Dualistic Exploration of Marriage and Love in Bronte’s Novel
Throughout Jane Eyre, the themes of love and marriage are presented in contrasting ways. In the Lowood education system, Brocklehurst preaches the evangelically tainted message of ‘mortify[ing]… the lusts of the flesh’ in preparation for the majority of the girls having professions as governesses, in which they would be expected to restrain their passions. However, as the narrative develops and Jane encounters Rochester, many of the ideals of the usual Victorian mantras are challenged.
Towards the start of Jane’s time at Thornfiled, she reproaches herself for her infatuation with Rochester and compares herself to Blanche Ingram. In context of the time, Jane, as a governess, would have been placed in an awkward social position, as governesses were considered to be members neither of the upper classes nor of the serving lower classes. Therefore, their role was ill defined as members of the female working class, placing them on the fringes of society. This view is reflected in Jane’s depiction of her own appearance as a ‘dependent and a novice’, showing her to be without freedom and unworldly in comparison to Rochester, who is a ‘man of the world’. This juxtaposition of descriptions sets Jane apart from Rochester due to her inexperience and lack of financial wealth. Also, this extract supports the views of Vaughon, who says that ‘Jane Eyre epitomises the spirit of a passionate heroine, desperately trying to reconcile her desire for love and acceptance with the religious and social doctrines of the Victorian era.’ Jane states that ‘it is madness in all women to let a secret love kindle’, which in relation to narrative style becomes a universal social comment that women should suppress their passionate emotions. The verb ‘kindle’ also has connotations of destruction in relation to fire, which indicates that passion and love are in themselves destructive to women. This metaphor is extended in that passion will ‘devour the life that feeds it’, drawing from the semantic field of appetite to imply that love as a force is deadly, which relates back to Brocklehurst’s teachings as found at Lowood. In fact, around the time the novel was written, Sarah Stricken Ellis stated that it was a woman’s ‘high and holy duty to look after the minor morals of life’, therefore expressing the concept that it is a woman’s duty to restrain passion and base desires, as men do not have the capacity to do so. This view is reflected in Jane’s metaphorical, artistic image of portraiture – ‘Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor and plain.’ – which becomes emblematic of the contrast between Jane and Blanche, who is described a ‘an accomplished lady of rank.’ Here, Jane degrades her own status through the use of harsh adjectives as a method of repressing her own feelings and using sense to dictate her emotions. In this regard, the novel’s presentation of marriage is conventional, as this implies that Blanche is better suited to Rochester because of the financial and physical differences between Blanche and Jane.
On the other hand, as the relationship between Jane and Rochester begins to progress, Jane Eyre does begin to challenge some conventions (particularly those of religious origins) which present a boundary between Jane and Rochester. During the conversation preceding Rochester’s first marriage proposal, Woolf’s view that ‘we are conscious of a woman’s presence – of someone resenting the treatment of her sex and pleading for its rights’ is expressed through Jane’s language. Bronte continues her motif of bird imagery in Jane’s metaphor ‘I am no bird; no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will’. This assertion of her independence over her ‘master’ would have been considered highly unorthodox in the context of Victorian society. Rochester, as the ‘giver and protector’, socially has power and authority over his employees; however, Jane chooses to place her integrity over her temptation in the search for her ‘liberty’. She continues to challenge these perceptions through questioning both Rochester’s, and by extension society’s, perceptions of the lower classes: ‘Do you think I am an automation? – a machine without feelings?’. Here, it is suggested that the upper classes perceive the lower classes as unemotional, mechanical beings, yet Jane indicates a need for equality of understanding, the absence of which presents a barrier in their relationship. From a religious perspective, Bronte also challenges the Victorian norm of accepting that God dictates social standing, a view which is expressed in hymns of the time such as Alexander’s ‘All Things Bright And Beautiful’ – ‘God made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate’. Jane states however that if she and Rochester ‘stood at Gods feet, equal – as we are!’, then their ‘spirits’ would recognise each other. Contrary to Alexander’s view, Jane not only suggests that it is possible for a man and woman to be equal, but also that those from different social standings may achieve equality. Therefore, the extract itself may be seen to support Woolf’s view due to Jane’s ‘retort’ against the Victorian mantra.
In another section of the novel, however, during Jane and Rochester’s engagement, Jane is taken dress shopping in Milcote by Rochester so that she will have appropriate clothes for her station as his wife. But, Jane expresses discomfort with Rochester’s desire to make her conform to social conventions of appearance due to her financial inequality and social standing. This view may be exposed through the use of syntax in Jane’s depiction of Rochester – ‘my master and lover’s eye.’ The placing of ‘master’ before ‘lover’ here may be an indication as to Jane’s mindset: i.e. Rochester is Jane’s master before anything else. It may also be argued that the term ‘master’ is ambiguous, connoting both employer and controlling partner, doubling degrading Jane’s status. Jane expresses emotions of ‘annoyance and degradation’ regarding her financial dependency, illustrating her inner conflict over conforming to a woman’s role within Victorian Society as a housewife figure, while wishing for her own ‘liberty’. This may be due to the context of the time, as under the Pre-‘Married Women’s Property Act’ 1870, a woman’s property could only remain her own so long as she remained unmarried. This meant that all of her property, wages, inheritance and money belonged to the husband, which may offer a reason for Jane’s want of independence. Worrall’s statement ‘Jane “refused to subscribe to the Victorian mantra”’ supports this concept, as does Jane’s use of simile in this extract. She states that she is ‘sitting like a Second Danae’, making a classical allusion in reference to a maiden who was seduced by the king of the Gods in Greek mythology. In this story, Jove appears to Danae as a shower of gold while she is imprisoned, which may become a metaphor for the materialistic struggle between Jane and Rochester. However, despite Jane’s comparison to an imprisoned female, her own emotions contradict this image as she is in fact rebelling against her inferiority.
Overall, Bronte explores the themes of love and marriage through both conventional and unconventional settings. While Jane initially subscribes to Victorian mantra regarding both her gender and social status in marriage through the repression of her base desires, once the engagement between Jane and Rochester takes place Bronte begins to lift the lid on the taboo subject concerning a woman’s rights within a relationship. It may also be argued that, with the conclusion ‘reader, I married him’, Jane eventually subscribes to the societal expectations of her. Nonetheless, because Jane is the subject of the sentence with the pronoun ‘I’, Jane may be seen to gain her independence in her marriage.
A Persona in a Setting
In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the setting is used as a tool to reflect the hardships its protagonist, Jane Eyre, experiences. The locations Jane resides in play an integral part in determining what actions she is to take next. Her transient residencies demonstrate her restless desire to find a purpose in life while respecting the nineteenth-century social codes that restrict her. She strives to maintain her self-respect, but is aware of the conventional subservience of woman she is expected to uphold in the Victorian-era England. The constantly changing setting is a manifestation of Jane Eyre’s struggle to find a permanence that satiates her desire for self-fulfillment.
It is from Gateshead Hall, the home of her prejudice and insensitive aunt, where Jane begins her journey. The opening of its gates is symbolic of her casting off into the world to experience life independent of guidance. She leaves at the break of dawn and “whirl[s] away toÖremote and mysterious regions”, signifying the beginning of a new life unrestrained by familial ties (35). Her arrival at Lowood, a restrictive boarding school, begins during a bitter winter “stiffened in frost, shrouded with snowÖ[with] mists as chill as death” which mirrors the miserable loneliness of adjusting to the school’s oppressive routine. As the years pass, Jane realizes that experiences essential to her aesthetic needs “lay all outside the high and spike-guarded walls” (68), and that she must break with her life of uniformity to “seek real knowledgeÖamidst [the world’s] perils” (77).
