Jane Eyre: The Role Of Women In Victorian Era

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   “Jane Eyre” is a true captivation of the Victorian era and its time’s social standing. The novel clearly appreciates the role of women and recognizes the significance of the journey of a woman to find her true identity and truly be seen as an equal to those around her. The novel’s plot is based on the model of a Bildungsroman, in which the story shows the fictional course of the life of the narrator from child maturation to adult growth. This chronological framework focuses on the character’s emotions and experiences which help to create and shape the novel’s personality. Jane is able to find her true identity from these encounters and thus narrate the novel retrospectively.

The book was first written by Charlotte Bronte under the decoy name of ‘Currer Bell,’ to hide from the public and critics her true identity. The thought of a woman being a published author let alone the writer of such a controversial novel would have been considered a cultural scandal in the Victorian era, as women were considered to be the lesser gender. Victorian women are viewed as one who devoted her life solely to the home, her family, and, most importantly, her husband. She obeyed her husband and her heavenly Lord and acknowledged her place in the hierarchy of sexuality. However, Charlotte Bronte created Jane Eyre as an unorthodox demonstration against her society.

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Jane Eyre’ is a criticism of the importance of Victorian England’s strict social class hierarchy. The novel highlights the meaning of class consciousness and subjectivity in the hands of the dogmatic elites that a particular class may face. Second, the derogatory attitudes to social class emerge when John Reed is suffering horrific mistreatment. He torments Jane relentlessly and constantly reminds her that she is an orphan and dependent on the Reed family, pushing her into the mind that being without a school is being worthless. He infuses Jane with terror and reminds her that he is the better being; “You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mama says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen’s children like us, and eat the same meals we do and wear clothes at our mamma’s expense. Now, I’ll teach you to rummage my bookshelves: for they are mine; all the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years.” The quote reflects the power and authority of John over Jane as he tells her suddenly that she is under him in the social class and uses the assumption to ostracize her as his excuse. Jane refuses her birthright as an orphan and uses it as her fire on her quest to be treated as an equal.

Lowood Institution is a regimented setting in order to remove any young women’s contradictions. Nonetheless, Jane sees this as her opportunity for a new start in a position where she will not be measured by material value. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the beginning, as Jane suffers Mr. Brocklehurst’s oppression; a vicious and deceitful man who gains the orphaned children’s misery. Oppression is a key theme in the novel and is closely associated with class structure as the other characters in the novel use it to victimize Jane and exert dominance over her. When Mr. Brocklehurst openly humiliates Jane before the entire school, Bronte expresses the upper class’s unequal superiority. In contrast to Jane, she uses contrasting language to describe Mrs. Reed to illustrate the social ideology generated by a system of classes. Mr. Brocklehurst uses positive connotations to describe Mrs. Reed as being of the upper class and compares this with praise such as ‘charity, goodness’ simply portraying Jane, who is of the lower class as ‘dreadful, evil.’ Jane must then struggle against any criticism about herself because of her status and pressure people to accept her for her personal attributes. Jane’s education earns that Lowood helps improve the autonomy of her social class as she learns the same academic skills and mannerisms associated with the aristocrats. This highlights the importance of the social boundaries that are built-in society and how meaningless they are because they do not represent a person’s ability or potential.

British society was dominated by social class and hierarchy in the 19th century, and people very rarely moved from the class they were born into. Because Jane was an orphaned child and received high educational standards to become a governess, she has no definite social status and is, therefore ‘in’ groups. She has an uncertain social standing, living and speaking to all classes of people, from the workers of the working class to the aristocrats of the upper class. Jane is therefore a source of intense stress since she still retains the upper-class sophistication yet has a lower class history. This time, governesses were expected to uphold a high standard of aristocrat ‘ culture;’ however, their employers often still treated them very poorly.

When she is introduced to Blanche Ingram, the self-antithesis, Jane begins to question her own status and self-worth. Blanche is all Jane isn’t; beautiful and wealthy. Jane will soon realize the harsh truth and gain a clear view of the reality that her social class holds her back from what she really wants in life; Mr. Rochester. “That a greater fool than Jane Eyre had never breathed the breath of life: that a more fantastic idiot had never surfeited herself on sweet lies, and swallowed poison as if it were nectar.” Jane Eyre refers to herself in the third person in this self-realization, reflecting self-pity and loathing. Jane mocks herself by using words like ‘fool, idiot’ to believe she could ever be good enough for Mr. Rochester. How could she be worthy enough to engage with a man of such high stature and value, a woman of low class and no status? Jane is very harsh and critical of herself by acting as an outside observer on her own acts. Jane is a woman who has always considered herself a valued, praiseworthy member of society and is very proud of who she is. Jane’s trust, however, has taken a dramatic knock after this series, and now she seems to look at both of them.

Jane Eyre is a story of a woman who needs to find herself and longs to be treated as an equal. Through this story, it shows how Jane Eyre is forced to submit to males or people with power above her as she never had much, however she is still able to hold onto herself and fight for what she thinks is right even though the worst moments. Jane Eyre will continue to change and grow throughout the story, being able to further express herself more, and grow as a person. She is a symbol of equality for women and a symbol of self-expression.  

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