Thursday, March 7, 2013

Jane Eyre and Me

     Jane Eyre, a character "born" via the novel in 1847, is the prototype of the outspoken, fair-minded woman.  Along with Pippi Longstocking, she educed the defining features of my character from their socially respectable hiding places, and urged me to jettison girly niceness when matters of truthfulness and oppressiveness were at stake.
     "What would Jane say?  What would Pippi have done?" were the measuring-rods of my behavior throughout childhood and adolescence.  It is fair to say that in the absence of grandparents, wild aunts and uncles, and quirky family friends my upbringing would have been an exercise in obedience if it hadn't been for these women, who were as real to me as my sisters.
       Both of my literary mentors were under terrific pressure to protect the psychoneurotic underpersonalities of their social contacts, especially when a power dynamic was being enforced.  Both rebelled against class divisions and superfluous enactments of authority.  Both despised injustice and believed it was their duty to stand up for their rights and make what was blatantly wrong--no matter if it was endorsed by the dominant culture--right again.
     Jane Eyre ushered in a generation of women who were able to see through the veil of propriety that typified their age, and reject socially sanctioned abuse.  The women's movement may have been nascent in 1847, judging from the outrage expressed by critics after the book was published, and the voracity with which its readership took it in, but a formalized concept of feminism was a long way off. 
     Pippi Longstocking invited girls to have fun, and to reject the stiff-upper-lip of convention.  "Take a trip on the high seas," as she put it, or spend money as though it will never run out.  She offered an antidote to the fear-ridden, Depression-era parents so many of us had.  She imbued us with courage and energy, and promised that applying both, every day, would end up making life a blast.
     What would Jane Eyre do, if she were in my place now?  How would Jane proceed if a governmental monster had claimed the right to trample all over her life, keeping her in custody by pretending something terrible was about to happen, not saying what, or why, and preventing her from challenging or rebuking it?
     When Jane's outspokenness provoked her adoptive upper-class benefactress to send her to boarding school, she befriended a girl, Helen, who embodied the Christian narrative, turn-the-other-cheek.  Jane revolted against Helen's exhortation to be kind to one's enemies.
     "If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust," she said, "the wicked people would have it all their own way:  they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse.  When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard;  I am sure we should--so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again."
     "You will change your mind, I hope," said Helen, "when you grow older:  as yet you are but a little untaught girl."
     Jane replied:  "But I feel this, Helen:  I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me;  I must resist those who punish me unjustly.  It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved." 
     This Victorian novel has a lot to say to me.  The government has been "cruel and unjust," the prosecutor and FBI agents "wicked."  If I don't do something about this, by "striking back" the government's agents will do this again and again, not only to me, but to others--and this is what has been happening, whether Americans are aware of it or not.
     How do I strike back?  This is the difficult question.  I am calling congresspeople.  John Stacks is arranging a trip for the plaintiffs in our group lawsuit to go to Washington, D.C. to meet with congressional representatives.  I will notify journalists from big media outlets, like the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.  This issue needs publicity and it needs a counterattack.  My goal, and that of other plaintiffs who are courageous enough to step forward, is to insist on congressional hearings in the House and Senate, to review the methods employed by the Department of Justice in its attacks--often dangerous (remember the unarmed, t-shirt clad optometrist who was killed at his front door by an FBI agent)--attacks that target hard-working citizens and successful small businesses, who are the central nervous system of this country. 

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