Jane Eyre and Feminism Essay

This essay has a total of 1821 words and 7 pages.

Jane Eyre and Feminism

Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre embraces many feminist views in opposition to the
Victorian feminine ideal. Charlotte Bronte herself was among the first feminist writers of
her time, and wrote this book in order to send the message of feminism to a Victorian-Age
Society in which women were looked upon as inferior and repressed by the society in which
they lived. This novel embodies the ideology of equality between a man and woman in
marriage, as well as in society at large. As a feminist writer, Charlotte Bronte created
this novel to support and spread the idea of an independent woman who works for herself,
thinks for herself, and acts of her own accord.

Women of the Victorian era were repressed, and had little if any social stature. They had
a very few rights and fewer options open to them for self-support. For most women the only
way to live decently was to get married, and in many cases it was not up to the women to
choose whom she married. It was almost unheard of for a woman to marry out of her social
class (Cain 20). If a woman did not marry, the only ways she could make a living other
than becoming a servant was either to become a prostitute or a governess. For the most
part, a woman was not given the opportunity to go to school and earn a degree unless she
was born into a high social class. The average Victorian woman was treated not as a
person, but as an object or piece of property. She had very few rights either in society,
or marriage (Cain, 25). Bronte, born into a middle class family, refused to be repressed
by society. She recognized the injustices of her society, and in rebellion against
society's ideologies involving women, wrote Jane Eyre.

Bronte's feminist ideas radiate throughout the novel. There are many strong and clear
examples of these ideas in Bronte's protagonist, Jane, her personality, actions, thoughts,
and beliefs. From the beginning of the book, Jane's strong personality is quite clear. She
often gets in trouble, arguing with her cousins, and defying Bessie and Miss Abbot, as
well as her aunt. She is not afraid to speak her mind and is dogmatic and assertive about
her ideas. Some of the best examples of this characteristic can be found in the first few
chapters of the book: after being blamed for provoking her cousin John, Mrs. Reed orders
her to be locked in the "red room". Jane "resisted all the way," and "like any other rebel
slave… felt resolved… to go all lengths" (Bronte, 11). While this is her earliest act
of "mutiny" in the book, the most powerful and profound act of resistance and defiance
occurs in chapter 4, after Mr. Brocklehurst's visit to Gateshead Hall. This is just after
Jane has discovered that she is being sent away to Lowood. She confronts her aunt in a
fiery argument, unleashing the feelings of rage that emerges from her assertive
personality and powerful ego.

"I am not deceitful: if I were, I should say I loved you, but I declare I do not love you:
I dislike you the worst of any body in the world except John Reed… I am glad you are no
relation of mine: I will never call you aunt again as long as I live…and if anyone asks
me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me
sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty"(Bronte, 36)

In this passage, Jane breaks free from the bonds that hold her down and repress her, and
for the first time the reader realizes Jane's true personality and individuality
(Anderson).

Following this dramatic scene, there are many situations in which her individualism can
again be sensed. During her stay at Lowood Jane is emotionally subdued and her personality
is in many ways suppressed. It is not until after Miss Temple, the person that seemed to
shine light on the school, leaves that Jane realizes the restrictions that she is under.
It is at his point that she has the sudden urge to leave the confinements of the school,
seek a job as a governess, and experience the "varied fields of hopes and fears, of
sensations and excitements, awaiting those who had courage to go forth into its expanse
(Bronte, 86)." This example shows her individualism, courage, and will to go out and make
a living as an independent woman (Yuen).

These same characteristics are seen again during the time she works for Mr. Rochester.
This is first seen in chapter 13 and 14 during her first days knowing Rochester. He treats
her in a condescending manner, and is quite rude and disrespectful, insulting her piano
playing, art, knowledge, and even her looks. In many ways he treats her as he would treat
one of his servants. Jane is fully aware of Rochester's arrogance, finding him to be quite
unpleasant. Jane replies to him with wit and sometimes sarcasm, refusing to give into his
insulting attacks. One example is her response to one of Rochester's questions "Now ma'am,
am I a fool?" She replies "far from it, sir. You would perhaps think me rude if I inquired
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