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GLINT


Compare and Contrast (25 pts): 4.7.04

Finally. I finished reading Jane Eyre. Sadly, I was only 15 years too late. I have formed the opinion that Jane is the shit, and she must especially be the shit to budding young women who are struggling to define themselves within the expectations and realities of gender identity and social contexts. I may be such a young woman (haHA), yet by no means of the imagination am I “budding.” Alas. I’ve read my Wuthering Heights and my Rebecca (excuse me but “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly” is now so hackneyed now that I get the whole burnt manse/nutsy wife motif) but still, I wish I had read Jane Eyre back in the halcyon days of youth when I could have been influenced and wowed by her kicky independence and lovelorn whinings.

Mumsy and I were talking the other day about old Jane, and I was saying this very thing to her. “Oh well, dear,” she told me, “You had plenty of other role models in self-realization that you could rely on for the same ideological thrusts engendered by Jane Eyre.” Or whatever. And I thought, yah, sure I did.

But who? I cast myself back to when I could have been considered “budding.” My biggest role model? In terms of feminine relatability? I was too old to still want to be a character out of some dorky Madeline L’Engle book, and too young to seriously entertain any hope of being like Phoebe Cates in all her Fastimes bikinied glory. Then I guess it was Molly Ringwald. More specifically, Molls as Samantha Baker in “Sixteen Candles.” In her, I saw me. Or, in true role model fashion, I saw in her the me as I wanted to be seen. But did she really pack as much force of character into 2 hours as Jane did into 750 pages? Could John Hughes go up against Charlotte Bronte and come out the winner in the “creator of a truly admirable heroine” category? Or how about “the moral import and sanctimonious tone of the story” category? Here goes nothing.

First, a quick sketch of the similarities. Samantha Baker and Jane Eyre were both essentially parentless. Jane’s folks were lost to Victorian maladies while she was still an infant, and Samantha’s, at the no-less fragile age of 16, to the suburban morass of wedding preparations. Both girls did have relatives they could fall back on, although their interventions tended to be more traumatizing then comforting (e.g. Jane’s brush with the preternatural locked in the haunted bedroom at Gateshead; Sam’s horrific discussion with Grandma and Grandpa about her developing boobies.)

By and large though, Jane and Sam were overlooked by the world at large. Both were somewhat “plain” girls—Jane was not given to over-accessorizing; Samantha was clearly flat-chested. Both Jane and Sam were subjected to the drudgery of the educational system, however neither could particularly distinguish herself by virtue of her smarts or wit. Yet, they got by, and in so doing, worked on primping their inner beauty. Most importantly, by personally challenging the social mores and gender stereotypes of their time, both young women voyaged to self-discovery and the realization of personal freedom.

ANYway. Obviously, the most important element of both stories was the romanctic plotline and neither disappoints. The big similarity between Jane and Sam was how they both loved the emotional flagellation of unrequited love. Both of these young ladies loved to whine. Curiously, Jane and Sam both fancied the tall, dark, handsome trifecta. Hughes and Bronte knew what sells a story--less of the onerously boring social commentary and more romance! As far as mushy-gushy melodrama goes, the gothic novel has perhaps met its greatest challenger in the brat pack epics of the mid-80’s.

However the moral barometer was not entirely left out of the romance. Both Sam and Jane were presented with choices: moody, mysterious men of means vs. the social misfit geek. The latter, of course, offered the moral rectitude of a pure, almost brotherly love (in Jane’s case she would have married her cousin-eww), and nearly certain social suicide. In the end, both gals threw over their dork loves for what they really wanted; but first they had to wait for the fates, via fire or intoxication, to set their men free from the insane women who had gotten to them first and sunk their claws in deep. And it helped that they were being pursued by their guys looking to leave these relationships behind. Well, at least Jake tries to woo Sam upfront; Mr. R. falls back on gypsy cross-dressing to get Jane’s attention.

Which reminds me that both book and movie have a pretty decent party scene depicting the decadence of the social elite and how cliquey English manor house parties could be. But more acutely than the sting of rejection and phony posturing by the in-crowd, Jane and Sam are equally aware of the financial independence that taunts them from afar. In Shermer, Illinois circa 1984 this was just as important as it was on the Brontes' windswept moors. However Hughes manages to address this via subtle symbolism while Bronte pounds it into you with all the finesse of a Victorian novelist.

For example, at the end of the Bronte book, Jane gets a big fortune from her dead uncle which means she can finally declare her financial independence. She can stop begging and stressing and wasting away as a school marm. Most importantly, the dough frees her up to wait hand and foot on the now disabled Mr. Rochester and have a nice, happy marriage. Samantha Baker also gets her financial independence but rather than simply having a pile of cash fall into her lap as in the Bronte version, Hughes conveys this in a heartbreakingly sincere scene in which Sam’s object of desire stands next to a luxury car while her father sends her the “a-ok” sign, cementing her future liberation from Daddy’s trust fund or even the late-80’s glass ceiling encountered by female college graduates since she is clearly going to get married to Jake the minute the last graduation party beer bong has been sucked dry.

In conclusion, I think the movie was better than the book. Jane ending up with her deformed “master” is romantic but still kind of a bummer. Sure, his eyesight comes back, but what about his hand? Is that going to grow back? Plus, there is that killer kissing scene over the birthday cake at the end of “16 Candles.” Next week, The Swiss Family Robinson versus “The Goonies.”


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