In these sporadic sentence diagramming posts, I diagram sentences to deepen their meaning or for my own amusement.
During the Kavanaugh hearings, a quote by Jackson Katz about why the subjects and objects we choose matter floated around the Internet. Katz writes, “We talk about how many teenage girls … got pregnant last year, rather than how many men and boys impregnated teenage girls.”
His point is that when we make the girl the subject of that sentence, we shift the responsibility onto her and blame her. That shift of subject and object, and active or passive voice, leads to a different conversation and a different meaning. It is not impotent, and it is not arbitrary.
For my first few diagrams, I had to choose from Jane Eyre, one of my favorite books. Katz’s quote, sprang to mind as I diagrammed “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless?”
Jane is a governess for the ward of the wealthy, dark, and moody Mr. Rochester. Jane falls in love with him, although he is clearly troubled, secretive, and way out of her class (although clearly she is out of his league). He’s also a hair’s breadth away from marrying Blanche, a debutant who has her hat set on him.
One evening while walking in the garden, Mr. Rochester tells Jane he and Blanche are engaged and that Jane must move on to another governess position. Lies. All lies. He is trying to goad her into revealing her love for him.
It works. When she expresses her sadness at leaving him, Rochester backtracks and tells her she must stay. She rejects him, saying if he is to be married, she can’t stay. He insists. Finally pushed too far, she lets go of the extreme Victorian British self control she has possessed throughout the entire novel and says, “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless?”
I have always loved this small speech for what it is on the surface–Jane is finally giving Rochester a piece of her mind after putting up with so much grief. Even though he loves her, he has been unkind. She’s reminding him–and the world–that even after a lifetime of abuse and objectification, she does have human feelings. I’ve always read this sentence as Jane scolding not just Rochester, but everyone who has ever hurt her.
Diagramming this sentence revealed another layer.
From the moment they met, Rochester refers to Jane using inhuman language. He calls her elf, sprite, changeling, and even thing. He also calls her bird, which he will repeat later in this very scene (stay tuned for the next post). He sees her as his intellectual equal and enjoys their repartee, but in the end, he objectifies her.
However, if Jane were truly asserting her personhood, this statement should be about her. On the surface, the sentence does seem to be about her–there are four adjectives that she owns (poor, obscure, plain, and little) and two she rejects (soulless and heartless).
But when I diagrammed the sentence, I realized she is not the subject of the sentence. She doesn’t say, “Even though I am poor….”. She says, “Do you think…”. This places you in the subject position, and do think as the predicate. In other words, the subject of the sentence that is overloaded with adjectives about Jane is Rochester.
Jane doesn’t come in until the direct object clause (“I am soulless and heartless” is a clause acting as a noun, so it’s placed on that little stand in the spot for direct objects). She is the subject of the dependent clause (“because I am poor…”), which is indicated by that dotted diagonal line with because.
Neither of these phrases are the main subject-predicate part of the sentence on the baseline. I read this as that she objectifies herself and makes Rochester the main actor, and I read this as internalized sexism. As much as she protests that she’s equal to Rochester, she doesn’t believe it.
As a side note, the diagram suggests Jane knows that Rochester doesn’t see her as equal. If I ignore the bottom part of the diagram, the top part reads “You do think I am soulless and heartless,” almost as though she is realizing that despite their intellectual compatibility, Rochester does not see her as a whole human being.
Jane has been objectified her entire life. Even in this moment when she finally pushes back, she can’t shake the lifetime of dehumanization, nor does she seem to truly believe that she should.