Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Interrogative Family Dynamics: A Juxtaposition of “Jane Eyre” and “Wide Sargasso Sea”

Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” (1847) is one of the most influential Gothic novels in the Victorian era. Framed as Jane’s autobiography, the story vividly depicts her dramatic life. While confronting various types of adversities, she always seeks for independence, freedom, and love for Mr. Rochester, whom she eventually marries. And this accomplished work has made Bronte a distinguishable writer. In 1966, Jean Rhys reacted to Bronte, publishing her best-selling “Wide Sargasso Sea,” in which characters from “Jane Eyre” are projected from a different perspective. Rhys spotlights Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester’s first wife from Jamaica, known as a madwoman in the attic. Rhys names her Antoinette Cosway and creates a story of her upbringing, interwoven with the Caribbean culture, which the author’s native land, Dominica, belongs to.

Both Jane and Antoinette are born to a tragic family. Jane, whose parents die from the typhus disease when she is young, is adopted by Mr. Reed, her mother’s brother. He promises to treat her as his real child, but after he dies, Mrs. Reed treats Jane very badly, thus breaking the promise. Antoinette, born in Jamaica, struggles with poverty and discrimination. She lives with her mother, brother, and a servant in a secluded place. Because her mother is a white native of Martinique, the local people —both black and white— discriminate against and torture her family. Her brother Pierre is killed by a fire at the Coulibri house, which places a dark shadow over Antoinette’s life. Jane and Antoinette have many traits in common. Comparing the family relationships of the two main characters, we can find several similarities as well as differences, which connect to the authors’ purposes and historical backgrounds of the period, and cast essential questions to readers.

One of the similarities between Jane and Antoinette is found in their parents. Both women are born to unequally married parents. Jane’s mother, Jane Reed, is a daughter of the wealthy Reed family, yet she falls in love with a poor clergyman. Not surprisingly, the Reeds do not allow her to marry a man of a different social class. Jane learns from a nursery’s conversation that her “grandfather Reed was so irritated at her disobedience, he cut her off without a shilling.” (Bronte 31) Jane’s parents live in poverty as a result.

In “Wide Sargasso Sea” Antoinette’s mother, Annette, is a foreigner from Martinique and first marries a debased ex-slave owner, Alexander Cosway. After he dies, she marries a colonizer and rich widower, Mr. Mason. The new spouse is fascinated by Annette’s beauty; she is well known as “a pretty woman” and an accomplished “dancer.” But people believe that this unbalanced marriage will not last long, saying “he will regret it”, “why should he marry a widow without a penny to her name and Coulibri a wreck of a place?” they add. (Rhys 26) Even though their skin color is the same, their background is completely different.

Both parental marriages include a split: the class split of Jane’s case and the cultural split of Antoinette’s folks. This difference highlights the difference in the authors’ main concerns. While Bronte questions the established social classes in England, Rhys focuses on consequences of colonization in the Caribbean islands.

Another similarity between Jane and Antoinette is their isolation from others. In Gateshead, Jane has a severe time being tortured by Mrs. Reed and her son, John Reed. They are the masters of the house, so no one can rebel and help ease Jane’s suffering. When she is ten, she is confined in the red room by Mrs. Reed as a punishment for arguing with John, which reminds her of hopelessness and greatly traumatizes her. Later Jane befriends several peers —including Helen Burns— in her adolescence, but emptiness and loneliness always follow her. After knowing that Mr. Rochester has already been married, she determines, “The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.” (Bronte 365)

Antoinette is also isolated from society. The house her family lives is located far from the town, and they are discriminated against by the local people; they see Antoinette as a “white nigger.” In addition, Antoinette’s stepfather, Mr. Mason, soon abandons the family. Such mental isolation never changes through entire her life. After she gets married to Mr. Rochester, who regards her as a “madwoman”, she is imprisoned in the attic at Thornfield, England until she lights a fire to set herself free.

Editor Stevie Davies notes that the immured woman is the key in Bronte’s literature. “Eliza the anchorite; Bertha the prisoner; Jane in the red-room all reprise this theme of the silenced woman,” he maintains. The mind of Bronte herself is in a “narrow cell; / Dark - imageless - a living tomb,” as she expresses in her poem “Frances.” (Bronte 572)

Thirdly, both Jane and Antoinette follow the path of their deceased mothers. Jane believes in her love as her mother does. Mr. Rochester is in the higher class and much older than Jane, but she never cares, in spite of the advice by Mrs. Fairfax: “Equality of position and fortune is often advisable in such cases” and “Gentlemen in his station are not accustomed to marry their governesses.” (Bronte 305-306) Antoinette, as well, marries a colonizer whose greatest interest is making money, just as when her mother had married Mr. Mason. And like her mother, she is seen as an insane woman. Jane and Antoinette both marry Mr. Rochester; however, the consequences are totally opposite. Jane and Mr. Rochester love each other, while he never loves Antoinette. Jane’s marriage is long-lasting, and eventually, the couple has a child as a result of their true love. Antoinette, in turn, tries to kill Mr. Rochester as her mother had attempted to kill Mr. Mason. She finally puts an end to her married life by killing herself.

