'Adding wisdom to their natures': British colonial educational practices and the possibility of women's personal emancipation in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Buchi Emecheta's Joys of motherhood and Tsitsi Dangrembga's Nervous conditions
Degree Granting Department
Hunt Hawkins, PhD
Postcolonial, Victorian education, Missionary education, Zimbabwe, Nigeria
Popular opinion suggests that education is the 'silver bullet' to end poverty, famine, and all the worlds' ills. The reality of education for women, however, is not as easily classified as transformative. This paper seeks to illuminate, through historical research and literary analysis, the connections between the charity education of Victorian Britain, a system examined in Jane Eyre, and the missionary education which comprised the majority of the educational systems in the British colonies, including Nigeria and Zimbabwe, the settings of Emecheta and Dangarembga's works.
Beginning with Charlotte Brontë's Victorian classic, Jane Eyre, and moving through time, space and situation to the colonial experience novels of Buchi Emecheta and Tsitsi Dangarembga, we find instead that education, particularly British philanthropic education, from charity schools for children without means in the 18th and 19th century to the mission schools that comprised the basis for British colonial education in Africa, produces women who benefit only in very limited ways. For Charlotte Brontë's title protagonist, as for many of the characters in Jane Eyre, Nervous Conditions, and The Joys of Motherhood, education represents a new life. Brontë, Dangarembga, and Emecheta all offer education as a possible escape for characters within their novels, but the length of and price for that escape differs based on a character's role within a colonial set of identities, whether the character in question is part of the colonizing power or one of its colonial victims.
When taken together, Jane Eyre and these two African experience novels demonstrate that British education is largely ineffectual in granting female characters the kind of freedom that education is supposed to instill. The price of the hybridity necessary to survive in the colonial situation could very well be the complete loss of self, a disintegration of identity, as it is for Nyasha, who is, according to her own analysis of her situation, neither Shona nor British and therefore is no one at all.
Scholar Commons Citation
McIntyre, Megan, "'Adding wisdom to their natures': British colonial educational practices and the possibility of women's personal emancipation in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Buchi Emecheta's Joys of motherhood and Tsitsi Dangrembga's Nervous conditions" (2009). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.