The Madwoman in the Attic And other media tropes
The Idea • Usually someone with a mental or severe physical disability • Will not fit in with society • Locked away, hidden in the attic (or basement) • Usually comes from corrupted stock – ignorant hicks, for instance • Usually inbred • Smarter ones have peep-holes
Origins • Victorian female literature, specifically Jane Eyre • Depicting women as crazy = easy enemy, unsympathetic • Assumed readers would all agree… Oops… • The Madwoman in the Attic became a feminist theory mantra.
Basic Plotline I • The main character is an outsider • Protagonist wonders what kind of bizarre secret is being kept. • These characters tend to be generic “The Dragon,” the mini-boss for the Big Bad, or they're “the Grotesque,” sympathetic victims. • When done well, this can be an effective shock because it so aptly encapsulates the frightening insularity of the “Town with a Dark Secret” trope. • Example: Sloth from The Goonies
Example: Ax Crazy Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks. And when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. — American Nursery Rhyme* For the record, Ms. Borden was acquitted, but never lived it down anyway.
Basic Plotline II • The creature has been abandoned (usually the caretaker has died). • New owners move in, are watched. • Personify the fear of the unknown, the new. • Example: a Haunted House (e.g., Grimauld Place in Harry Potter)
Example: The Grotesque • "You are deformed. And you are ugly. And these are crimes for which the world shows little pity."— Frollo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Trope Examples • Literature: Zelda in Pet Semetary, Bertha Mason (obvs), Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, The Phantom of the Opera, the Hunchback of Notre Dame • Television: “Home” episode on The X-Files, Caleb character on Desperate Housewives, Beauregard and the ghosts in American Horror Story
Why it Matters • As Virginia Woolf said, women writers must “kill the aesthetic ideal through which they themselves have been ‘killed’ into art.” • What does this mean? How does it affect Jane Eyre?
Discussion Questions • How are readers expected to react to Bertha? Why? • Is she sympathetic? What has she done? What has been done to her? Does she seem as bad as Rochester suggests? How does this affect our perception of Bertha? • Does Rochester treat her fairly? Why or why not? • Prepare a paragraph analyzing Bertha’s characterization. • Supply thoughtful, well-chosen evidence for your thesis.