Author Archives: lauragonzaga

Objective Knowledge vs. Subjective Knowledge

Something is objective when it is independent of an individual’s personal preference, interpretation, belief or opinion. For example, 2×2=4 is the case whether or not one agrees or feels any different on the matter.

Something is subjective when it depends on personal preference, interpretation, belief or opinion. For example, “Chocolate ice cream is the most delicious flavor of ice cream ever!” This statement is the case because I think it so, and not because it is the case independent of my personal opinion.

In The Moonstone, the relationship between objective and subjective knowledge is largely portrayed by the multiple narration style of the novel. The reader is given several different perspectives that build on the mystery of the missing moonstone and attempt to arrive at the truth. Often times, subjective accounts and events related by different characters skew the truth and lead to further confusion. In the First Period of the novel, Gabriel Betteredge offers his account of the facts on the loss of the moonstone based on his memory of events.  But how reliable are accounts based on memory? Betteredge claims that recalling dates is a helpful way to retrieve memories. He says that “When you come to fix your memory with a date in this way, it is wonderful what your memory will pick up for you upon that compulsion. The only difficulty is to fetch out the dates, in the first place.”

There have been studies performed on the creation of false memories as well as on eye witness accounts of crimes that show that memory is not always a reliable method of accounting for factual events. There have been cases of erroneous criminal convictions based on false memories much like Rachel’s report of “seeing” Franklin Blake take the diamond.

Here are some interesting videos on memory you can take a look at when time permits:
This is a short youtube video that briefly speaks on the subject of false memory:

This is also a very short video that briefly speaks on studies that were made on people who tend to remember based on dates of events:

You can also watch this video when time allows (it is longer) but more detailed when it comes to erroneous eyewitness testimony based on memory:

Different narrators in the novel report accounts of events based on their subjective experience and memory. Some narrators depended on the memories of others as a means of filling in the gaps of their own memories. Here is a quote that is a clear example of the reliance on another’s memory for reassurance: “I resolved—as a means of enriching the deficient resources of my own memory—to appeal to the memory of the rest of the guests; to write down all that they could recollect of the social events of the birthday; and to test the result, thus obtained, by the light of what had happened afterwards, when the company had left the house.”  Ultimately, attempting to reach objective truth based on subjective knowledge is doomed to fail.

Finding Balance

In Greek philosophy, Aristotle proposes a doctrine called the “golden mean,” in which he advocates for balance between extremes.  He believes that even something virtuous can become bad when held in excess or if lacked. In Jane Eyre, we are introduced to several characters who hold extreme religious beliefs that influence their actions in ways that Jane is often skeptical of and cannot adopt for herself. Jane seeks to find just the right amount of spirituality — a spirituality that is both grounded in morality yet still allows room for autonomy.

Let’s take a look at a couple of the characters who demonstrate some extreme qualities:

Helen Burns, for one, shows extreme tolerance and patience towards her circumstances. She passively moves through life without standing up for herself while showing humility as she fervently holds on to her faith. Jane says, “I could not comprehend this doctrine of endurance; and still less could I understand or sympathize with the forbearance [Helen] expressed for her chastiser.”  At what point does humility become foolish? There needs to be a balance between humility and pride. If people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, for example, never stood up and fought for civil rights but rather endured slavery and prejudice for the sake of humility, we would not be where we are today. Just because Christian authorities deem something as right or wrong does not make their decree necessarily true. People are valuable and should not quietly endure abuse. There is a time to give in and be humble but there is also a time to speak up and fight. Jane often quietly tolerated abuse from Mrs. Reed, from her cousins, from her teachers – but whenever she had a chance to stand up for herself, she did.

St. John Rivers is another character who demonstrates extreme devotion to his religious beliefs. At the end of the novel, Jane speaks of St. John as being the living fulfillment of the Biblical scripture of the servant who remained faithful as he waited for the return of Christ. She explains that St. John “entered on the path he marked for himself; he pursues it still. A more resolute, indefatigable pioneer never wrought amidst rocks and dangers. Firm, faithful, and devoted, full of energy and zeal…” Jane cannot settle for a life with St. John because she realizes that a life with him will be a life lacking true love and passion. The Victorian Web offers an article on St. John and Christian piety.