Despite those resemblances, the family relationships surrounding the protagonists end very differently. In “Jane Eyre,” all the issues with Jane’s family settle down. Mrs. Reed and John Reed, who have harshly tormented Jane in their Gateshead house, die miserably as if the deaths are a punishment of Heaven. As for John Reed’s sisters, Eliza and Georgiana, they get mentally exhausted and come to reconcile themselves to Jane in some degree in Chapter 21, but Jane is determined to put a break with them, saying “You are not without sense, cousin Eliza; but what you have, I suppose, in another year will be walled up alive in a French convent. However, it is not my business, and so it suits you - I don’t much care.” (Bronte 279) [No mention of the sisters is seen after Chapter 22.] Jane’s uncle John Eyre remains a benevolent character throughout the story. Even though he passes away before seeing Jane in person, he had a will that included her, and Jane inherits a surprising amount of property from him. Although there still remain hardships, Jane’s family relationship is finally relieved.

In Antoinette’s life in “Wide Sargasso Sea,” on the other hand, we cannot see any resolution. Mr. Mason and his brother, Richard Mason, still keep a distance with her. Although Richard visits England to see her, he is not able to save her from madness and confinement in the attic.

Why is there such a huge gulf between two characters? We can view this as the discrepancy between the Victorians and the Moderns. The two authors have different intentions. Bronte in the Victorians mainly concerned with the social classes in England and asks readers to question the roles of women. Bronte creates Jane as a character who encourages female readers to pursue their freedom and independence. For such a character, family problems are obstacles to overcome; perhaps indicating that Establishment should be broken down. Rhys, in contrast, questions readers in a more obscure manner. By depicting the ruthless reality in Jamaica in the post-colonial era and the eerie, hopeless path of Antoinette’s life, not only does Rhys suggest reasoning to Antoinette’s madness, but she also tries to make readers reexamine colonialism at that time.

In “The Norton Anthology of World Literature,” the author introduces a notion that modernism was “interrogative,” stating “it inquires how we know what we know, rather than merely rejecting previous models of thought.” He adds, “much of what we think we know reflects the questions we ask and the methods we use to obtain answers.” (Puchner 1621) Witnessing World War I and consequent global turmoil, people knew “something was wrong.” And “the survivors resolved to reexamine the bases of certainty, the structures of knowledge, the systems of belief, and the repositories of authority in a society that had allowed such a war to occur.” (Puchner 1622) This is the key concept in the Moderns and engages with orientalism, or cultural imperialism, the process by which “the Orient” was constructed as an “exotic other” by the West. Rhys suggests that “something was wrong” in the environment surrounding Antoinette. But who is wrong? Unlike “Jane Eyre,” where characters have discernible good or bad human qualities —say, malicious Mrs. Reed and angelic Helen Burns, the answer is not simple. Many characters are not only victimizers but also victims. And this complexity itself is also one of the characteristics of the Moderns.

In general, novel writers tend to create a protagonist in a distressing family relationship so that they can craft antagonists and a less boring story. “Jane Eyre” and “Wide Sargasso Sea” are instances of such literature technique; however, their intentions and conclusions differ significantly. This discretion stems from the difference in each novel’s audience and purpose. Bronte challenges the establishment to shift the roles of women in the 19th century, whereas Rhys deepens the same story with the Caribbean perspective, trying to refute Orientalism. Nonetheless, both authors are the same in that they ask their readers very essential questions via the complex family relationships they have created.

Works Cited

Bronte, Charlotte. “Jane Eyre.” Ed. Stevie Davies. London: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Rhys, Jean. “Wide Sargasso Sea.” New York: W. W. Norton &, Independent since 1923, 2016. Print.

Puchner, Martin. "The Norton Anthology of World Literature." New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Orientalism seen in BBC Journalism: A Reaction to Stacey Dooley’s Report on Japan

I am fond of overseas journalism. It enables me to have another perspective, which helps identify the root cause of various issues within my country, Japan. However, in some of that journalism, stereotypes and inaccuracy can often distort the argument. The farther the topic from you, the more skeptically you had better watch the program.

