Jeff Cooper

Repressed Homosexuality, or the Flaws of English Class

Note: This post was imported from my old blog, created and written in my high school years

09 Mar 2010

Reading that title was probably the most confusing thing you've done today.  Relax, I'll soon fix that.

In English classes, we're often told that the meaning of a work is "open to interpretation, as long as you can back up your opinion with relevant textual support."  It's no secret that I'm an engineer or a mathematician or somewhere in between, but I recognize that the world is not black and white.  That said, it isn't tie-dye either.  There are some interpretations that are just plain wrong, despite relevant textual support.  The example I like to give is "This book/novel/play/poem is about repressed homosexuality."  I do it to be funny, but I feel like I could say it with a straight face and be just as serious as a "literary critic."  So, here is my condensed criticism of several books we've read in school over the years.  Some I enjoyed, some I despised.  I don't sincerely believe that any of them are about repressed homosexuality, but I'm totally "serious" in my criticisms of them:

1) Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, while on the surface a Romantic love story (in the sense of the literary movement as well as the traditional definition), is a story about repressed homosexuality.  Jane, the main character, can be seen as a metaphor for today's gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual population.  Jane grows up in a very traditional household and is educated at the Lowood School, a very traditional and proper academy.  Any deviation from the norm is met with stern criticism, just as traditionalists today refuse to tolerate homosexuals.  Jane, like many LGBTs, does not know at this point in her life that she will be developing a forbidden love.  Eventually she develops a love for Rochester, despite the fact that this love is forbidden by society, and keeps it secret for many months.  When she does finally work up the courage to confess her feelings, society steps in again and forbids their marriage.  Like a gay teenager who has been nearly disowned by his traditionalist parents, Jane flees the house and wanders the countryside.  She tries living a traditional life with St. John Rivers, a Christian missionary who represents the oppressive force of the fundamentalist Christian right who oppose homosexuality's acceptance into today's culture.  But she cannot stay away from her socially-unacceptable relationship with Rochester and eventually returns to him in a fit of passion and delusion.  Jane's allegorical role as a repressed and oppressed homosexual is undeniable.  It is also total garbage.

2) 1984

George Orwell's 1984 is about an oppressive government which completely represses the individual and individual expression.  I don't think I need to say any more.

I'll be posting more of these later.  Writing literary criticism is hard work!

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