The change of scene, the “quiet and lonely hills [that] embrace Thornfield”, where Jane is a governess, offers hope in her search for self-fulfillment (91). The lack of formality under the proprietor, Rochester, allows her candor to be expressed without consciousness of restraint. The “splendid Midsummer [with] skies so pure, suns so radiant” reflects the contentment she feels at Thornfield Hall as an equal with Rochester (234). She is shaken from her complacency, however, with the discovery of his first wife, who is plagued with insanity. As the madness of Rochester’s wife slowly spreads its influence over Thornfield, so too the “black clouds were casting up over [the sea and] the moon was setting in the waves, broad and red, like a hot cannon-ball” (293). Jane decides to leave because “the more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained [she is], the more [she] will respect [herself]” (302). In search of a happiness that does not transgress the laws of God, she departs from Thornfield with the rising of the sun, symbolic of another life she must move on from.
After leaving Thornfield, Jane’s transitory dwelling is Whitcross, a stone pillar where four roads meet. This crossroads represents Jane’s aimlessness and uncertainty of where her life might lead her, as well as the vulnerability of her situation; she realizes that until this point she has been financially dependent of others. Moor House, where her three cousins live and where she takes up residency, is a humble abode “very plainly furnished, yet comfortable” (328). Its modesty contrasts with the grandeur of Thornfield, but Jane is able to “comprehend the feeling, and share both its strength and truth. [There were] so many pure and sweet sources of pleasure” (334). She develops an intimacy with Moor House, its inhabitants as well as its pastoral land. Jane’s last residency is in the manor-house of Ferndean, where “so thick and dark grew the timber of the gloomy wood about it” (411). The manor-house, where she cares for a handicapped Rochester, is secluded within “a heavy frame of the forest” (412). This final dwelling reflects the closure of her journey, the permanence she has been searching for since her departure from Gateshead.
Jane Eyre’s constant movement reflects her inner struggle to preserve personal integrity in her search for a self-fulfilling happiness. Her mobility finally leads her to a marriage with Rochester in a heavily secluded manor-house. It is here that she at last discovers “what it is to live entirely for and with what [she] love[s] best on earth” (431). She has found her happiness in being with Rochester, and it is with this conviction that her journey in search of permanence ends with the closing of the forest’s iron gates.
Rebellion Against Conformity
At first glance, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre seems to be a novel promoting tameness, preaching moderation and balance. This is shown through Jane’s metamorphosis from a wild, passionate youth to a woman whose passion is tempered by logic. However, in Jane’s inner psyche, the exact opposite holds true. Jane starts out as a child who longs for freedom, but she is too timid to seize it. All of her external actions, though they seem like courageous outbursts of passion, actually stem from this deep-seated want for liberation, which she is too afraid to express completely. It is only when her fears capsize that her wild side can be the victor. This revolution, this reformist and feminist attitude, is my definition of “wild.” Radical and unconventional, Jane breaks free of class and sex-oriented barriers like a bird soaring from its cage. She appears tamer and more sober externally, but in her mind, the wildness that is freedom and defiance reigns supreme.
At the beginning of the novel, young Jane explicitly states that freedom is not worth sacrificing for. The germs for future contumacy are definitely present in her psyche, but the passion to attain liberty at all costs is dormant and undeveloped. When Mr. Lloyd, the apothecary who calls to Gateshead after Jane’s traumatic night in the Red Room, asks Jane if she would rather live with her poorer Eyre cousins, Jane says no. The narrative, more experienced Jane recalls, “I was not heroic enough to purchase liberty at the price of caste” (20); because Jane reveres the glamour and comfort of the upper society, the prospect of poverty for the sake of freedom is too formidable to consider. Thus, Jane’s passionate outburst is only a partial act of defiance, for though she condemns John (and his entire class) as “Roman emperors” (5), she is scared of the risk. If “wild” is equated with defying convention, then the opposite, “tameness,” would be tractability. By fainting in the Red Room, Jane reveals her weakness: susceptibility to the fear Aunt Reed is instilling in her.
Aunt Reed’s influence keeps Jane at the mercy of the caste system. After Miss Temple leaves Lowood, Jane grows restless for change. She says, “For liberty I gasped, for liberty I uttered a prayer” (88). The yearning for freedom is evidently stronger than it was when she was a child. However, she is still too passive to approach and seize it because in her mind, freedom is for the rarefied upper class. Therefore, she “frame[s] a humbler supplication. For change, stimulus” (88). But even “stimulus” is too much to ask for. Finally, she settles for “servitude” (88). She tells herself that she does not deserve to have “Liberty, Excitement, Enjoyment” (88); still the timid and quiescent child from the Red Room, Jane refuses to raze the class barriers that separate her from freedom because of her preconceived notions.
Another kind of freedom Jane yearns for is equality among the sexes. During one of her early days at Thornfield, Jane feels particularly restless; as she paces the battlement above the third-story attic, Jane says, “Women are supposed to be very calm generally… but they suffer from too rigid a restraint… precisely as men would suffer” (115). Jane’s thoughts, infused with the soul of Bronte’s own stifled opinion, promote the iconoclastic overthrow of male dominance. While in the past Jane was scared to risk poverty for equality, here Jane makes no attempt to downplay or justify her need for liberty.
Jane is actually the vocal manifestation of Bronte’s opinions about the strict social hierarchy in England. Bronte explores the ambiguous position of governess, which is a source of extreme tension for Jane and the characters around her. Though Jane’s manners and education are those of an aristocrat, she is treated more like a servant than an equal because she is a paid subordinate. Therefore, when Jane realizes that she loves Rochester, the social barriers crystallize; she sees that though she is Rochester’s equal in intellect, she is not his equal in society. Unfortunately, this painful reality is strictly enforced by the upper class, as is evident when Dowager Ingram and Blanche are discussing their hapless history with governesses, half of which were “detestable and the rest ridiculous, and all incubi…” (187). Lady Ingram says about Jane, “I noticed her; I am a judge of physiognomy, and in hers I see all the faults of her class” (188). Hearing this, Jane understands that though she loves Rochester dearly, she will never usurp Blanche’s place as Rochester’s wife because of her class. However, since Jane eventually supplants both Bertha and Blanche, Jane proves to herself that the class barriers she thinks are inviolable only existed in her mind. Thus, the freedom she attains by marrying Rochester is actually a matter of overcoming her fear of breaching the class barriers in her own psyche.
Rochester, disguised as the gypsy, chastises this fear and prompts Jane to take action against society. Until now, Jane is passive about her destiny. She does not cross the threshold of Rochester’s class because in her mind, the classes are impenetrable. However, in the library, Rochester tells her otherwise. Enigmatically, he says, “you are silly, because, suffer as you may, you will not beckon it to approach, nor will you stir one step to meet it where it waits for you” (209). To the reader, it is obvious that Rochester is imploring Jane to overthrow society for the sake of love. For though “the materials are all prepared, there only wants a movement to combine them. Chance laid them somewhat apart; let them be once approached and bliss results” (210). Clearly, the only hindrance is not the social barrier that Jane blames, but rather her timidity in “daring the world’s opinion” (234). Though there are boundaries that exist in reality, it is more important to overcome those Jane has created for herself in her psyche.
Jane finally transcends all social barriers when she asserts her equality on the night of Rochester’s proposal. In this scene, there is predominant imagery of birds. Birds, symbolic of freedom of the soul, are in fact mentioned throughout the novel, but are concentrated most in this chapter, when Jane finally frees herself from the confines of her own consciousness. At the beginning of the chapter, Jane hears a “nightingale warbling in a wood half a mile off” (266); this parallels the onset of Jane’s passionate outburst stirring in her mind. However, when Rochester says, “Jane, do you hear that nightingale singing in the wood?” (271), Jane begins to sob “convulsively” (271), finally allowing the “vehemence of emotion… to overcome, to live, rise, and reign at last: yes — and to speak” (271). At last, Jane defies both sex barriers and social barriers, and says, “I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart!” (272). She is not talking “through the medium of custom” (272), but as an equal. And though Blanche is Jane’s superior financially and socially, Jane regards her as “inferior” (272) because she now understands that none of those qualities should be reason enough to get married. Rochester tries to pacify the “overexcited” (272) Jane: “Jane, be still; don’t struggle so, like a wild, frantic bird that is rending its own plumage in its desperation” (272). Jane responds, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will” (272). While birds are symbols of freedom, they are also symbols of transcendence because of their connection to the sky. After a lifetime of resigned acceptance to the situation she was born into, Jane asserts her freedom as Rochester’s equal and transcends the barriers that prevent her from becoming his wife. Meanwhile, “the nightingale’s song was then the only voice of the hour” (273); it is the song of Jane’s mutiny against fate.