In the BBC Three documentary “Young Sex for Sale in Japan” aired in February 2017, English journalist and human rights activist Stacey Dooley investigates the question of child abuse in Japan. In this sensationally-titled film, she first visits a cafe in Tokyo where teenage girls in school uniform work as waiters. Seeing that most customers are aged men, Dooley concludes that those girls were probably unwillingly manipulated. There are 300 schoolgirl cafes in Japan, and some offer “walking dates” to their clients. Such business “could be a gateway to prostitution,” Dooley maintains. (Dooley, 2017)

Dooley next scrutinizes the “borderline” DVD industry. She interviews a producer of an “erotically clothed” film. Because there is no nude scenes in the video, it is legitimate to picture underaged models, but Dooley finds it too sexy. When Dooley asks the producer why people buy his videos, he comments, “buyers want fantasy.” Later, Dooley walks into a DVD shop and gets surprised when finding a porn model who looks as if she were under ten. Dooley believes such videos are targeted to pedophiles. Dooley’s narration emphasizes that owning child pornography was not prohibited until 2014 in Japan.

In the final section of the documentary, Dooley explores the comic industry. Comics are ubiquitous in Japan; domestic sales of comics topped over £2 billion in Japan in 2015, and visitors can find cartoon characters displayed everywhere in the cities. Some x-rated comics include sexually-explicit images of children, which, in Dooley’s opinion, must be banned, as is the case in the UK. She meets comic translator Dan Kanemitsu, who argues against the ban. Dooley claims that those images of sexualized kids help the pedophile normalize themselves, and that such desire eventually leads to a sexual crime. Kanemitsu disagrees, stating that a fiction is a mere fiction, and it can even function as a venting mechanism for those who have pedophiliac urges. Dooley ends the film by pleading with the Japanese government to take action.

I, as a Japanese man, understand her concerns. We must not abuse docile children or teenagers for the sex business, and we definitely need to eradicate any types of sexual assaults, no matter what age and gender. But, at the same time, I am afraid that this document exhibits a biased image of Japan as well as inscribing negative, stereotypical images to the Japanese pop culture.

First of all, the document cleverly shows an image of Tokyo rife with indecent schoolgirl cafes, but such is not true. There are 90,000 cafes in the country, and that type of cafe amounts to only a fraction. In addition, the impression Dooley gives that those teenagers are in poverty and are exploited by malicious adults, is a delusion on her part. They work according to freedom of choice in employment; they like charming school uniforms, and they enjoy chit-chatting with clients. And the Japanese population —for the most part— does not view the girls in a sexual way. As for the connection to prostitution, again, there is no evidence. For example, in Akihabara, the town where the most, five, schoolgirl cafes are located, no prostitution has been reported. (Yan, 2016)

Another misleading aspect of the report lies in the explanation of the prohibition of child pornography in Japan. The BBC program tells that “[o]wning child pornography became illegal in Japan in June 2014.” (Varley, 2017) This is true, but in 1999 the production and distribution of child pornography had already been banned; child porn had not been visible for almost two decades. Even before 1999, a girl’s nudity was seen as artistic rather than erotic. Models and photographers were proud, not ashamed, of their work. The notion of child pornography was imported from the West. If the possession of such materials had been made illegal immediately, quite a few people might have been falsely accused. That gap period of time was necessary to avoid confusion in the society. Dooley provides none of this context.

Dooley’s documentary contains very shocking visual images of pornography captured in Tokyo, as if all Japanese men are sexually interested in teenage girls. But, of course, those videos are sold in a niche market. Isn’t it unfair that BBC purposely chooses the most sensational images to support their argument and conveys, to the UK audience, the image of pedophiliac Japanese men? I can imagine Dooley’s disgust when she witnessed a child-like model filmed in a porn video. However, we should not judge people by how old they may appear.

Lastly, Dooley concludes that cartoon characters represent the Japanese mindset of sexualizing children. This is a big misconception. Yes, Japan has an enormous comic and anime (cartoon) market. Not surprisingly, the most successful movie in Japan last year (2016) was an anime movie, “Your Name.” It drew 15 million watchers, double as many as the audience of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Most comics are enjoyed by men and women of all ages without any improper eroticism. X-rated comics are properly zoned at the stores, and those with sexual and/or erotic images of children are not as common as what the BBC document implies, simply because they do not match most buyers’ interest.

Dooley harshly claims that such fictional images must be eradicated from the society, saying, “I worry that the cartoons will never be enough and you will have those urges and you will want to move on to the real thing, perhaps. That's what scares me.” (Dooley, 2017) Here we find the hidden assumption that pedophiliac men are all potential criminals. She labels their demand itself as abhorrent; they are insane! She demands that all comic writers who create pedophiliac materials be arrested, as well as those who read such comics. This is an erroneous leap of logic.

