Rochester’s Burden

Although Kipling wrote “The White Man’s Burden” after Bronte wrote Jane Eyre, the ideas and sentiments of the imperialist mission and mindset are the same in both texts. A Jamaican Creole, Bertha cannot be considered essentially a pure being. She becomes an “other”. In the context of “The White Man’s Burden,” that makes her a part of the uncivilized peoples and it is Rochester who goes to the West Indies to essentially fulfill his burden as a white man. By going to the West Indies to marry Bertha, Rochester offers her the chance to marry into a European family and become a part of European civilization. He does not realize, however, how hard that will be.

When we finally meet Bertha, we are immediately given the idea that Bertha is no longer a human. She is referred to constantly as a “maniac” and Jane writes, “what it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight tell: (Bronte 338). Jane continues and begins to liken her to an animal saying, “it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours, it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face” (Bronte 338). This likeness to an animal resonates with the idea of being “of fluttered folk and wild” (Kipling line 6). Rochester also describes her as having the “tone of demon-hate” (Bronte 355), of having “red balls yonder” (Bronte 355), and says that Jane “stands so grave and quiet at the mouth of hell, looking collectedly at the gambols of a demon” (Bronte 339). This again echoes line 8 of Kipling’s poem as he writes that they are “half-devil and half-child”. Bertha is sometimes referred to and recognized as human (albeit a crazy one) but also possessing devilish and animalistic qualities as well. Further parallels between the two texts can be seen in that Rochester “reap[s] his old reward:/The blame of those ye better,/The hate of those ye guard” (Kipling lines 34-36) as Bertha hates him (although to be fair, he locked her in the attic), even though in his own twisted way he believes that he is still taking care of her. Lastly, on page 356 Rochester recalls: “ʻGo,’ said Hope, ‘…there is not known what a sullied name you bear, nor what a filthy burden is bound to you’”; Bertha is undeniably the burden bound (by marriage) to Rochester and if she “is cared for as her condition demands” then he will have “done all that God and humanity require of [him]” (356), which is the reason that many (such as St. John) took on the mission to civilize the heathens in the first place. Rochester’s burden is to take care of Bertha when assimilating her to the European world has failed.

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