This newfound freedom, however, only brings her short-lived happiness, for she is forced to utilize it against Rochester when she discovers he has a living wife. Possessed with an “inward sense of power” (326), Jane asserts her feminist mindset to avoid the subjugation of becoming Rochester’s mistress. Now, her freedom works against her. That night, Jane is transported back to the Red Room in a dream; she states, “the night was dark, and my mind impressed with strange fears” (345). These fears parallel the fears she felt as a child, when she was ostracized for trying to defy her class. Here, it seems that the upper class (which is characterized by Bertha, whose rank and wealth were the catalysts for her union to Rochester), is rallying against Jane, again telling her that the classes are unyielding. Jane escapes from this incarceration, defending her integrity as a woman and refusing to bend to the dictum of her class.
In the end, Jane returns to Rochester, no longer a mere dreamer of freedom, but the embodiment of it. She has proven her strength by consistently escaping confinement and seeking freedom within herself because she learns that there is no external freedom unless she achieves it in the mind. At his secluded home in the heart of the woods, Rochester tells her, “my skylark! … I heard one of your kind an hour ago, singing high over the wood; but its song had no music for me… all the melody on earth is concentrated in my Jane’s tongue” (478). Jane’s song, the song of freedom and liberation and transcendence, is the song of victory.
As Henry David Thoreau said in his essay “Walking,” “it is only the wild that attracts us. Dullness is but another name for tameness.” While Jane appears more sober than she was in her youth, her psyche is emancipated whereas it was once too timid. Through the voice of this daring heroine, Bronte can express her views on the world. She wrote to a critic, “To you I am neither man nor woman. I come before you as an author only. It is the sole standard by which you have a right to judge me — the sole ground on which I accept your judgement.” The way Jane defies the world by marrying a man who is her superior in rank is the same way Bronte successfully publishes this novel under the noses of those who scorn women for contributing to literature. Thus, Jane Eyre is valued for its “uncivilized free and wild thinking” because it is a symbol of revolution against conformity in all areas of life. Bronte’s final caveat to the world emphasizes her point: “Conventionality is not morality” (xxiii).
Gender Question in Bronte’s Novel
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre features the eponymous woman reflecting on her childhood and adolescence through the mature view of a young adult. Adding another dimension to her character, however, is the fact that Jane’s own thoughts and feelings about life are not congruent with the gender expectations of her time period. Gender roles in Victorian society are shown as one sees them even in today’s society: by way of lifestyle options and by interpersonal relationships. In a society so rigidly ranked by sex, Jane’s perspective as an independent-thinking young woman serves as Brontë’s protest of this system.
In Brontë’s contemporary society, most women were bound to the household; Jane notes the injustice of this expectation. For example, Blanche Ingram and Jane’s cousin Georgiana Reed, both wealthy women, spend their lives preoccupied with finding a husband just as or more well-endowed. Once they achieve this end, they are doomed to a life of, as Jane complains, “making puddings and knitting stockings, […] playing on the piano and embroidering bags,” (104) and sitting silently as their husbands discuss far livelier topics, like politics, as seen at Mr Rochester’s dinner parties. Jane contests this double standard; in a loaded paragraph in the beginning of chapter 12, she insists that women “feel as men feel,” and should have just as much liberty to pursue their interests and use their talents. Throughout the novel, Jane feels trapped by numerous social institutions, and the expectations she lists embody the ways in which gender roles forge such a cage for her.
From an incredibly young age, Jane herself, like many others of her time, had a subordinate role imposed upon her on the basis of her girlhood. In her first years, her cousin John Reed ceaselessly belittled her; then, at her first meeting with Mr Brocklehurst, he remarks that there is “no sight as sad as that of a naughty child, especially a naughty little girl.” (31) In saying this, Mr Brocklehurst shows his bias against girls and women, and, because he serves as a representation of organized religion, therefore that bias in the Church. Mr Brocklehurst’s misguided intentions for the girls at Lowood further show this institutionalized disregard for girls and women in the world of religion. Girls at Lowood are forced into levels of modesty otherwise practically unseen outside of nunneries, wearing shapeless, covering clothing, and even having their hair cut off if it is deemed distracting or even lewd.
Jane’s cousin St. John, also a man of faith, shows another side to misogyny in the era. He holds a closer relationship to the women in his life than Mr Brocklehurst does, living with his sisters and bringing Jane into the family when she appears in a time of need. Furthermore, the people of the household work together with each attending to their equal, if differing, tasks. However, a hidden bias remains. When Jane refuses to marry him, St. John turns against her, resorting to the personal attack that her words are “violent, unfeminine, and untrue.” The mere fact that St. John should think himself enough of an authority over Jane to force her to marry him lends him his purpose as a misogynist character; indeed, this experience is Jane’s second experience with a coerced marriage, and by far the more forced of the two. Furthermore, St. John’s resort to an attack on Jane’s femininity shows that a not insignificant part of his momentary resentment of Jane is based in misogyny.
Even Jane’s love, Mr Rochester, at times degrades her on the basis of her womanhood. At their first meeting, he talks down to her, knowing nothing about her other than that she is a woman and a governess. Moreover, Mr Rochester and Jane are, from the beginning of their relationship, unevenly situated in society, and their interactions reflect this inequality. Mr Rochester consistently overlooks Jane’s perspective and desires – for example, when he insists on giving Jane jewels despite her opposition to the concept. Furthermore, he approves of Mr Brocklehurst’s methods of running Lowood Institute, showing that he is by no means unspoiled by the institutionalized gender expectations of the era. Jane is also far more open and honest with Mr Rochester than vice versa. He compels her to tell him all her feelings, and she complies, but he does not reciprocate; rather, he expresses his emotions convolutedly and incrementally, up until the point when he suddenly proposes to her. He lies to her about planning to marry Blanche even after wooing Jane, in an attempt to make her jealous. Instead of directly confronting Blanche and Jane about his feelings, he creates a complex scheme in which he presents himself as a fortune teller in order to disguisedly tell Blanche the unlikelihood of their marriage. The fact that he reveals his identity to Jane shows a level of trust between the two; however, if Mr Rochester’s relationship with Blanche is representative of the norm for forced marriages of the Victorian era — and if his relationship with Jane is radically equal for the era — then these relationships provide a way for Brontë to protest the contemporary culture of unequal arranged marriages.
However, Jane herself is not a total revolutionary. Through watchful instruction from her teachers during her teenage years at Lowood Institute, she learns to be less openly oppositional to the status quo. In this way, she matures from an indignant child lashing out at her bullying aunt and cousin into an outwardly complacent governess and teacher. And of course, at the end of the novel, she does marry Mr Rochester, in keeping with the contemporary expectation of women to achieve domesticity and to strive to marry above themselves. She still, nevertheless, retains her independent spirit, and is by no means untroubled by the expectations placed upon her based on her womanhood. While most women in Jane’s position would marry Mr Rochester eagerly, Jane is hesitant to do so, feeling that a marriage with a relationship such as theirs would infringe upon her own personal liberties. As she tells the “fortune teller,” she has the ability to be independent, and “[needs] not sell [her] soul to buy bliss.”(191) Indeed, Jane refuses to compromise her own values and desires with the expectations placed upon her. And while she does indeed marry Mr Rochester, this is done only when they are at relatively equal statuses. Jane complains to Mr Rochester about the confines of gender roles before he proposes to her. He not only approves of her thoughts on the matter, then, but also continues to refer to her as an equal after his proposal.
