Historically speaking, women have been associated with madness, be it Medea from Ancient Greece, the medieval trials of the witches of Salem, or so called “hysterical” women in the Victorian era. Even in 21st-century literature, arts, and media, the madness of women is widely discussed and often romanticized. Some women authors employed the madwoman trope to show the effects of patriarchal oppression on women. Other studies have associated women’s madness in literature with subversion. This paper, however, claims that the portrayal of madness in both Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) and Fadia Faqir’s Pillars of Salt (1996) is not subversive, but rather symbolizes the victimization of women by patriarchy and colonialism. The paper draws on Marta Caminero-Santangelo’s approach to feminist criticism, which argues that madness is not a form of liberation and that a madwoman “cannot speak,” alluding to Gayatri Spivak’s essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?”. This study compared two novels written by women from different backgrounds and centuries: one is a British imperial text, while the other is an Arab postcolonial text. Both include the trope of madness in varying contexts. The women characters in the two novels—Bertha, Maha, and Um Saad—are doubly oppressed by colonialism and patriarchy. To silence them and prevent them from rebelling, the men in their lives accuse them of being insane and lock them up in an attic or asylum. Madness is presented in both novels in terms of Western Orientalist and patriarchal stereotypes. It is associated with otherness, witchcraft, a female malady, social control, denied subjectivity, illusional power, uncontrolled sexuality, and final surrender.

Author Biography

Dr. Luma Balaa is Associate Professor of English Studies in the Department of Communication, Arts, and Languages at the Lebanese American University. Her research interests include fairytales, Anglophone Lebanese writers, Arabic Literature, women’s writings, feminism, and the representations of women in cinema. She is the author of several international peer-reviewed articles. She also writes poetry and has published poems.