I don't understand the part in italics. Is it saying that Jane's puberty was similar to the menarchal ceremony held by Eskimo and South Sea Island tribes?

Jane's ritual imprisonment here, and the subsequent episodes of ostracism at Gateshead, where she is forbidden to eat, play, or socialize with other members of the family, is an adolescent rite of passage that has curious anthropological affinities to the menarchal ceremonies of Eskimo or South Sea Island tribes. The passage into womanhood stresses the lethal and fleshly aspects of adult female sexuality. The "mad cat," the "bad animal" (as John Reed calls Jane),31 who is shut up and punished will reappear later in the novel as the totally animalistic, maddened, and brutalized Bertha Mason; her secret chamber is simply another red-room at the top of another house.

Elaine Showalter, A literature of their own (1977), page 115.

2 Answers 2


Showalter is saying that she sees similarities between what Jane experiences and the ceremonies around a girl's first period in some cultures. She mentions Eskimo and South Sea cultures, but seclusion of girls at puberty is not limited to those parts of the world.

Charlotte Brontë's novel does not mention this aspect of Jane's puberty; in the nineteenth century, this is something that could only be alluded to obliquely, if at all. Showalter reads the text as making that allusion; after all, Jane is secluded from the rest and, what's more, in a room that only women enter and that is known as the "red-room". The colour red refers to blood and thereby to the menarche. (After Jane has been in the red-room for a while, she mentions that "[her] blood was still warm".) In addition, the room is also associated with secrets ("Mrs. Reed herself, ..., visited it to review the contents of a certain secret drawer"), which can be seen as symbolising taboo.

Of course, since Jane is only ten years old (see Chapter IV), the passage can only exhibit similarities to menarchal ceremonies rather than obliquely alluding to her own menarche.


Yes. She is claiming that since both are them involving a period of confinement in which the girl is forbidden to associate with others (a common trait of rites of passage, to be sure), there is a connection between them.

It is a very common trait of many literary critics to argue from association in this manner. What exactly will be regarded as a comparable point varies widely.

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