Jane Eyre does not completely reject or embrace Victorian gender roles; rather, she finds a life with which she is comfortable, which happens to fall between the two. She does not allow herself to be forced into a position because of her gender, but she also does not refuse to perform activities simply on account of them fulfilling stereotypes.This attitude, though, serves as a critique of society which was relatively radical for Brontë’s time. Jane is practically alone in resisting gender expectations, but her ideas provide a powerful opposition to the status quo which opened the eyes of many to the injustice of Victorian gender roles.
Jane Eyre By Charlotte Bronte: Resolving The Issue Of Equality And Women’S Role In Society Through Freud’S Psychoanalytic Theory, Feminist Theory And Marxist Classism
Jane Eyre is a praised contentious feminist novel but yet it does nothing more than reinforce male regime over women’s attempts at patriarchal roles. Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre, published in 1847, details the life of the Victorian society; revolving around many events that paralleled her own life. Bronte uses her characters to criticize the various forms of social hierarchy within her society through the characters in this novel. Tyson (2006) writes: “For some Marxists, realism is the best form for Marxist purposes because it clearly and accurately represents the real world, with all its socioeconomic inequalities and ideological contradictions, and encourages readers to see the unhappy truths about material/historical reality. Thus, Jane Eyre portrayals of the Victorian upper class, attempts to dismantle the capitalist, religious and sexist and patriarchal ideologies through critical theory prevalent in that time period in order to empower her readers. Bronte takes readers deep into her memories and experiences. Even when she writes, “Gentle reader, you may never feel what I then felt!” readers think otherwise. Her “stormy, scalding, heart wrung tears” seemed real, her “agonsised prayers” justly accounted, her “dread” distinct and comprehensible.
Bronte shaped Lowood Institution after her own boarding school, Cowan Bridge where she and her sisters endured harsh living conditions. The plot itself contains many elements to capture and maintain the reader’s attention; an abused orphan who rebels strongly against her dictators, blaring screams in the attic and a burning bed, erotic temptation and moral success, a marriage stopped at an altar, and the reformation of a good man gone wrong. Having said this, the novel is not dependant entirely on a vigorous plot, but relies on the depth of characters. Jane Eyre is an intriguing character that is boldly reluctant to accept others’ interpretations of her as an unattractive, dependent relation and she alleges herself against those who treat her crudely. Jane is a character that fights for appropriate values and morals through her society. Because of this, her sensual responses are considered character flaws throughout her society, but the reader is positioned to see that her rebelliousness is appropriate in the Victorian era. Psychoanalysis in literature deals with the unconscious instinctual tendencies of both writers and their characters, the recognition of the suppressed desires, the dreams, and the uncanny relating to them. Throughout Jane Eyre, there is a strong emphasis on the meaning of dreams. Psychoanalytic theory proclaims that it is in dreams that a person’s subconscious desires are revealed. What a person cannot express or do because of social rules are then expressed and accomplished in dreams, where, furthermore, there are no social rules. An example is when Jane first dreamt of Rochester, in which Jane was “burdened with the charge of a little child: a very small creature, too young and feeble to walk”. According to Bessie, “to dream of children was a sure sign of trouble, either one’s self or one’s kin”. In this sense, Jane’s dreams reflect her reality while simultaneously represents the passion for Rochester that Jane suppressed due to the social rules surrounding their relationship. According to Selden, Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism began with Sigmund Freud’s representation that: “The relationship between author and text was analogous to dreamers and their ‘text’. . . A representation of the relationship between the personal and the collective unconscious, the images, myths, symbols, ‘archetypes’ of past cultures…”. An example of this is Bronte narrating her own life events vicariously through her character Jane’s experiences. Readers are able to be part of Bronte’s journey as her life unfolds because of the challenging socio-economic influences, conscious thoughts, and unconscious desires contributing to her character development.
Sigmund Freud’s development of psychoanalytic theory has inspired major influences on literary criticism in a wide variety of ways. An precedent of this can be seen through the relationship between the writer and text. Thus this approach focuses on Bronte’s own experiences such as, her lack of a mother, her time she spent at Cowan Bridge School and her supposed isolation and ignorance of sexual love. However, Bronte’s most profound innovation, nonetheless, is the division of the Victorian female psyche into its intense element of mind and body, which she then externalizes as two characters; Helen Burns and Bertha Mason. Helen and Bertha both operate at realistic stages in the novel and present implied and explicit connections to Victorian sexual ideology. Both characters also function as an archetypal dimension within the story. Bronte gives readers three discourses of Jane; heroine’s psychic dilemma by destroying the two polar personations literally and metaphorically, to make way for the full development of the central consciousness, and for the integration of the spirit and body.
Jane Eyre is a novel that depicts Jane’s rebellious search for her personal identity of self and society, and of changing gender expectations. But this search for her true self also contributes to the burdensome investigations of the psyche and interpretation of dreams. According to Freud, anxieties and inhibited desires are inherent feelings to human beings. Such wishes are intensely repressed in everyday life, although, are acted upon in dreams. The childhood aspiration of admiration to one’s same gendered parent is what Freud called the “Oedipal Complex” refers to this behaviour, naming it as an implication to Oedipus, the Greek tragic hero who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. In Jane Eyre, the father figure is epitomized by Mr. Rochester, an alternative for the missing father in Jane’s life and family structure. Rochester’s patriarchal power is extensively expressed throughout the novel, thus contributing to the Oedipal dynamic in Jane Eyre. Currer Bell was the pseudonym name of Charlotte Bronte. Writing under a pseudonym name was common among both female and male writers, although seen specifically useful for women being able to have ownership of the various different social positions and privileges one could assume as a writer. That, in turn, entailed freedom to writers who could create disparate types of texts. To understand Jane Eyre’s role as a feminist must be thoroughly clearly defined.
Feminism has been evolved as a prominent and controversial topic in writing for over two centuries, articulating the view that in the “19th century meaning that women were inherently equal to men and deserved equal rights and opportunities”. Multitudinous of women throughout time have stood progressively towards the recognition of women’s contribution to cultural roles, achievements and social and political rights. And yet, even in texts that are considered feminist, from an author who is considered to be a voice for female equality; that males always enjoy the privilege of having the power to control a woman’s life. However, Bronte depicted strong and clear examples of feminist ideals through Jane’s personality, actions, thoughts and beliefs. Jane’s strong personality and her continuous lack of respect towards social expectations were apparent. Jane’s second courageous feminist act is leaving Rochester when she learns disturbing facts about Rochester’s life. By doing so, she is expressing an approach of herself through Victorian life; being symbolized as Rochester’s second wife and her strong will that allows her to break her love relationship with Rochester. Therefore, this shows that Jane has the utmost strength to overcome all kinds of emotional barricades which a traditional women holds. Furthermore, Jane maintains dignity by refusing to give in to her physical and emotional desires that would of which be seen as uncultivated by society.
Throughout Jane Eyre, Jane conducts many tasks of which women of her time did not accomplish because they were not permitted to participate in the first place. Jane started reading and writing as a little girl. Providing her with an uncommon female skill that she used to compete against males. Jane is a character that is in complete control of her life and destiny, whereas most women were entirely dependent on their husbands for financial and physical support because they were property belonging to men. “Women of the Victorian era were not part of a man’s world, as they were considered below them”. Having said this, fundamental assumptions create inauthenticity. Simone De Beauvoir states that “The second sex shows how these fundamental assumptions dominate social, political, and cultural life and how women internalized this ideology, so that they live in a constant state of inauthenticity”. The clear fundamental cultural assumptions of the era created authenticities which are embodied through Jane as she lives through the struggle every woman of the time was familiar with.
