Foucauldian Panopticism: The Gaze in Selected 19th Century Literature

Date of Award


Document Type



College of Arts and Sciences



Degree Name

Bachelor of Art in English- Literature and Language

Honors Thesis Director

Amy Gerald

Honors Thesis Reader 1

Leslie Bickford


Foucauldian Panopticism, the Gaze, The Yellow Wallpaper, The Turn of the Screw, Jane Eyre, gender stereotypes


Throughout history, women have often been perceived as hysterical and weak. This perception has been reflected through the representation of women in literature which has resulted in a limited scope of female normality and morality creating characteristics fundamentally different than male characters. Though these characteristics have been contributed as natural female characteristics, the theories of Jeremy Bentham, a 18th and 19th century Englishman, can be applied as a possible reason for these reactions. Bentham’s Panopticon, the theory of punishment wherein a constant unseen gaze peers at inmates theoretically creating paranoia and psychological breakdown, creates characteristics similar to those that women in literature seem to exhibit. In this paper, I will outline the characteristics of three various characters in novels. First, I will review the Panoptic literature that has been written on The Woman in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, then I will conduct my own analysis on The Governess in Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre . In this analysis, I will consider the “gaze,” the symbolic Panopticon implemented by society, and argue how characteristics present in stereotypical representations of women are not inherent in women due to gender or sex, but because women are most objectified and thereby most affected by the Panoptic gaze of society.

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