A Struggling Relationship with Power and Jane Eyre’s Desire to be Free From It
In Charlotte Brontes, Jane Eyre, the protagonists experiences in alienation result in her ultimate desire for power and her struggle to be free from it. Janes alienation is divided into many sectors but she bases her rebellion on two: her class and her gender. Both things of which were not circumstantial but rather bred, Jane has constant resentment for being a lower class woman.
Using this as the fuel to her rebellion, Jane refuses to be stepped on by others and rather attempts to coexist with her authoritative surroundings. I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon. I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it and framed a humbler supplication; for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space: Then, I cried, half desperate, grant me at least a new servitude!( Bronte 102) Janes struggling relationship with power incites her greed for freedom yet ultimately causes her to sacrifice this freedom for love.
Growing up an orphan, Jane had a miserable childhood which resulted in her constant feelings of insecurity, vulnerability, and hopelessness (Paris 145) She was planted in an environment in which the people around her excluded her and would enforce this punishment severely. Entirely dependent she lives with a constant dread of being abandoned by a hostile aunt who perpetually criticizes her from family life, and gives her children license to torment her. (Paris 145) Hostility is just the beginning of her household as Mrs.Reeds actions bleed into cousin John Reeds mentality. John abuses Jane both mentally and physically as he feels the moral duty to make her feel unwanted, unworthy, unable. …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. (Bronte 15) The Reed family portrays a common belief during the Victorian era which is that low social classes were to be kept excluded from society and those who are poor should be left vulnerable. Not only does her household deprive her of family life, but it also deprives her at a young age from human contact. The moment Jane finally reacted to her cousin in self-defense, he immediately went to extreme measures by sending her to the red room in which Mr. Reed had died. Jane went through spiritual and physical confinement as she was punished and sent to the untouchable area in Gateshead called the red room. Janes time in this room helped her to ponder on what she had done to deserve this; soon she realized no answer was to be found but the saddening response of being born into dependence and a low race, class, and gender unlike the Reeds. Janes oppression led her to become desperate for freedom, wanting to prove to herself and others that she is not afraid. Upon leaving Gateshead, the novel reverses and Jane is able to prove herself fearless and good in the eyes of others. Despite the trauma of this experience, Jane finds that the consequences of her rebellion are predominantly positive (Paris 147)
Soon after, Mrs. Reed sends Jane to the Lowood Institution, a charity school run by Mr. Brocklehurst. Upon entering the school, Jane spots a solitary girl reading. The girl is Helen Burns, an orphan herself, and she helps Jane learn to endure personal injustice rather than fight it. The time the two spent together was essential in Janes growth throughout the novel, as her personality became much more refined and a sense of religion was brought into her life. After becoming a teacher at Lowood and preaching her beliefs, Jane decided to grow furtherly and with the use of her strong education and experience, she became a governess. This position not only raised her social rank, but it also raised her sense of power, bringing her one step closer to the liberty she deeply desired. I climbed the three staircases, raised the trap-door of the attic, and having reached the leads, looked out afar over sequestered field and hill, and along dim sky- line that then I longed for a power of vision which might overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I had heard of but never seen that then I desired more of practical experience than I possessed; more of intercourse with my kind, of acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach. (Bronte 129) Although Jane is one step closer to her desired life, she does not feel satisfied with the life she is condemned to: due to her gender. The labor component in the novel is crucial to the expression of the effect of gender and class in Janes life. In the Lowood school Bronte carefully portrays Brocklehurst as one who sees femininity as a construct afforded by middle-class luxury and working-class androgyny as a necessary , though clearly distinct, part of the hierarchical social order. (Godfrey 857) Yet as Jane advances to her position as a governess, she …appears fully aware of her radical potentiality and instability of her new position as she moves from a working-class world into the middle class. (Godfrey 858) Jane struggles at first with gender abnormality as her working-class identity overlaps her lower-class gender neutrality. However, she soon realizes this is to her advantage as her relationship with Rochester remains in an extremely compliant manner.
Janes imagination is what has kept her restless in her liminal world. Jane lets her imagination run wild and allows gleaming visions to come into her mind…she has recognized this realm as a place where impossibilities become reality, and she revels in the power that she holds there. Her imagination is the driving force for the creation and continuation of her world (Clark 22) This world is in between all the many social spheres, it is separated from the others, it is purposefully outcasted. Rochester notices Janes creativity and finds a way to dig deep into her liminal world as he looks at her paintings. Since the moment he met her, Rochester knew she was otherworldly; he is fascinated with her morals, obedience, quietness yet is in constant awe over her challenging character and intelligence. Rochester highlights Janes different personality as he tells her … not three in a thousand raw school girls governesses would have answered me as you have just done (Bronte 115) Edward Rochester falls in love with Jane and makes it his duty to extract her from her liminal world and rather plant her in his world. This is a hardship for Jane as it is the commencement of letting go of her dreams, of letting go of her so dreamed liberty. Jane spends days on an emotionally and physically taxing journey that demands all of her strength and further entrenches her in her otherworldliness. At this moment she is in a liminal place, caught between her pitiful past and her unknown future. (Clark 24) Jane has given up some sense of her power as she results in letting Rochester in her liminal world. Reader I married him (Bronte 382) Jane tells us as she lets go of the gasp she had been holding in for so long, finally letting the reader momentarily into her world through writing.
Throughout the novel, Jane is an enigma, a threat to other characters who only want to destroy her and her ideas. Early in the novel, characters describe Jane almost exclusively with derogatory labels (Peters 59) She does not easily fit into the established roles of either gentry or servants, and so society defaults to separating her in order to transform her into something other than human. Her childhood is drowned in negative labeling from all her living family members such as imp, rat, mad cat (Peters 59) Soon, the marginalization she encounters throughout her life reverses to positive labeling as Rochester and others see her as an angel, fairy, dove, and genii. (Peters 62) Janes character and want for power grows strong through these experiences as she becomes distinct in challenging cultural norms concerning class and gender, the two things which fueled her rebellion. Janes greed for freedom, for liberty, for being set free is sacrificed for the love of Rochester. I will be your neighbor, your nurse, your housekeeper. I find you lonely: I will be your companion to read to you, to walk with you, to sit with you, to wait on you, to be eyes and hands to you. Cease to look so melancholy, my dear master; you shall not be left desolate, so long as I live. (Bronte 502) This action can be seen as a form of ultimate love, yet it can also be seen as Jane being drowned by thoughts of past marginalization and in fear, subverting back into the servant she once was, except now to a long-lost lover. I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home my only
home. (Bronte 283) Perhaps the purpose Jane most desired for her life was not power or liberty but rather belonging, belonging to someone who belonged to her as well.
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