Bronte depicts women writing about the meaning of a ‘home’ and the divided position of the woman as author of her own story and as inhabitant within the home she has built. Being the writer of one’s own story implies that the control over designing the plot and each of the characters belongs solely to the author. However since women are not the authors of their own stories, Bronte`s authorship using her own experiences highlights the problematic traditional female roles that women encounter in the Victorian era. Although some may question how Bronte can maintain the truth when she has Jane stepping outside of her expected gender role. She is thus faced with the anxiety of authorship and the principle responsibilities of domesticity that are at once upheld and subverted through the process of storytelling through writing. Bronte writes about the home, reflecting the universal, inherent need to establish a suitable ‘home’, while questioning the fundamental ideals upon which the concept of ‘home’ is founded. Jane does not follow the fundamental ideals of a `home` however, throughout the course of the novel Jane in fact searches for a place that she can call home. Throughout Jane`s life, ever since she was a child, she never knew the feeling of a `home`; jane was seen as the quest of an orphan girl for a `home` and in the end, finds a place of belonging; her family and a `home`.
This unusual and ambivalent attitude towards home, expressed by female first-person narrators who grapple with the task of telling their own story in a society of selfless women, is further complicated by their orphaned condition: “Writing the first person narrative becomes for these female protagonists, a means of questioning the order of their lives and then a way of reordering it. . . . Often it becomes an act of recuperation and reconciliation. . . ” of which Jane achieves. Feminism is an integral involvement through Jane Eyre. However, it exemplifies how a phallocentric system governs “Western Metaphysics” across cultural norms, language and politics. Jacques Derrida states that “language is structured as an endless deferral of meaning… There is no transcendental signified that is meaningful in itself and thus escapes the ceaseless play of linguistic deferral and difference”. Furthermore, western culture has embedded “the importance of language in establishing, maintaining, and reflecting an asymmetrical relationship between men and women” and, continuing to effectively stretch the issue as it uses neutral defences. Although, masculine connotations encourage positive emotions and negative emotions being evoked through feminine implication. Although Jane’s strength and independence surrounding women’s rights grows, it is clear that to some degree, a Phallocentric society which “denotes the assumption that maleness is the natural, and… The only source of authority and power” and therefore reinforces the idea that men rightly hold all of the absolute power over the guideline of life. In Jane Eyre several different gender based binary oppositions can be found. The way that binaries operate is that they must constantly be in opposition with one another. Reasonable and mad, nature and nurture, black and white: one draws significance from the other. Binary oppositions and the definition of fe/male characteristics and behaviour are involved throughout the novel and are convoluted by an arbitrary process. These binaries have also been compared to the idea of the Byronic Hero as a male ideal. Through this, a relevant account of the hitherto theory concerning Jane Eyre’s transgression of the binary oppositions of fe/male and behaviour are achieved. However, there is always a risk that the subjects will not be covered in a satisfactory way. The Byronic Hero in the comparison of female/male roles is that the figure is often referred to in terms of the behaviour model “of avant-garde young men” and that he “gave focus to the yearnings of emancipated young women”. Thus presenting a seemingly accepted ‘male ideal’ to the feminist texts in order to achieve a more historically accurate representation of expected gender roles that members of society adhered to.
In the Norton Anthology of English Literature the Byronic Hero is defined as an: “alien, mysterious, and gloomy spirit, superior in his passions and powers to the common run of humanity, whom he regards with disdain. . . He is in his isolation absolutely self-reliant, pursuing his own ends according to his self-generated moral code against any opposition, human or supernatural. And he exerts an attraction on other characters that is the more compelling because it involves their terror at his obliviousness to ordinary human concerns and values…”. Mr Rochester refers to Jane as his “little English girl”, which suggest that he sees Jane as an inferior. However Jane doesn’t allow Mr Rochester to treat her as a servant or slave, she talks back and speaks her mind regardless if she offends him. Nonetheless, Jane breaks the traditional behaviour one as a women usually expresses and instead began making her own money and living on her own, as an independent woman; Jane becomes the master of her own life. This detailed definition gives an interpretation of how the Victorian era’s expected male roles in literature seemingly captured many of the Rochester’s characteristics.
Another binary opposition that will be discussed both literally and metaphorically are master/servant. In Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, the reader is discerned that women can be found in positions of obedience “For she has been thought to accept masculine authority”. Beauvoir also describes women as servants in the way that they are products of the previously mentioned patriarchal structure. This highlights how men are perceived as the domination gender and women in charge of traditional chores in the household. This shows how the role of women are more the one of a servant than a master in comparison to men. The binary of master/servant is present from the very beginning of the novel and is exceedingly evident through power between John Reed and Jane. In the beginning of the novel when John Reed enters the room where he finds Jane reading behind a curtain, Jane asks “what do you want?” whereupon John Reed replies with an aggressive tone, “Say, what do you want Master Reed?”. This shows a strong inadequacy expressed from John Reed; he proclaims himself as the master yet he is only fourteen years old, however, portrays the possibility of a child acting as the master of the house. Thus John Reed is an example of how important gender is regarding power relations. After the death of John Reed’s father, Mr Reed; he acquired the patriarch role in the home.
Marxist ideology discerns ideologies and criticizes them, thus demystifying the ideological elements that create the social structure citizens are encouraged to follow. However, analysis of how a text advances class ideologies and viewpoints is a crucial part of Marxist criticism. Marxist Criticism is repeatedly evident throughout Jane Eyre and can be known as a cultural text that is identified through sources of social knowledge. Marx wrote of British realist novelists that their “eloquent and graphic portrayals of the world have revealed more political and social truths than all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together”. Furthermore, novels are more equipped and more efficient at documenting human behaviour and past events than newspapers or magazines owing to the novel’s providing a more in depth knowledge. The class division between Victorian men and women were very distinctive. Men increasingly commuted to their placement of work; the factory, shop or office. Whilst men were doing the ‘hard work’, wives, daughters and sisters were left at home for majority of the day to oversee the domestic duties that were carried out by servants. Jane however ignored her social standing because the protagonist she is, she fought for her rights in a time where they believed that she, as a governess and a woman, did not deserve any. Regardless, Jane disobeyed society’s idea of a perfect woman to gain respect as a human. Jane being the persistent woman she is, stood for equality. However the Victorian era, Jane was regarded as very liberal which caused more discrimination on her behalf.
An example of this can be depicted when Jane first met Rochester the scene presented a feminist portrayal of Jane. Jane went out of her way to assist Rochester stating that “if you are hurt, I can help”. However, a women walking alone in that era should never address a man. This shows her perseverance in being independent beliefs that women should be of equal to men`. As a child, jane always resented those in power therefore one would assume that she would then resent this man`s gruff contempt when she offers to help; however, as mentioned above, she stays to help him. This clearly illustrates her growth as a character. Whilst, most women would not have the audacity to help this man.
The act of being ‘feminine’ creates stereotypes and misrepresents the realities of women’s lives and of social change, thus sustaining patriarchal images and values. This can be supported by Juliet Mitchell argument that “gender is socially constructed, and. . . there are other ways of constructing human subjectivity…”. Class differences can cause an abundant amount of problems. An example of this is the love between Jane and Rochester. In order for Jane to make people recognize and respect her personal qualities, she must break through class prejudices. Furthermore, Bronte tries to illustrate how personal virtues are better indicators character than class.
Critical Examination of Religion in Jane Eyre
During the Victorian Era, the status of religion was one of the most pressing social and moral issues. Though Charlotte Bronte grew up in a religious household, she, like many other authors, criticized certain aspects of religion even though, like the protagonist of her novel Jane Eyre, she principally remained a religious, spiritual person throughout her life. Throughout Jane Eyre, Bronte successfully conveys to the readers her religious beliefs, as well as criticisms of some of the injustices and frauds she perceived within the church.
