Italian Mafia interested me greatly. Anything written about any gangster, whether it be the low level hoods or the bosses, I’d pick-up and devour. Now I make it a point to avoid such titles. The same is true for certain celebrities –  Clint Eastwood, Humphrey Bogart, Grace Kelly –

I will read anything written about them. The subject of these biographies interests me, so I read them. However, reading for subject matter is an evolving concept: what I read at one stage of my life may not be what interests me at a later stage. Along with organized crime, sports are another subject about which I no longer care to read. This could be part of the process of maturity. As an adult, the nonfiction works I read tend to deal more with environmental and political issues; issues that have a greater overall impact on both my life and the lives of every living being on the planet.

When reading fiction, the subject matter is less important, I could even say not important at all. Could subject matter be important to one who can read romance novels like Jane Eye and For Whom the Bell Tolls;

fantasy fiction like Conan the Barbarian and the Harry Potter novels; classic pieces like Hamlet, The Iliad and The Song of Roland; and books with animals as the lead characters as in The Call of the Wild and Hungry For Home?

At some point in a fiction novel, gaining an emotional attachment to a character or characters becomes paramount to reading the book. Without caring what happens to a character it is impossible to keep reading. And like I’ve mentioned there is no pattern to the type of story I like, but there is also no pattern to the characters I’ll care for. Robert Jordan’s love for Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls is different than rooting for Harry Potter tying to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort but the suspense was just the same. The female wolf, Marta, searching for a place to raise her young doesn’t mirror the struggle of Roland to remain honorable in the face of certain death, but the psychological impact is not less. 

In stories without strong characters causes and ideas can replace them and create the same type of attachment. Kurt Vonnegaeut’s anti-war sentiments in Slaughterhouse Five or Hank Morgan railing against the “advancement” of mankind in A Connecticut Yankee in Kin Arthur’s Court.

Without the attachment to characters or causes reading is hard and passionless.

However, reading for pleasure and conducting a critical reading are completely different ideas. When reading for pleasure all that’s needed is a strong, engaging character to follow. But to read critically tools are needed: an educational background, a strong vocabulary, a keen eye for detail, and time. Great writers don’t beat their readers over the head with messages and symbols, great writers fluently write them into the prose and allow readers to discover them on their own. But without certain tools these hidden gems couldn’t be found and the text loses some of it’s power. For instance, J.K. Rowling uses the Latin language to name spells and creatures in the Harry Potter series. Without some background in Latin a reader could be confused. In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte’ quotes and paraphrases liberally from the Christian bible. Someone not familiar with Christianity would miss them and possibly not gain a thorough understanding of the trials young Jane endures.

Having a wide vocabulary comes in handy when words like interlocutor and ennervant are encountered. Even countenance would lose it’s impact if the reader didn’t know that it refer to how a person held themselves. But most important, when conducting a good critical reading of a text a close attention to detail must be used, or so much would get missed. Sandra M. Gilbert used a close attention to detail to analyze Jane Eyre, a critical reading she conducted and summarized in her essay “A Dialogue of Self and Soul: Plain Jane’s Progress”.

SGilbert_Jane_Eyre_%22Plain_Jane’s_Progress%22_LitCrit-2.pdf (dvrhs.org)

Gilbert saw in Jane Eyre three separate stories: The first being the coming-of-age story of Jane from a terrorized little girl to a strong young woman able to act on her own account. The second story was the confrontation between Jane and Bertha Mason – the lunatic locked in a room on the third floor. Gilbert sees every encounter between Jane and Bertha as Jane confronting a different part of herself, a frightening part of herself the young Jane does not want to allow to exist. And the third story is that of Thornfield Hall itself. Gilbert compares it to Bluebeards castle and Jane to Bluebeard’s wife: A prisoner in a death chamber.

Gilbert sees Jane’s coming-of-age happening in four separate sections, each with their own set of problems for Jane, and each paralleling what every woman must face in society. At Gateshead Jane faced oppression: she wasn’t allowed to play with the other kids because she wasn’t like other kids, she was quiet and reserved. Jane got picked on by her cousins and punished more severely than they by Aunt Reed. Jane’s cousins never were punished for their actions against Jane, and Jane was only treated more severely when she defended herself against them.

At Lockwood, Jane, along with the other girls, faced starvation. Starvation so severe that many of the malnourished girls became sick as a result, some of them dying. Madness, at Thornfield Hall, was another obstacle for Jane, according to Gilbert. Madness, not only in the form of Bertha Mason, but also coming from Rochester. The lies and the secrets Rochester told and kept were obvious. Jane struggled to make sense of them, and also reconcile them with her pity of Bertha and love for Rochester. Finally, in the last section, met the coldness of Marsh’s End. The coldness of the air that nearly killed Jane as she wandered helplessly in the days immediately following her flight from Thornfield. But also coldness in the form of St. John, Jane’s rescuer and courter at Marsh’s End, a man seemingly without emotion who looks at life through the filter of Christianity.

