In these sporadic sentence diagramming posts, I diagram sentences to deepen their meaning, to improve my writing, or for my own amusement.
The shortest sentences can have the greatest impact. Think of the famous first line from Moby Dick, “Call me Ishmael.” Scholars have written tomes on that sentence. Me, I prefer Jane Eyre.
One of the reasons I love Jane Eyre is that unlike other romance novels, it’s not all sunshine and roses after the two lead characters become engaged. In fact, the engagement kicks off one of the worst periods of Jane’s life, and that includes when her best friend dies in childhood. Rochester amps up his control over her and continues to dehumanize her. She pushes back–refusing to be made up like a doll for their wedding, for example–but their relationship still isn’t harmonious. Then, at the chapel, she discovers he’s already married. Shocked and inconsolable, she leaves him, running until she’s close to death from exposure and grief in the moors of the north.
Just in time, she’s taken in by two young women who nurse her back to health. They and their brother start to feel like family, so she decides to stay with them. They give her employment, a place to live, and a place in life. She is as independent as someone of her class can expect to be. Eventually we discover that they are family; she is their distant cousin. Not only that, but she has inherited a fortune and becomes truly independently, fabulously wealthy. She is no longer a pitiful creature but can control her own destiny.
But still, she is not happy. All is not as it should be.
One night, she is about to leave with her cousin on a mission trip to India, possibly leaving England forever, when she hears Rochester’s disembodied voice, calling out in despair on the night air. She calls to him, tells him she’s coming. After a search, she finds him, broken and despondent. Thornfield was destroyed by a fire that killed his wife. He has lost his eyesight; his body has been broken, but she loves him all the more.
“Reader, I married him,” Jane says in the last chapter, and she lives happily ever after.
The diagram for a four-word sentence is really simple. A direct address like “reader” floats above the baseline (the subject and predicate) on its same line, much as the reader has been floating above the story, observing Jane’s life.
More interesting, however, is the baseline. Jane says “I married him.” I is the subject, married is the verb, and him is the direct object. When we diagram this sentence, we can see how far Jane has come. In the first sentence I diagrammed, the sentence seemed to be all about Jane, but the subject is actually Rochester. In this sentence, Jane is finally the subject of her own sentence. She’s the actor, telling us she married him. Not “we married,” or “he married me,” but she married him.
I think this is where we can really see Charlotte Bronte’s feminism. Jane, now an independent woman, is no longer poor, obscure, plain, and little. She is now Rochester’s equal; in fact, she tells him, “I am independent, sir, as well as rich: I am my own mistress.” She even tells him if he will not marry her, she’ll build a house next to his, and he can visit her whenever he likes.
Finally, Jane chooses her own fate, and she chooses to join herself with Rochester, just as the word married joins Rochester with her in this sentence.
More information about sentence diagramming: The Grammar Revolution. I used Let’s Diagram to create the diagrams.
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