In her novel, Bronte uses the subtlety of characterization to heighten and emphasize her dissatisfaction with the Church of England. One of Jane’s earliest encounters with religious hypocrites is her meeting with Mr. Brocklehurst, the wealthy and influential owner of Lowood. He insists that “humility is a Christian grace”, yet he and his family members are adorned luxuriously and fashionably, “splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs”. Upon closer inspection of this particular passage, we can see that it is precisely Bronte’s use of subtlety, the innocent yet questioning observations of Jane, that wholly bring to light Bronte’s dissatisfaction with such men. Meanwhile, Brocklehurst’s tirade upon the children further serves a critical purpose: Bronte portrays just how evil and ugly his doctrines are — used to subject, control and manipulate. Furthermore, the notions of hell and punishment, which Brocklehurst uses to intimidate Jane, show just how confusing and frustrating these two sides of religion can be: the optimistic concepts of love and forgiveness versus the notions of hell and damnation.
Although Jane’s life hitherto has not yet presented her with much love or forgiveness, it is during her time at the poverty-stricken Lowood that she initially encounters sincere examples of good, Christian values in the characters of Helen Burns and Miss Temple, the latter of whom is described as “full of goodness” by her students. In Helen, Jane discovers a side to religion she has never encountered before, one that fills her with hope and affection. Yet despite Helen’s gentle and passive doctrine of “turning the other cheek,” Jane is still unable to accept her belief entirely, insisting that she “must dislike those who whatever I [Jane] do to please them, persist in disliking me…resist those who punish me unjustly”. Jane’s may not seem very Christian-like; however, Bronte uses Jane’s beliefs to bring out her strong will and desire to follow her own belief system — to develop Jane’s willful character. It is then obvious that Helen and her doctrine serve as foils to Jane and hers, as Jane attempts to disconnect herself from the liabilities she perceives within Christianity. Once she has found herself and her confidence, she is able to grasp and accept her own beliefs, refusing to adjust herself to the rampant mentality and notions of the Church.
After maturing into a young woman and discovering herself through the many challenges placed in her path, Jane encounters St. John Rivers, who is perhaps one of the most disciplined Christians in the novel. His absolute and indisputable views on religion make him an interesting character. Jane notes that he is extremely active both in clergy and in missionary work, yet despite his tremendous efforts, he is described as a cold man, one who “has not yet found the peace of God.” Despite his vast determination in charity work, nor has he experienced that “mental serenity, that inward content, which should be the reward of every sincere Christian”. In other words, he is a man incapable of loving. Bronte uses this character to paint a much different picture of the effects that religion can have on men — Brocklehurst simply considers his duties to the Church imperative, and he rarely seems to pause and enjoy life and love. It is precisely for this reason that Jane refuses to marry him, acknowledging the fact that while St. John may be content with the reward of Heaven, she knows she is determined to find her heaven on Earth.
Finally, it is crucial to examine Jane herself, and the beliefs that she has come to accept and live by. All the characters she has met in her life have shaped her into who she is in the present, and, since this is a novel motivated by Bronte’s own psychology, we can expect Bronte to have had similar views to those of Jane. Primarily, Jane refuses to view and use religion as a means of intimidation; instead, she chooses to condemn such ideas and focus on love instead. Bronte’s clever characterization has successfully gotten her point across: through the many different characters in her novel, she is able to criticize any form of religion that does not stress forgiveness and love.
Emotions over Rationality: Jane Eyre’s Final Chapter
The protagonist and titular character in Jane Eyre faces an interesting decision in the final chapters of the novel. Jane’s cousin, the missionary St. John Rivers, presents her with the proposal that she marry him and accompany him on a mission to India; however, her heart is with Mr. Rochester, the master of the manor at which she used to work. This brings about a dilemma for Jane: if she abandons missionary work, it may seem as if she is abandoning God. In this struggle between conscience and passion, passion is victorious, a victory that fits in well with the rest of the novel. However, the element of conscience that lost out to passion may not truly have represented conscience in the first place.
It is clear that Jane made the decision of passion in her choice between conscience and passion in the final chapters. St. John continually attempts to push Jane into coming with him to India for missionary work, even saying, “Do not forget that if you reject [my offer], it is not me you deny, but God”. Jane, however, does not want to accompany him; much less does she want to accompany him as his wife, as she does not love him. Indeed, she clings to the love of someone else: “I heard a voice somewhere cry – “Jane! Jane! Jane!”— nothing more… It was the voice of a human being—a known, loved, well-remembered voice—that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain and woe, wildly, eerily, urgently. ‘I am coming!’ I cried. ‘Wait for me!’” Clearly this display is of an illusion that Jane has forced upon herself, an illusion reflecting her passion and establishing her will to return to Rochester as the decision of passion, opposed to the decision of conscience in accompanying St. John. Jane, however, is her own woman, and despite St. John’s insistence otherwise – e.g. “The interest you cherish is lawless and unconsecrated” – Jane’s passion is unwavering. In returning to Rochester, Jane has clearly made the decision of passion.
St. John Rivers and Jane’s would-be journey to India with him represent the decision of conscience, but in actuality this is something of a sham. St. John Rivers is not presented as the best, most moral character in the novel, not by a far reach. Jane actually describes him as follows: “He was in reality become no longer flesh, but marble; his eye was a cold, bright, blue gem; his tongue a speaking instrument—nothing more.” Such a description certainly doesn’t conjure up the image of a determined man of the Lord; it actually hearkens back to the description of Mr. Brocklehurst: “I looked up at—a black pillar… the grim face at the top was like a carved mask, placed above the shaft by way of capital”. Recall that Mr. Brocklehurst was a person of unabashed hypocrisy, preaching modesty, poverty, and self-inflicted shame and subsequently engaging in just the opposite, as observed by the narrator in the following passage: “‘I have to teach [the girls] to clothe themselves with shame-facedness and sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel…’ Mr. Brocklehurst was here interrupted: three other visitors, ladies, now entered the room. They ought to have come a little sooner to have heard his lecture on dress, for they were splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs… These ladies were deferentially received by Miss Temple, as Mrs. and the Misses Brocklehurst.” The similarity in descriptions of Mr. Brocklehurst and St. John Rivers is definitely not a ringing endorsement of him and his journey. As such, it seems quite possible that the decision of conscience that Jane could have made would not have been such a decision anyway.
The decision that Jane makes in the final few chapters melds well with the rest of the novel. Jane always was her own woman, eschewing a life of richness and that of a cushy, hypocritical version of religiosity. The one occasion when she strayed from this path was when she was a very young child and said she wouldn’t want to live with her own poor relatives even if they were nice, and she explains this decision away more than satisfactorily: “Poverty looks grim to grown people; still more so to children: they have not much idea of industrious, working, respectable poverty”. Other than this occasion, Jane continually shows her lack of need for wealth and the more corrupt, more tangibly rewarding version of religion, as displayed by her having enthusiasm for her new family as opposed to enthusiasm for the money she learns she has inherited: “It seemed I had found a brother… and two sisters… This was wealth indeed!—wealth to the heart… not like the ponderous gift of gold”. The overall message of the book as exemplified in that passage seems to be that one need not walk the socially-acceptable, traditional path to achieve happiness; the people who were most traditionally considered “best” at the time of this novel’s penning were the rich and the religious, and in fact, both of those groups are portrayed mainly as antagonistic in Jane Eyre. Jane’s final decision fits in neatly with this theme; just because she did not accompany St. John to India does not mean that she is a bad, disreputable person, she simply followed a different path.
All in all, Jane’s decision between passion and conscience is an important decision; her choice of passion reaffirms many themes earlier presented in the novel. By choosing Rochester and thus her own path one more time, she cements the theme that pervades the entirety of the novel: the path most commonly travelled is not necessarily the only, or best, path.
The Symbolism Of Fire And Ice In Jane Eyre By Charlotte Bronte
In the gothic romance novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, there are many references to the imagery of both fire and ice in the plot. The images of fire and ice provide positive and negative implications and connotations alternatively. For instance, those implies depends on a character’s mood, the state of situations, and their actions. Through the development of Jane’s character, Bronte maintains the right balance between those images while preserving the character’s thoughts. Bronte’s use of the imagery of the fire and ice does describe not only Jane’s emotions but also the correlation of society.
