Charlotte Bronte’s Description of Maturity as Illustrated in Her Book, Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre: The Magic That Makes You Grow Up
Today’s societal norms emphasize individualism and freedom by way of adulthood, an idea not uncommon in past eras. Artists of all ages use the motif of adulthood to demonstrate independence and strength while the idea of adolescence is used to illustrate the process by which one gains experiences to strengthen their path towards becoming an adult. An example of this in today’s age through modern mediums is an observation of an ignorant, vengeance-seeking princess of the Tang Dynasty in Xia Da’s manga Choukakou: “All your life, you’ve only ever known the world through the view of a keyhole. You wish to see beyond that which can be seen to what should be seen, yet you lack the conviction to widen it—to pursue a destiny of your own creation. Even so, I see a burning ambition hidden within you, an unknown, unforgotten promise to be so much more. For the sake of a future brimming with bliss, grasp the fallen reigns and procure a new path to follow. In doing so, one day, maybe not now or even in ten years, you’ll have the view you’ve always yearned and pleaded for but was never allowed. Always remember: never will a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling be made into a queen.” In this case, growing up is not just a physical transformation; Choukakou surmises that one must also grow as a person and individual through their experiences and produce their own future and path in life before one can truly be called an adult. Similar to Xia Da’s Choukakou, Charlotte Bronte utilizes nearly identical themes in Jane Eyre to demonstrate the protagonist’s growth into a true adult in both mind and body through the lessons she learns throughout the novel and adolescence from several characters. In her youth, Jane Eyre, an orphan taken in by her wicked relatives, the Reeds, wishes nothing more than to be free of Gateshead Hall, a home in which she only ever knew misery and humiliation at the hands of her cousins and aunt. Because of her immature attitude and ignorance of the world outside of Gateshead, her desire for liberation from the malicious Reed family morphs into a deep yearning for an escape from pain and discomfort by way of growing up, an act that implies having the independence and power that she was never privy to. Jane believes that by growing up and possessing the freedom and power that comes with it as quickly as possible, she can avoid the struggles associated with being a child who can’t do anything, but, as she ages throughout the novel, Jane’s initial idea of adolescence being just a physical transformation with additional benefits is proven false. To provide the learning experiences necessary to push Jane towards true adulthood, Bronte strategically uses Jane’s experiences of John Reed’s antagonism as a child, Helen Burn’s friendship in the harshest portion of her life, and Edward Rochester’s love in physical maturity as the catalyst for Jane’s growth. Through Bronte’s use of successive characters to instill in Jane the experiences necessary to shape her throughout her life, Bronte emphasizes the idea that growing up is a steady process that is more than just undergoing physical change and that it requires one to experience life’s ups and downs and to mentally develop to shape oneself and their future.
During her childhood, John Reed, Jane’s malevolent cousin, bullies Jane despite being four years her senior, inadvertently fostering Jane’s sense of morality and her rebellious, insurgent attitude towards all that she deems as injustice against her. Due to the fact that Jane is a poor orphan, John thinks of her as lesser than and subservient to him, an excuse he uses to bully her without being punished. Jane narrates how this harsh treatment and lack of help from her family and the servants traumatized her: “He bullied and punished me; not two or three times in the week, nor once or twice in the day, but continually: every nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh in my bones shrank when he came near. There were moments when I was bewildered by the terror he inspired, because I had no appeal whatever against either his menaces or his inflictions” (Bronte 12). Jane’s earliest memories of John invoke fear within her because of his continuous bullying to spite her for being poor and living in his home despite not originally belonging at Gateshead while Jane can do nothing but bear through it in silence. As the male head of the Reed family, John looks down on Jane’s upbringing and status as an orphan due to his wealth and social class alongside his mother’s heavy bias towards Jane. John’s bullying, contrary to how his age should have made him more mature, consists of physical blows and immature, psychological jeers that mainly focus on her lack of wealth and parents to break her pride and spirit. Jane especially fears how John will terrorize her for seemingly no reason to the point where “every nerve [she] had fear[s] him.” The servants do not help or side with her in fear of offending John while Jane herself is not able to fight back in fear of an