Do comics encourage crimes? In 2002, US Supreme Judicial Court refuted this idea, concluding that virtual child pornography —novels, comics and cartoons— is irrelevant to real crimes. Numbers speak more eloquently. The rape rate in Japan is relatively low, at 1.5 per 100,000 population in 2006, while that in the United Kingdom in the same year was 25.6 per 100,000. Child victimization, especially, has been increasing in the UK; 47,008 under-16-year-olds were sexually harmed in 2014. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) brings attention to the fact that 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused. Recent headlines in the UK shook us with sensational scandals. The Rotherham child sexual exploitation  case revealed 1,400 innocent victims in 2014. BBC commentator Jimmy Savile was accused of 214 acts of sexual abuse, involving an 8-year-old boy and many teenage girls, over a period of 50 years. (Evans, 2012) Unlike Japanese comics, which negatively affect very few, the UK has much more severe, distressing issues.

A well-known comic writer, Takeshi Nogami, reveals that he was also interviewed by Dooley. He recollects that her tone was intimidating. She argued about the comic ban, “Why don’t you Japanese follow the UK, or the world standard, rules?” Nogami countered, “The UK should learn from Japan, a more cultivated country having a lower crime rate.” Then he noted the difference between how they perceive human nature. He maintains that everyone has various types of desire, from pure to dirty, and sometimes we need to release it via a fantasy. Dooley takes another view, saying, “Humans are born innocent and inherently have no evil thoughts. But once they read an immoral book such as a comic with abusive images of children, they soon get degraded.” Nogami spent three hours discussing this with Dooley, but the interview was never used in her film. (Nogami, 2017)

I see a relationship between Dooley’s view and Christianity, where a malicious thought itself is a sin. In her mind, where pedophilia is seen as perverted and abusive, such thought, even though not a crime, should be punished. That child abuse is more pervasive in the Western countries than in Japan might have contributed to her strong abhorrence. I understand such sins are emotionally unacceptable for the majority of Westerners, but if religious beliefs and cultural preferences were to determine the only-one, absolutely-correct standard in the world, the consequence would be the denial of any other national standards and minorities. In fact, quite a few groups, such as Muslims and/or LGBTQ, are unfairly judged by the majority.

In contrast, the Japanese, most of whom do not believe in God, think that no one can violate freedom of thought. Freedom of speech and unfettered imagination must also be protected. The Japanese people have been permissive towards fictional sexuality throughout history. Specifically, shunga —erotic art— flourished in the 17th-19th century as part of our cultural heritage. It includes sexual images of all ages from virginal teenagers to old married couples, to even octopi, but nobody condemns them. This is not that we may behave as freely as we desire. We have a clear distinction between fiction and reality. People are rather restrictive in the society; each citizen is expected to have a high level of morality, conscience, and self-regulation.

Interestingly, this BBC’s documentary reminds me of the literary term “orientalism.” Orientalism, or cultural imperialism in post-colonial theory, is defined as the process by which “the Orient” was constructed as an “exotic other” by European academic studies and cultures. Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” (1847) is an arena of orientalism, where she depicts Bertha Mason, a beautiful woman from Jamaica, as an insane character, nearly impossible to communicate with. Even today, Eurocentric universalism remains alive. Westerners, both consciously and unconsciously, see the non-European as inferior to the West, immoral, cruel, sensual, decadent, lazy, yet somewhat exotically fascinating. By doing so, the Western societies justify themselves and maintain their pride. (Barry, 2009)
Dooley’s documentary is not an exception. The filmmakers evidently determined to find eccentricity in Japan. And, without doubt, they obviously believed that “educating” such a “deviant” society is their mission and duty, which makes the reality a little bit more complex.

While investigating schoolgirl cafes on the street, the BBC crew were stopped by the police for two hours because they had filmed without permission. Dooley then yelled, “I am saving teenagers from child abuse. I’m a strong woman.” (Dooley, 2017) Yet her “justice” disturbs our nation’s peace and order. I believe that different standpoints make journalism more meaningful. Should we ban William Shakespeare, who suggests teenage intercourse in “Romeo and Juliet?”

Works Cited

Dooley, Stacey. "BBC Three - Stacey Dooley Investigates, Young Sex for Sale in Japan." BBC News. BBC, 28 Feb. 2017. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Yan. “Akihabara being targeted.”, 13 Mar. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Varley, Ciaran. “Is Japan turning a blind eye to paedophilia? - BBC Three.” BBC News. BBC, 28 Feb. 2017. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Evans, Martin. "Sir Jimmy Savile: Fourth British TV Personality Accused in Sex Allegations." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Nogami, Takeshi. “Interviewed by BBC.” Togetter, 7 Mar. 2017. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Barry, Peter. "Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory." Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.