Archive for February, 2022

Mad woman burns home and family – patriarchy in Great Expectations and Jane Eyre

Thursday, February 17th, 2022

The novel “Great Expectations” by Charles John Huffman Dickens (1860), in Miss Havisham’s parts is full of symbols which show a patriarchal society and the influence of patriarchy on people’s routine life. As Silvia Walbey explained in her book “Theorizing Patriarchy” (1989), A patriarchal society is a society in which power is in the hands of men in every way, and the laws are written in such a way that the system of power remains by creating, expanding, consolidating, and reproducing power.  In such a society, women will also gain power for a very clear reason, the main goal of the patriarchal system is to create, expand, consolidate, and reproduce power for its intellectual and political system, and to use a variety of tools in this regard. Women, like other tools, can be similar and used to the patriarchal system. Patriarchy is a way of thinking that doesn’t necessarily depend on gender, as Saba Mahmoud pointed out in her book, “Politics of Piety” (2005) Women are also pawns of the Patriarchal system.

 Despite physical and mental injury which was happened to Miss Havisham because of being ignored in her the most important life event, she continued the cycle of patriarchy.  Revenging men by adopting and teaching Estella was not a reaction for breaking the patriarchal circle. The basic principle of the patriarchal system is to establish power for an individual or persons who dominate society and to exercise power over the subordinates, and this can happen in any place and time and with any gender. So, when the humiliation of a man by Miss Havisham was done, the same cycle of power-seeking and humiliation of the patriarchal system was repeated. 

  A beautiful symbol, both told in this story and in another story a few years before this (1847) written by Charlotte Bronte, is the burning of the house by a crazy woman. “Jane Eyre” is a better storyteller because the female characters of the story depict the patriarchal system and the equations of power well. Home, can be either the symbol of love and kindness in the family or, the symbol of society. The interesting point is that in both stories, the woman is shown crazy. Even Jane, an educated and wise woman, seems to have her own madness. Madness is in fact a symbol of the dominance of emotions over feminine sex and both stories are intended to inspire the reader that a crazy woman, or a person who is subject to emotions, after realizing her unequal position toward the other side of the power system, endures the arena by destroying herself, but the fact is that the destruction of love and intimacy in the family and society is the logical result of the domination of one class over the other classes of society and the exercise of power over them as rulers and owners. As gender roles can be embedded in this story, everyone can seek to dominate and own others by instilling a mindset of domination in their minds. In such cases, despite the legitimacy of society, the law of the forest is condemned, and anyone who has gained more power in their private space can use it to any guardian they like. In this way, the flawed cycle of patriarchal thinking continues.

Fatemeh Shirazizadeh



  1. Bronte Charlotte, 2016, Jane Eyre, William Collins Publisher, Scotland.
  2. Dickens Charles, 1998, Great Expectation, Gothenburg eBook.
  3. Mahmood Saba, 2005, Politics of Piety, Princeton University Press, USA. 
  4. Walby, Sylvia, 1990, Theorizing patriarchy, Oxford, UK.