unknown terror in the form of Mrs. Reed. Mrs. Reed never scolds John for his behavior since she, too, hates Jane for having taken up her husband’s attention while he was still alive, so she always treats Jane with contempt alongside John and encourages his bullying by not telling him otherwise. Because of this, Jane grows up in Gateshead without any allies or love, constantly pressured by John Reed’s bullying and unnerving violence while everyone turns a blind eye to her suffering. This early taste of injustice, one that Jane can find neither reason for nor solution to, gives Jane the experience of cruelty and wickedness, allowing her to develop a strong sense of defiance towards inequity once she had grown tired of simply bearing through the pain in solitude. Subsequently, one of John’s beatings goes awry after Jane finally fights back for the first time, an event that sparks Jane’s defiant persona after receiving a one-sided punishment from Mrs. Reed. Thereafter, Jane begins to rebel more often than not against the Reeds’ injustice, and she recounts, “I resisted all the way: a new thing for me . . . I was conscious that a moment’s mutiny had already rendered me liable to strange penalties, and, like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths” (16). Jane describes herself as a “rebel slave” that must “go all lengths” to rebel against her captors in her “desperation”; this implies that she thinks of herself as a captive under the Reed family’s influence at Gateshead and that, while she is technically their ward, she does not live like one under their “penalties” and must therefore rebel to her fullest. Her desperation comes from the fact that she knows that she can neither escape from nor truly live at Gateshead in peace and that she will never be happy if she is near the Reed family. Under this belief, Jane resists “all the way” because the Reeds’ cruel behavior will undoubtless not change whether she does or does not rebel against them. Correspondingly, Mrs. Reed punishes her for the smallest, most insignificant acts while her son is left free of penalty, illustrating the consensual hatred between Jane and Mrs. Reed’s family. Despite the punishments, Jane rebels because she strongly believes that injustice must be dealt with and counteracted due to the fact that she herself has already felt injustice without penalty many times and knows the frustration and helplessness of it all. Through her previous situation of bullying and misery, Jane learns that rebelling and suffering the consequences later on is much better than suffering and doing nothing about it, ultimately educating her on the importance of being able to do something as opposed to the lack of a choice. Jane’s first step in the novel into growing up is through the ability of choice and this newfound morality, something a child should not have to worry about at her age but was nonetheless her first bout of freedom in Gateshead, demonstrating Bronte’s idea that growing up one step at a time requires one to experience good and bad situations to develop mentally and shape one’s life.
At Lowood Institute, a charity school for girls with poor funding, facilities, and daily life, Jane befriends Helen Burns, a kind, older girl who, through bearing all of her punishments with dignity, silence, and serenity, teaches Jane that patience and tolerance is a necessity in life. Lowood is a desolate and harsh place, and, while free from the Reed family’s cruelty there, Jane finds herself suffering from Lowood’s poor state of being and missing the comforts of even Gateshead at some point. Even so, Jane finds a friend in Helen Burns whereas she could not at Gateshead. However, their personalities and perspectives diverge greatly, a fact Jane discovers when Helen confronted her beliefs: “‘Yet it would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear.’ I heard her with wonder: I could not comprehend this doctrine of endurance; and still less could I understand or sympathize with the forbearance she expressed for her chastiser” (101). Helen’s pious beliefs mirror Jane’s prior to rebelling at Gateshead: to bear through the pain in silence. Initially, Jane cannot understand why Helen will so blatantly suffer without lashing out or why Helen is so tolerant towards her punishments despite not doing anything to warrant such penalties. Helen is the complete opposite of Jane, and while Jane wants to show off her sense of justice by defying injustice in a rebellious, indignant manner, Helen is simply pleased with enduring her punishments in a benevolent manner. Helen explains that punishment is “[her] fate to be required to bear” in a sense that she must endure whatever punishment is thrown her way so that she may ascend to Heaven with a pure soul; she implies that rebelling in her mortal life isn’t worth going to Hell for in the afterlife, so she chooses to bear through the pain so that she won’t have to suffer in her next life. Helen constantly tells Jane this, and nearly every time Jane refutes her preaching with her own opinions on how to counteract wickedness. Helen constantly reminds Jane that rebelling against higher authorities is not worth the risk nor the end result, but