by Charlotte Brontë
"The Madwoman in the Attic"
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
You can't get into a discussion of symbolism in Jane Eyre without running into the madwoman in the attic. Not literally, of course—that would be terrifying.
The phrase "the madwoman in the attic" is the invention of two famous feminist literary critics, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, who wrote a book with that title in 1979. (See "Trivia" for more on the book.)
The phrase, of course, refers specifically to Bertha Mason, Rochester’s sometimes-wife, now an insane prisoner locked in the attic of his house with Grace Poole for a nursemaid. Gilbert and Gubar developed a critical theory about this "madwoman in the attic" figure: she represents all the subverted rage and pain experienced by the female author of the text (in this case, Charlotte Brontë).
Bertha can be locked away, kept secret, and labeled as insane, but nobody can deny her intensity or power: she’s sexually potent, wicked smart, and absolutely ruthless. Nobody can kill her, either, because she seems to be invincible—in this novel, of course, she chooses to commit suicide.
Huh. If Bertha is representative of Charlotte, then what might it mean for Charlotte to kill off her evil doppelgänger as she’s writing?