But according to Gilbert, Jane’s biggest confrontation was with the crazy Bertha Mason. In Gilbert’s eyes Mason represents Jane’s alter ego; the angry, violent part of Jane kept suppressed by Jane.  Gilbert correlates behavior between Jane and Bertha. Jane raving mad at being locked in the red room, Bertha howling and snarling in her prison on the third floor. Jane pacing to relieve stress, Bertha running back and forth on all fours. Whenever Jane is feeling anger Bertha appears. This is an interesting argument made by Gilbert. It seems she is saying that we all have a dark half and Bertha is like a fantasy person for Jane, able to act out in ways most people never could.      

The Thornfield Hall story is dominated by Rochester. Rochester represents Thornfield Hall in a  human form. Large, hard and stern, obtrusive and dominating. Just as navigating the largeness of the house becomes a problem for Jane, so does Jane have a problem becoming an equal with Rochester. Rochester has much more experience than Jane and that gives him an advantage. He knows things Jane doesn’t, he’s been in love and in lust. When he has these feelings he knows better than Jane what do with them.

I feel the arguments made by Gilbert are good ones, and I also believe she fits into my criteria. Her diagnosis of Rochester’s sexual power over Jane is something only a close reading could demonstrate. Gilbert didn’t fully develop her idea of the female Bildungsroman, but that is because Gilbert saw Bertha Mason as the most important story within the novel. Gilbert equating Jane’s repressed anger with Bertha’s actions demonstrate the fourth of my criteria for a good critical reading: that of being able to see how different parts of a book may counter or coincide with other parts of the book.

The graded version with professor’s notes.

What makes a good critical reading?

The term ‘critical reading’ suggests an academic method of dissecting a text without any enjoyment gained while reading the text itself.(awk—but interesting point) Critical reading is a search for meaning within the words, whether that meaning be plainly evident, or hidden within symbolism. Critical reading  has a scholarly connotation – an elderly bespectacled man, gaining a deep understanding of the nuances contained in the book in his hands but deriving little pleasure from the actual reading of the book. (nice imagery)Or maybe, for this person at least, the pleasure gained is from recognizing the subtle references written down by the author, and seeing how they are connected to make this book a true literary work.(this is actually probably the case) Ask the average person how they would define critical reading, and what would the typical response be? Someone with an advanced college degree may answer that a critical reading is done to look at how (in terms of good and bad writing) a book is written, and not the content. Another person without the advanced degree, but who enjoys reading, may call critical reading the picking-apart of the content of the text, analyzing  what and not the how. (interesting distinction)

Personally, I fall into the latter group. Content interests me more than style; if what is there engages either my mind or my heart, I will follow through with it until the end. Not to say that the how isn’t important as well. Sometimes bad writing may cause me to stop reading, even if what I am reading is about my favorite subject: wolves. For instance, books by Rick Bass (The Ninemile Wolves) and Doug Smith (Decade of the Wolf) were read in one sitting. From the first page, I was hooked. It wasn’t work reading those books, it was play. However, another book about wolves, the Rene’ Askins’ memoir, A Shadow of the Mountain, detailed Askins’ lifetime spent working for the recovery of wolf populations. Wolves are my favorite subject, but reading her account was like work, not play. Subsequently I never finished it. I credit the inability of the subject matter to overcome Askins’ bad writing skills. (this is a nice and refreshing description of your reading practices—I’m just not exactly sure how that connects to the evaluation of critical articles)

Then, to say what makes for a good reading to me is a combination of subject matter, the quality of the writing, and the attachment to characters. Subject matter is most important when reading works of non-fiction. Biographies, historical studies, the social sciences, etc. At one time books about the Italian Mafia interested me greatly. Anything written about any gangster, whether it is the low level hoods or the bosses, I’d pick-up and devour. Now I make it a point to avoid such titles. The same is true for certain celebrities – Clint Eastwood, Humphrey Bogart, Grace Kelly – I will read anything written about them. The subject of these biographies interests me, so I read them. However, reading for subject matter is an evolving concept: what I read at one stage of my life may not be what interests me at a later stage. Along with organized crime, sports are another subject about which I no longer care to read. This could be part of the process of maturity. As an adult, the nonfiction works I read tend to deal more with environmental and political issues; issues that have a greater overall impact on both my life and the lives of every living being on the planet.

When reading fiction, the subject matter is less important, I could even say not important at all. Could subject matter be important to one who can read romance novels like Jane Eye and For Whom the Bell Tolls; fantasy fiction like Conan the Barbarian and the Harry Potter novels; classic pieces like Hamlet, The Iliad and The Song of Roland; and books with animals as the lead characters as in The Call of the Wild and Hungry For Home? At some point, in a fiction novel, gaining an emotional attachment to a character or characters becomes paramount to reading the book. Without caring what happens to a character, it is impossible to keep reading. And like I’ve mentioned, there is no pattern to the type of story I like, but there is also no pattern to the characters I’ll care for. Robert Jordan’s love for Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls is different than rooting for Harry Potter tying to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort but the suspense was just the same. The female wolf, Marta, searching for a place to raise her young doesn’t mirror the struggle of Roland to remain honorable in the face of certain death, but the psychological impact is not less.