Jane’s high strung attitude towards injustice from her time at Gateshead keeps Jane from ever listening to Helen or changing her ways. Overtime, however, Jane slowly converts to Helen’s way of thinking, starting when Mr. Brocklehurst, the hypocritical and cruel supervisor of Lowood, accuses Jane of being a liar and forces her to stand atop a stool as a public punishment meant to embarrass her. Jane unconsciously takes Helen’s words to heart and does not lash out to the injustice like she had done at Gateshead. Instead, she stands on the stool in silence as a girl walks by and gives her a supporting gaze, and she thinks, “What a strange light inspired them! What an extraordinary sensation that ray sent through me! How the new feeling bore me up! It was as if a martyr, a hero, had passed a slave or victim, and imparted strength in the transit. I mastered the rising hysteria, lifted up my head, and took a firm stand on the stool” (124). Jane finally realizes that the result of not being rebellious is more rewarding than the satisfaction of getting back at someone who has wronged her. It is different from her time at Gateshead where simply bearing through the pain would have made her an easier target for John Reed; at Lowood, as she endures the punishment in silence like Helen had instructed, she earns the sympathy of the girls around her. At that moment, she describes herself as a “martyr” who has imparted strength unto a slave or victim with her actions and that a wonderful, new feeling has been born inside of her from doing so. Instead of being rebellious and defying Mr. Brocklehurst like she would have done had it been John reed, Jane decides to pursue a calmer, more peaceful route of benevolence and patience. Due to her newfound patience and tolerance, Jane is able to experience Helen’s version of dealing with punishment, and she finds that she likes the elated feeling she gets from it. Whereas lashing out will have undoubtless earned her more punishment, bearing through the embarrassment in silence brings her the support of the girls at Lowood who also hated Mr. Brocklehurst. From this experience, Jane learns that, while injustice must still be dealt with, patience and tolerance are not any worse than rebelling in the way that they satiate her desire for righteousness, albeit in different ways. Likewise, both are ways to deal with injustice, but Helen’s way of coping has a more passive, positive effect than Jane’s offensive, aggressive version, leading Jane to pursue a peaceful alternative to rebelling hereafter. Going into Lowood, Jane believed that resisting and opposing injustice was the best choice of action, but, after befriending Helen burns, Jane realizes that patience and tolerance are equally as important as her sense of morality. Jane’s incorporation of patience and tolerance into her personality shows her maturity and growth into a young woman over the next few years, illustrating the fact that Jane had once been a bratty child whose first independent action had been to be rebellious but is now becoming more mature and adult-like by becoming tolerant, the complete opposite of her headstrong, righteous act prior to Lowood. Jane’s openness to this change in her personality exemplifies how growing up and reaching adulthood slowly but steadily needs not only physical growth but mental growth as well.
After Jane has become a young woman and has left Lowood for Thornfield for the job of a governess, she meets Edward Fairfax Rochester, her employer whom, regardless of the age difference, gruffness, and lack of beauty, she learns of envy and comes to openly love despite her the scars of previous relationships. Mr. Rochester is twice Jane’s age and is by no means handsome, but Jane sees past his disposition and unconsciously falls in love with his personality. Being plain herself, Jane has no confidence in her abilities to attract and woo Mr. Rochester, so she simply watches from afar and denies these feelings of infatuation despite the subtle flirting and signs of reciprocated feelings. Be that as it may, when news of Miss Ingram, a beautiful, wealthy lady who will most likely wed Mr. Rochester, and Mr. Rochester’s compatibility reaches Jane, she tries to gather information about their union and, after being foiled, narrates, “When once more alone, I reviewed the information I had got; looked into my heart, examined its thoughts and feelings, and endeavored to bring back with a strict hand such as had been straying through imagination’s boundless and trackless waste, into the safe fold of common sense” (303). Jane is jealous in the aspect of love for the first time in the novel, and she does not know how to feel about it since she is a rookie at love. The majority of her relationships had been loveless at Gateshead and Lowood with the exception of Bessie Lee, her caretaker, Miss Temple, a kind teacher, and Helen Burns, her first friend, but even those friendships had been founded on tough love. Mr. Rochester is her first true love, yet she does not recognize these feelings as love quite yet because of her inexperience. Because of this, she does not admit to loving Mr. Rochester nor does she ever state that she is jealous due