The imagery of fire creates multiple nuances in this novel. Some readers often relate fire to passion, rebellion, and anger, while others view it as warmth and comfort of home. Bronte uses outstanding fire imagery through the development of Jane. This symbolism begins at the house of Mrs. Reed, in Gateshead. Jane first describes Mrs. Reed, who is her aunt, and her family. The Reed family gathers around the fireplace, and then she even describes them as perfectly happy. However, Jane is isolated from the rest of the family and the warmth of the fireside, “…she lay reclined on a sofa by the fireside, and with her darlings about her”. Also, the Reed family considers Jane too spiteful to enjoy the privilege: “she really must exclude me from privileges intended only for contented, happy, little children”. Bronte describes the panes of glass “protecting, but not separating…”. This winter landscape and the Reed family portray the cold, emotionless views from society.
Whereas fire is figuratively involved in illustrating the rage towards her mistreatment, ice imagery is used to symbolize the loneliness and desolation. Other relevant images of fire and ice are invoked in the scene where Jane is locked in the red-room. The red room is described as deep red and crimson, which are known colors of fire and heat. Jane describes the red room as being very cold by saying, “I grew by degrees cold as stone”. When Mrs. Reed locks Jane in the red room, she is also locking Jane’s passionate nature in with the cold emotion that tempers Jane’s rage: “My heartbeat thick, my head grew hot: a sound filled my ears…”. Society wants people to act “normal,” and anyone who thinks outside of the box is considered “abnormal.” The room portrays Jane’s passion and symbolizes how Jane’s fiery personality sets apart from society. Jane believes that if she were to follow the norms of society by acting unemotional and cold, it would destroy her passion. Thus, this scene exemplifies the way society thinks about how people should behave.
Throughout the story, Bronte develops physical evidence that symbolizes Jane’s struggle of balancing the fire and ice in order to survive because the fiery nature that keeps Jane’s passion is portrayed as repulsive in society. The first evidence is Mr.Rochester, who embodies the fire, which has the potential to burn and destroy Jane’s life. After her first meeting with Mr.Rochester, numerous fire imagery appears: “… should have shunned them as one would fire, lightning, or anything else that is bright but antipathetic”. Rochester is not only the fire that creates warmth but also represented as temptation. Although Jane realizes the fire that burns within her, she refuses Rochester to achieve maturity. However, Rochester encourages Jane’s passion by choosing it over the “perspective of flatness, triviality, and perhaps imbecility, coarseness, and ill-temper”. Inconceivably, this is the first time anyone other than Jane herself accepts and appreciates the fire.
On the contrary, the character of St. John is represented as ice. He is both physically and emotionally lack of warmth and passion. Jane describes his physical features as pale and icy “…his high forehead, colourless as ivory”. St.John is rational, does not let any feeling and passion affect his thoughts and decisions. Bronte uses the imagery of ice, which keeps Jane away from St.John, “I am cold: no fervour infects me”. Jane does not want her passion taken away by him; thus, she refuses him by saying, “Whereas I am hot, and fire dissolves ice”. Jane wants to keep her passion and fire within her to make her feel alive in society.
Bronte demonstrates the danger of uncontrolled passion by introducing the character of Bertha, who is Rochester’s first wife. The physical threat of fire is represented when Bertha sets fire, and it leads to the demolition of both Thornfield and Mr.Rochester. Bertha vividly shows how unruled and untamed passion can be destructive. The destruction of Thornfield allows Jane to manage and control the fire and passion within Rochester.
By making fire and ice a prominent symbol in Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte correlates with its meaning with society. The lack of fire and light causes loneliness and desolation. The imagery of fire can be a comforting yet passionate force that gives Jane a reason to be alive even if it separates her from society. Though uncontrolled fire can be destructive, it enables Jane to start a new life with Rochester. Through the development of the characters, Bronte shows the needs of the balance of both warmth and coldness within society.
Jealousy in Jane Eyre, ‘For My Lover Returning to his Wife’, and ‘After the Lunch’
Across Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and ‘For My Lover, Returning to His Wife’ by Anne Sexton, jealousy is presented as both resulting in self-deprecation and anger. Whereas in ‘After the Lunch’ by Wendy Cope a form of love that does not contain jealousy, but does present love in a similar way to the form of love which jealousy takes over in the other texts. Bronte presents jealousy as causing self-deprecation, while the other, modern writers maintain radically different views.
In Jane Eyre, Jane becomes jealous of Mr Rochester’s courtship of Miss Ingram. Bronte presents to us that Jane has not yet realised her self-worth. Contextually the society of 1848 would have negatively viewed the marriage of two individuals from different classes, so Jane’s jealousy is emphasised through society’s expectation of Mr Rochester to marry Miss Ingram. This jealousy manifests itself through a comparison by Jane of herself to Miss Ingram in which she focuses on Aesthetics. Bronte emphasises this jealousy of aesthetics though Jane’s portraits, where Jane excessively emphasises the material differences between the two women. Underneath the portrait of herself, Jane writes ‘Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain’ and underneath her portrait of Miss Ingram she writes ‘Blanche, an accomplished lady of rank’. This shows that Jane hasn’t yet learned the value of her own spiritual and intellectual superiority. Jane describes herself, “I am poor, obscure, plain, and little” showing clear self-deprecation as a direct result of her jealousy.
Sexton also presents jealousy as casing self-deprecation in the individual. ‘For My Lover, Returning to His Wife’ presents the mistress’ jealousy of her lover’s wife. The jealousy itself can be seen in the possessive nature of the title, through Sexton’s use of ‘my’ and ‘his’ which are possessive pronouns. This jealousy leads her to blame herself, Sexton presents this through a semantic field of self-deprecation. During the 1960s when this poem was published the sexual revolution was affecting western culture and influencing society. This poem presents a side to an affair rarely before seen due to the sexually repressed society that existed before the mid-1900s. While this poem presents sexual liberation, it also presents the consequences of this love that the mistress has for her lover cannot continue as he is already married, leading to her jealousy. A contemporary reader would view the presentation from the mistress’ view as shocking as adultery was no longer seen as taboo but still disapproved of. Equally, due to the sexual liberation of the era, they may not be surprised by the voice of the mistress shown within the poem.
However, jealousy is presented as causing anger in these texts also. In ‘For My Lover, Returning to His Wife’ the speaker seems controlled, but occasionally explodes, “bitch” is used by Sexton to show her rage escaping from the steady and controlled structure of the poem. Additionally, Sexton wrote this in free verse which allows the rambling thoughts that are comorbid with jealousy to be presented through the voice of the mistress. In this way, anger is presented as being caused by jealousy. Furthermore, in Jane Eyre, Jealousy also manifests itself in anger and rage. Bertha resents Jane and Rochester’s love as she is held captive by Rochester making their love impossible. In regarding Jane and Rochester, Bertha sees their love develop and this causes her to become jealous. Bertha’s “unchaste” sexual desire results in her jealousy of Jane, as it is Jane who Rochester wishes to marry. Bertha sees this desire of Rochester’s to marry Jane as a direct threat to herself as Mr Rochester’s first wife. Bertha’s jealous rage is presented by Bronte in the destructive fires that Bertha lights. In Bertha’s final and successful attempt to burn down Thornfield, she starts the fire in Jane’s old room. This act directly reflecting her resentment of Jane and Rochester’s love through her jealousy, “Bertha escaped and set Jane’s old bedroom on fire.” Contextually, the fires would be blamed on Bertha’s insanity due to the repression of sexuality that led to Bertha’s imprisonment in the attic. However, it can be argued that Bronte uses the metaphor of fire to show the destruction jealousy can cause. Although in ‘After the Lunch’ Cope presents a preliminary form of love, in which the speaker realises they’re in love. This is presented through a battle between the head and the heart, “The head does its best but the heart is the boss”. The speaker rejects reason and logical thought as love here is presented as not being logical. The speaker here in rejecting their “head” and following their “heart” puts themselves in a position similar to the character driven by jealousy in the other texts due to jealousy being emotional and illogical also. However in this poem Cope emphasises a preliminary form of reciprocated love and falling in love. This directly contrasts to these other forms of love that are presenting a further stage of love where jealousy has taken control.