You can view the article by clicking here:

The article describes how although St. John is “a virtuous man who performs works of charity, he does so with a grim sense of duty, and seems more motivated by carrying out his ideals than by genuine emotional sympathy with his beneficiaries.” There are people, much like St. John, who follow Biblical scriptures to the word and have an overwhelming sense of duty to their religious beliefs. Jane has a strong personality and cannot adopt such a mechanical way of life. She seeks to find balance between the rigid teachings of  Christianity and her independence as well as her passions. Religious beliefs can provide people with a blueprint for morality and goodness, but extreme religious practices that inhibits a person’s freedom and happiness is not truly a good thing.

Here is some information on Aristotle’s doctrine of the Golden Mean if you are interested:

On Social Class and a Criticism of Emma’s Character

We all come from different places, different backgrounds, different upbringings. Some of us are more fortunate than others as some are born into privileged families holding wealth, access to good education, abundant provisions, as well as exposure to the many pleasures that life can offer. I think about it as a race. The track marshal vehemently waives the flag signaling the start of the race and the privileged get a two mile head start.  When the less fortunate join the race, they are already at a two mile disadvantage and in order to succeed they will have to: One – catch up, and Two – run faster to surpass. Some people give up at the mere thought of reaching the end line because the amount of effort it would take to compete is heavily strenuous. All people in the race have the capacity to win.  Yet the man-made curse of class divisions forces people into categories that are not truly inherent but merely socially conventional.

Emma has a two mile head start.  As we know, she is “handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition…and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her” (Austen 1). Everything she has is given to her by birth and she knows not the real value of life. She can go on about her day dreaming up the “perfect” couple, scheming ways to manipulate people, writing riddles in books, and she does not have to worry about tomorrow because for her –ultimately all will be taken care of. So what does Emma truly know about the real world? As the novel unfolds, Emma is constantly wrong about her intuitions and does not demonstrate a transformation in character. She does not understand what love actually is because she is completely blinded by the gleaming light of social status. Although Emma’s attempt to join Mr. Elton and Harriet may have stemmed from a genuine desire to see Harriet advance in social rank, she is oblivious to the fact that what satisfies the longing heart is true love – not status. I don’t condemn Emma for her faults; she doesn’t know any better. I mean, how can she? All she has ever been exposed to is the norms and ideals of her society which enforces mingling only within same class structures. In Emma’s own eyes she is a hero – saving poor little Harriet from the doom of marrying some loser guy! Emma does not have evil intentions. I believe she has a relatively good heart but overall lacks both the wisdom and ability to discern the truly important virtues of life.

The above Victorian Web link offers some insights into how classes were divided during the Victorian period. I also created a diagram to demonstrate the hierarchical structure of the 19th century. (Though it looks a little small after I posted it here – sorry y’all)


Furthermore, the supplemental reading  found on the above link explains that: “Different social classes can be (and were by the classes themselves) distinguished by inequalities in such areas as power, authority, wealth, working and living conditions, life-styles, life-span, education, religion, and culture.” With this being said, it is no surprise that Emma would naturally shy away from creating social bonds with anyone whose status was beneath her. It was a norm for people to interrelate only within their own social rank. For this reason, Mr. Knightly advises Emma that her plans to unite Harriet and Mr. Elton is destined to fail despite of her efforts to disciple her. And what do you think Austen would say about the social orders of her time? Do you believe she would applaud and agree that we should remain exclusive to our class and preserve superficial values like putting wealth before true love and respect for all people? I would argue that Austen is critical of the superficialities of social hierarchy and she clearly demonstrates this through the character of Emma. Austen portrays the character of Harriet as being more noble and genuine than Emma despite of being plagued by social disadvantage. I believe Harriet’s marriage to Mr. Martin will prove to be more fulfilling than Jane’s marriage to Frank as well as Emma’s marriage to Mr. Knightly because from the start, Harriet valued Mr. Martin’s person — not his funds.

I am a major advocate for equal rights and harmony between all people regardless of racial background, gender, wealth, life-style or any other condition. I hope that as time moves forward we become more willing to breakaway from labeling and categorizing so that the conditions of life here on Earth becomes rich for all people.