to the fact that she scarcely knows what love feels like, but her narration shows her trying to deal with her jealousy in the only way she knows how: to hide it away. Struck by a foreign, new feeling, Jane attempts to “bring back with a strict hand” common sense and logical thinking, believing this jealousy she feels to be a mere bout of irrationality. The information she gains about Miss Ingram and Mr. Rochester’s relationship makes her jealousy rear its ugly head, but she simply detains it and thinks nothing much of it. In a sense, Jane is just ignorantly turning a blind eye to her feelings and is disregarding the hurt in her heart at the idea of Mr. Rochester together with an unfamiliar woman who is both more beautiful and more successful than Jane. However, as the novel progresses, Jane learns that this feeling she feels for Mr. Rochester is actually love and that she truly does love only him. She learns to confront these feelings internally before realizing them externally despite the threat of Miss Ingram when she chronicles, “I have told you, reader, that I had learnt to love Mr. Rochester: I could not unlove him now, merely because I found that he had ceased to notice me—because I might pass hours in his presence, and he would never once turn his eyes in my direction—because I saw all his attentions appropriated by a great lady, who scorned to touch me with the hem of her robes as she passed . . . I could not unlove him, because I felt sure he would soon marry this very lady—because I read daily in her a proud security in his intentions respecting her— because I witnessed hourly in him a style of courtship which, if careless and choosing rather to be sought than to seek, was yet, in its very carelessness, captivating, and in its very pride, irresistible” (351). Jane finally realizes that she truly loves Mr. Rochester, but by then he has already seemingly found an interest in Miss Ingram. Nevertheless, Jane finds that, at this point, she cannot “unlove” him even if he is to wed a woman more beautiful than herself or if that woman happens to hate her. Even though Jane witnesses Mr. Rochester court Miss Ingram in a way that is foreign and enviable to Jane, she still can’t let go of her feelings for him. Surprisingly, despite not being his center of attention, Mr. Rochester’s “style of courtship” attracts Jane even more because of its carelessness and nonchalance, a feature that Jane states to be “irresistible” on him. Jane even tells the reader that she has learnt to love Mr. Rochester and that she herself realizes that not even Miss Ingram or the fact that he does not pay attention to her can make her unlove him, contrary to her previous relationships at Gateshead and Lowood: as opposed to her newly blossomed love and fondness in Thornfield, Gateshead held no love for her sans Bessie Lee while Lowood was just as desolate and hostile with exception to Miss Temple and Helen Burns. Without Mr. Rochester, Jane would have gone without experiencing the pleasures of love, the ugliness of jealousy, and the pain of being seemingly lovelorn. Now an adult of eighteen-years-old, Jane has finally experienced loving someone and unknowingly being loved back in contrast to never knowing love prior to her arrival at Thornfield, illustrating Bronte’s overall theme that, step by step, one grows up to be an adult physically from age and mentally through one’s good and bad experiences.
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre describes the tale of Jane Eyre, an orphan who must live with her vile relatives, who initially lives a life of misery and sadness in the form of loveless relationships. During her childhood, Jane wishes to escape Gateshead Hall because she has only ever known suffering there, so her immaturity connects her suffering to the fact that she is a child who can do nothing due to sheer inability. As the novel progresses, Jane connotes the idea of growing up to possessing independence and strength not privy to a child, not quite realizing what growing up truly means besides physical change. As Jane tries to make a place for herself in the world, she encounters several characters that influence her path in life and make her see the truth behind becoming an adult. From them, Jane acquires a sense of morality, learns about passiveness, patience, and tolerance, and discovers the thralls of being in love, jealous, and lovelorn, all feelings that were obtained from both good and bad experiences in her life. The three characters that leave the biggest impact on Jane are John Reed, her good-for-nothing, violent cousin, Helen Burns, her first friend, and Edward Fairfax Rochester, the love of her life. Bronte uses these characters to teach Jane important life lessons and to impart the knowledge that makes her truly grow up and reach adulthood, exhibiting the theme that growing up is a steady process that requires one to not only change physically but to also experience all that life has to offer to develop one’s mindset and future. What began as a child’s dream to be free from torment became a journey of self-enlightenment that ended in overall happiness and satisfaction.
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