Human beings are gregarious, and therefore we form communities and societies. Under this circumstance, we are unable to escape from interactions with others. Within the frame of interactions, it is necessary to perceive each others’ opinions and perspectives, and therefore restraint by others’ perceptions and perspectives.
Most of the times, the widely used standard for deeming, is physical appearances. By applying “beautiful” and “ugly”, we convey not only the constructed esteem and standard defining as “beautiful” and “ugly” in the societies, but often times is the add-on value comes with these adjectives. Beautiful people are considered possess positive characters, and vice versa. Therefore, “beautiful” becomes “intelligent”, and “ugly” becomes “stupid”. This conclusion drawn from physical appearances would also have impact on individuals’ personal perspectives and behaviors on lives. Though various reasons have impact in this procedure, I would only focus in the section of beauty esteems.
Identity is the ground of action (King 42). How we define ourselves is related to how we are going to act in our lives. In a gregarious society, how we define ourselves is highly associated to how others think about ourselves. Most of the times, the first impression is built on superficial physical appearances, whether it is in accordance with mass esteems. Though we may express the idea as if it is the unchangeable truth of all times, it is merely a constructed value-system that recognized by the mass, and does not represent the ultimate one and only truth.
Jane Eyre is deemed as “not pretty”, and hence her personalities are neglected regardless of that whether they are positive or not. This social convention has an impact on her perspectives viewing the world. The fact that people formulate opinions based physical appearances, and that she does not fit in the category of beauty of the Victorian times, renders people deeming her as inferior and no need to be respectable of. Thus, her confidence towards the world is under attack within this frame. Her point of view towards the world becomes negative, as a reflection of how others deem her. The world considers her as inferior, so she considers herself in the same way as well. Furthermore, this negative perception of the world would affect her conceptions and behaviors.
I would like to discuss about how the beauty esteem is constructed. With this point of view, analyzing how it affects Jane Eyre’s perspective and behaviors in life. Furthermore, how she manages to escape from the biased frame of society.
Language was there before you. You can only say something by positioning yourself in the discourse. The tale tells the teller, the myth tells the myth-maker, etc (King 44). Languages are utensils of communication for human beings. We construct the grammar systems, create vocabularies, and define them regarding to our living circumstances. Therefore, in the case of adjectives, they reflect our esteems and values, which are constructed by society. We are not born knowing what those adjectives mean, but rather are taught in the process of growing, in the ways that social reckons. Therefore, as we grow up in different societies, the esteems will not be the same, but are shaped by customs and cultures in different places. Our esteems reflect the souls of societies. People from different societies have different valuations, at times there are exceptions, nonetheless viewing from the macro angle, we may categorize generally.
As frequent as we use adjectives like “beautiful” and “ugly”, “gorgeous” and “plain”, we have certain opinions and evaluations towards those wordings. Though these adjectives may apply to different circumstances, in here we only refer to physical appearances. We have standards and scales regarding to those vocabularies, be it a certain person referring to “beautiful” or the contrary, or some specific features. In different societies, the beauty-esteems vary due to various culture backgrounds, but “beautiful” as constructed usually refers to pleasant and endearing physical features according to respective society’s standards. There are certain applicable physical characters for evaluations. Aside the description of physical appearances, these adjectives often times articulate another layer of social recognitions.
When we make our choice of wording, we not only choose the words themselves, but also the social meanings they implies. We pick the words that are constructed by the societies, and use them to describe our constructed societies with our constructed minds and reasons. Put the beauty-esteem in this concept, we use “beautiful” to describe the people that are deemed as beautiful based on how we are taught what are beautiful in respective societies.
Aside from our constructed choice of wordings, often times upon our choice of wordings, we also imply another layer of social values onto different vocabularies. “beautiful” not only means appearance beauty but also inner beauty, beauty of personal characters and moralities that fit into the social frames, which means that if the person’s appearance is catered to social value, which is constructed, this person’s characters meet up to the social standard as well, which is constructed as well.
Though there are seemingly no necessary correlations between physical and inner beauty, it has been a custom how people values each other by just glance of physical appearances. In society, it is difficult or even impossible to avoid interactions with others, and therefore, the evaluations become frequent. While as physical appearances are easily recognizable at first glance, naturally it becomes a common way of assessing others.
Upon the time we distinguish beauty from its contrary, we not only apply the beauty-esteem, what is more important is that we imply the social meaning onto that. What stands for more is often times not plain physical appearance, but what moralities they represent, which takes more account than the appearances themselves. When our society values the beautiful as the morality good, we devaluate the contrary.
When we apply our constructed points of views to the society, we first distinguish our own stance in the society and then people with regards to our own stance. We differ the divergence of ourselves and the others regarding to our constructed state of minds and reasons.