In all three texts, jealousy is presented as having different consequences. No single text took one approach to jealousy. Both Jane Eyre and ‘For My Lover, Returning to His Wife’ looked at anger and self-deprecation in relation to jealousy. Additionally in ‘After the Lunch’ Cope also presents a jealousy but contrastingly through a lack of jealousy but with the emotional vulnerability presented through the other texts.
The Evolution of Rochester’s Character
In the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, characters develop and change considerably; in particular, the character of Mr. Rochester demonstrates this clear character development. Mr. Rochester initially appears to be a profoundly unlikable person, one who acts with disregard towards others and follows a moral code that serves his best interests. He blatantly uses others in order to benefit himself. He lacks the ability to consider the consequences of his actions. Moreover, he seems ignorant to the hurt he causes and carries on with his life as though he has done nothing for which he must repent; he consistently acts deceitfully and betrays even the people he claims to love, ultimately driving people away from him. It seems that he has no intention to stop his behavior and appears satisfied with his condition in life. However, when he loses everything he considers valuable, he recognizes the countless mistakes he made and must fully accept the consequences of his behavior. Only by losing everything that gave him a sense of entitlement, does Mr. Rochester evolve from a man who acts only in his best interest to a caring and genuine person, as his experience forces him to repent for his past actions and realize humility.
Mr. Rochester initially presents himself as self-centered; he does not recognize or pay attention to the fact that his poor treatment of others has negative effects. The day he plans to marry Jane serves as a perfect example of his lack of regard for others. As Jane prepares for her wedding, Mr. Rochester does not disguise his frustration when he calls for Jane by yelling out to her in the same manner he would address a servant. “‘Jane!’ called a voice, and I hastened down. I was received at the foot of the stairs by Mr. Rochester. ‘Lingerer,’ he said, ‘my brain is on fire with impatience; and you tarry so long!’”(429). He shows his disrespect in the tone of voice and words he chooses. Jane always reacts when she hears Mr. Rochester speak, regardless of the tone he uses. When Mr. Rochester shows love towards Jane, she describes his demeanor romanticly, but in this case it startles her because he yells out brusquely. Throughout the novel, Jane never refers to the sound of Mr. Rochester’s voice as just a “voice,” but rather something more meaningful. She responds to his impatience immediately, exemplifying the power he holds over her as a result of his past behavior. She hurries down in an effort to please him and fears his anger. In addition, Jane points out that Mr. Rochester “received” her, almost as if he considers her an object. This further proves Mr. Rochester’s tendency to act in a condescending manner. As soon as he sees her, he immediately criticizes her. Of all the statements he could say upon seeing his bride for the first time on their wedding day, he chooses a negative one. He continues to express his irritation and seems determined to make her aware of what he considers her shortcomings. He describes that his “brain is on fire”, making it clear that she causes him trouble and pain. Although he should treat Jane with kindness and show her his happiness and devotion, instead he does the opposite. He finishes his verbal attack by reiterating his point that she takes too long.
As they walk to the church, his condescending behavior continues. Jane describes the moment, “My hand was held by a grasp of iron: I was hurried along by a stride I could hardly follow; and to look at Mr. Rochester’s face was to feel that not a second of delay would be tolerated for any purpose. I wonder what other bridegroom ever looked as he did — so bent up to a purpose, so grimly resolute: or who, under such steadfast brows, ever revealed such flaming eyes”(430). Mr. Rochester grasps her hand tightly, not tenderly. He causes Jane to think that he does not seem human; instead of feeling warm flesh, she feels a cold, iron stiff clamp around her hand. He rushes Jane so that she must struggle to keep up with him. True to his stern nature, Mr. Rochester does not seem to notice his affect on Jane. His actions alienate Jane because he seems so distant and cold when she believes he should cherish this bright and happy day in their relationship. His behavior causes her to question if other grooms act and appear like Mr. Rochester. The fact that she sees no glimmer of sincere interest and does not sense that he loves her causes Jane to doubt his motives and suspect he may not be genuine. This one instance shows Mr. Rochester’s disrespect, impatience and condescension; it serves as evidence that as a result of his selfishness he treats Janes poorly.
Mr. Rochester’s character evolves only after he loses all that he considers important and sees the roles reversed in his relationships. When Jane visits Ferndean she finds him in a weakened state. She immediately recognizes an astounding change in his demeanor. He tells her that her absence has caused him much suffering, “I longed for thee, Janet! Oh, I longed for thee both with soul and flesh! I asked of God, at once in anguish and humility, if I had not been long enough desolate afflicted, tormented; and might not soon taste bliss and peace once more”(673). He uses his endearing term for Jane, proving the sincerity of his remarks and his genuine love for her. The repetition of “I longed for thee” emphasizes the extent to which he wants and needs her. He further describes his longing by asserting that he desires her in “soul and flesh”. His declaration that he endeavors to appreciate every part of her indicates his sincere love for Jane and that his experiences have led him to value her. This authentic display of affection marks a point of evolution because he no longer focuses on himself but solely her. Also, the fact that he claims that he “asks God…in anguish and humility” demonstrates his willingness to give up his role of power. He relinquishes his pride when he implores god for peace, asking if he has not suffered enough. In this moment, he expresses humility by begging for god’s mercy and help. He no longer sits in a position of power and he has come to terms with his new reality, proving his evolution. Finally, by concluding his request of god with the words “once more”, it implies that he recognizes the blessings bestowed upon him before he endures his time of suffering. As he continues to recount the experience to Jane, he explains that “the alpha and omega of my heart’s wishes broke involuntarily from my lips in the words — ‘Jane! Jane! Jane!’” (673-674). The alpha and omega represents the beginning and the end, symbolizing that he believes Jane completes his life and expresses to her that his heart longs for her. He proclaims absolute devotion to her.
Even though Mr. Rochester must contend with blindness and the inability to function as he once did, he prioritizes Jane as most important in his life by wanting only her. This serves as a huge confession of his evolution because for once he puts someone else before his personal well being. He describes that his plea to god broke through his lips involuntarily. By using the verb “broke,” he demonstrates the strength of his love. Also, the fact that he makes these statements involuntarily solidifies his inability to control his heart, as it remains the strongest and most powerful force in his life. Unlike the day of his wedding, he speaks to Jane with affection. He calls to her in a manner that resembles his immense love and compassion. In contrast to his wedding day when he abruptly beckons for her, he now calls out her name three times, with a tone of sincerity, as he sits by the window yearning for her. The way in which he calls for her numerous times emphasizes his need for her, as though calling for her once does not truly express his need to see her. By peeling away the superficial elements of his life and feeling sripped of his pride, Mr. Rochester evolves as he realizes what he truly values in life. In his darkest moments, when he hit rock bottom, he clearly sees reality: he values Jane more than any of his possessions and even his pride. He achieves clarity only by enduring suffering and this experience causes him to evolve into a humbled man who knows what he truly values.
After Rochester evolves and attains the capacity to truly demonstrate love, Jane returns and they happily marry. Mr. Rochester’s evolution, indeed, serves as a crucial element to the successful renewal of their relationship. Rochester’s humility allows him to consider Jane his equal. This new level of equality serves their relationship well as it provides a foundation of mutual respect. Mr. Rochester must rely on Jane, but he does not seem humiliated when he accepts both Jane’s help and her love. He no longer lives life with the same outlook and therefore disregards what he once would have considered humiliating. An additional aspect of his evolution gives him clarity about what he truly desires. His sincere love for Jane and his ability to express it matches the love and admiration Jane always felt for Rochester. Mr. Rochester must undergo a renewal of himself before he can renew his relationship with Jane.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: The Modern Library, 2000. (Print)