In stories without strong characters causes and ideas can replace them and create the same type of attachment. Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war sentiments in Slaughterhouse Five or Hank Morgan railing against the “advancement” of mankind in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Without the attachment to characters or causes, reading is hard and passionless.

However, reading for pleasure and conducting a critical reading are completely different ideas.(true, I might move more directly to this point) When reading for pleasure, all that’s needed is a strong, engaging character to follow. But to read critically tools are needed: an educational background, a strong vocabulary, a keen eye for detail, and time. Great writers don’t beat their readers over the head with messages and symbols, because great writers fluently write them into the prose and allow readers to discover them on their own. But without certain tools these hidden gems couldn’t be found, and the text loses some of its power. For instance, J.K. Rowling uses the Latin language to name spells and creatures in the Harry Potter series. Without some background in Latin, a reader could be confused. In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte’ quotes and paraphrases liberally from the Christian bible. Someone not familiar with Christianity would miss them and possibly not gain a thorough understanding of the trials young Jane endures.

Having a wide vocabulary comes in handy when words like interlocutor and enervant are encountered. Even countenance would lose it impact if the reader didn’t know that it refers to how a person held themselves. But most importantly, when conducting a good critical reading of a text, a close attention to detail must be used, or so much would get missed. Sandra M. Gilbert used a close attention to detail to analyze Jane Eyre, a critical reading she conducted and summarized in her essay “A Dialogue of Self and Soul: Plain Jane’s Progress”. (is there anything else that makes this article good?)

Gilbert saw in Jane Eyre three separate stories: The first being the coming-of-age story of Jane from a terrorized little girl to a strong young woman able to act on her own account. The second story was the confrontation between Jane and Bertha Mason – the lunatic locked in a room on the third floor. Gilbert sees every encounter between Jane and Bertha as Jane confronting a different part of herself, a frightening part of herself the young Jane does not want to allow to exist. And the third story is that of Thornfield Hall itself. Gilbert compares it to Bluebeard’s castle and Jane to Bluebeard’s wife: A prisoner in a death chamber.

Gilbert sees Jane’s coming-of-age happening in four separate sections, each with their own set of problems for Jane, and each paralleling what every woman must face in society. At Gateshead Jane faced oppression: she wasn’t allowed to play with the other kids because she wasn’t like other kids, she was quiet and reserved. Jane got picked on by her cousins and punished more severely than they by Aunt Reed. Jane’s cousins never were punished for their actions against Jane, and Jane was only treated more severely when she defended herself against them.

At Lowood, Jane, along with the other girls, faced starvation. Starvation so severe that many of the malnourished girls became sick as a result, some of them dying. Madness, at Thornfield Hall, was another obstacle for Jane, according to Gilbert. Madness, not only in the form of Bertha Mason, but also madness coming from Rochester as well. The lies and the secrets Rochester told and kept were obvious. Jane struggled to make sense of them, and also reconcile them with her pity of Bertha and love for Rochester. Finally, in the last section, met the coldness of Marsh’s End. The coldness of the air that nearly killed Jane as she wandered helplessly in the days immediately following her flight from Thornfield. But also coldness in the form of St. John, Jane’s rescuer and courter (?) at Marsh’s End, a man seemingly without emotion who looks at life through the filter of Christianity.

But according to Gilbert, Jane’s biggest confrontation was with the crazy Bertha Mason. In Gilbert’s eyes Mason represents Jane’s alter ego; the angry, violent part of Jane kept suppressed by Jane. Gilbert correlates behavior between Jane and Bertha. Jane raving mad at being locked in the red room, Bertha howling and snarling in her prison on the third floor. Jane pacing to relieve stress, Bertha running back and forth on all fours. Whenever Jane is feeling anger Bertha appears. This is an interesting argument made by Gilbert. It seems she is saying that we all have a dark half, and Bertha is like a fantasy person for Jane, able to act out in ways most people never could.

The Thornfield Hall story is dominated by Rochester. Rochester represents Thornfield Hall in a human form: Large, hard and stern, obtrusive and dominating. Just as navigating the largeness of the house becomes a problem for Jane, so does Jane have a problem becoming an equal with Rochester. Rochester has much more experience than Jane and that gives him an advantage. He knows things Jane does not, he’s been in love and felt lust. When he has these feelings, he knows better than Jane what do with them.

I feel the arguments made by Gilbert are good ones, and I also believe she fits into my criteria. Her diagnosis of Rochester’s sexual power over Jane is something only a close reading could demonstrate. Gilbert didn’t fully develop her idea of the female Bildungsroman, but that is because Gilbert saw Bertha Mason as the most important story within the novel. Gilbert equating Jane’s repressed anger with Bertha’s actions demonstrates the fourth of my criteria for a good critical reading: that of being able to see how different parts of a book may counter or coincide with other parts of the book.

I think you have some very interesting ideas about reading and the different reasons why people read.  I think though that the paper needs to focus more on the kind of critical writing Gilbert does—and how we might find a way to evaluate it.  There is a good bit of summary about the Gilbert article too—I’d work on cutting some of that down and pointing out ways in which Gilbert’s piece is either good or flawed.

C+

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