We are constructed, but we also construct others in our own senses of acknowledgement. By distinguishing the differences, we know that we ourselves are not the same as others. Applying the constructed values and standards mentioned above, we first constructed the use of languages, then beauty-esteems, later associate the external moralities with beauty-esteems and finally we distinguish the differences between ourselves and others. What matters in the end is that after we understand the constructed differences, how we perceive these otheringnesses and how that affects our lives.
Case of Jane Eyer
In the case of Jane Eyre, her appearance is not appreciated by Victorian times’ beauty-esteem, and therefore her personality is devalued in the same sense. People use constructed languages describing constructed values, and that shapes our understanding towards ourselves, for the reason that we can not escape from the society. It is unavoidable that we have to face the recognitions within the framework of the society. When the society consider Jane as inferior, she is likely to accept it at the beginning, but when she realized there is no sense and justice in this social construction, she starts to rebel.
At the beginning of the book, Jane questioned:
Why could I never please? Why was it useless to try to win any one’s favor? Eliza, who was headstrong and selfish, was respected. Georgiana, who had a spoiled temper, a very acrid spite, a captious and insolent carriage, is universally indulged. Her beauty, her pink cheeks, and golden curls, seemed to give delight to all who looked at her, and to purchase indemnity for every fault. (Brontë 16–17)
Beautiful, according to social convention, child is immune from any kinds of punishment, regardless of right from wrong. Since childhood, this social convention of beauty has rooted in her heart, and throughout the book, this value system regarding to physical appearance also appears repetitively.
The concept of beautiful people possess beautiful character and that are somehow superior than those who are not, takes part in Jane’s point of view towards the world. This rule not only applies to herself, but also to her interactions with others.
In the scene where Jane first meets Mr. Rochester, she thinks:
Had he been a handsome, heroic-looking young gentlemen, I should not have dared to stand thus questioning him against his will, and offering my services unasked. I had hardly ever seen a handsome youth; never in my life spoken to me. I had a theoretical reverence and homage for beauty. elegance, gallantry, fascination; but has I met those qualities incarnate in masculine shape, I should have known instinctively that they neither had nor could have sympathy with anything in me, and should have shunned them as one would fire, lighting, or anything else that is bright but antipathethic. (Brontë 115)
Not only her own appearance has an impact, but also others’. She has been educated as that she is not beautiful, and that all those beautiful things have no relations with her. They are another world, which is beyond her reach. She is inferior to them, and that there is no interaction plausible. She would not approach Mr. Rochester, were he a handsome man, but because he is not, she feels that it is plausible for a connection, for the reason that they share the similarity of not pretty. There is a chance that they belong to the same category based on the society’s framework, and that they may perhaps share some similarities.
Jane has been taught as inferior, and therefore her value–esteem differs from norm. For Jane, what is against social norms and values is in her favor and interest, for that she is as well. Furthermore, she explains explicitly on this peculiar mentality:
If even this stranger had smiled and been good-humored to me when I addressed him; if he had put off my offer of assistance gaily and with thanks, I should have gone on my way and not felt any vocation to renew inquiries: but the frown, the roughness of the traveler set me at my ease: I retained my station when he waved me to go. (Brontë 115)
For long in Jane’s life, she has been devalued as inferior to others. As a child, she may not yet possesses the power to fight back or at least stand up for herself; however, when she grows up and is able to reason for herself, she stands against those unfair judgment from the society.
Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. (Brontë 251)
Jane understands that she is considered as inferior in the society, but she knows that it is constructed by certain evaluations, which has nothing to do with her as a soul. The constructed esteems are boundaries, but they are not the ultimate truth of all times. They are made by human beings, and are also to be altered by human beings.
It could be true that it is hard to escape form the society, but we possess the possibilities to alter it. Jane’s unpopular appearance may have brought her shadows in the childhood, but it also gives her the motive to rebel. Through the othering based on constructed beauty-esteems, she actually finds her own direction, because the differences have been clarified. Thus, othering in this sense is another way to understand our stance in the society.
For modern human beings, it is basically impossible to live without the society, and therefore we have to learn how to make peace with it. Though we no longer live in the Victorian times, the shallow correlation between appearances and character are still evident in our times.
Nonetheless, I consider it as important that individuals should not be affected by this biased judgmental logic. Under the prerequisite condition of respecting people’s private boundary, it is alright to neglect this social convention which if taken seriously, would have a negative impact on your future personal life. That is to say, when society deems you as inferior due to physical appearances, it is time to neglect them, and do not render any passive feelings to yourself, but rather believe in yourself in what you are able to achieve.
Jane Eyre is severely affected by how her society deems her. The fact that it devaluates her has a massive impact on her point of view towards the world, and also to herself. Fortunately, her rebellious soul prevails, and that she earns what she deserves.
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