Jane Eyre: A Feminist Look
Women have been deemed inferior to the male sex since the start of civilization and to this day, women around the world are still held captive by the prison that society forces them into. Although society in first world countries has evolved since the time that Jane Eyre was written, it was a very different story from what it is now. Charlotte Bronte was a female writer in a white mans world and in order for her voice to be heard she had to create a pseudonym to be perceived as a serious author.
In Jane Eyre, Bronte writes of a strong-willed woman growing up in 19th century England and how she deals with the inequalities and hardships of being an unmarried, working-class woman by the people with total control of their lives: the white men. Throughout the novel, there are issues of prejudice and emotional abuse within a marriage-obsessed society that present themselves and it is up to Jane to make the decisions that are going to benefit her in the long run.
The novel begins in Janes childhood and describes her time living with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, her cousins, and the workers of Gateshead Hall. The issues that are presented in this portion of the novel are of class differences. Jane is an orphan and has no money of her own because her parents did not leave her any. Even though she lives with her wealthy relatives, she is considered inferior to her family members which results to the constant mistreatment of her well being by her neglectful aunt and villainous cousin, John Reed. He bullied and punished me; not two or three times in a week, nor once or twice in a day, but continually. (4) Jane is being harmed by the only male in power. John Reed knows that he will inherit his family’s fortune thus becoming the patriarch of the family. This scene seems to infer that Mrs. Reed takes no notice to her dismay not only because Mrs. Reed does not really care about Jane but it perpetuates the idea that boys will be boys. As a child, Jane was notably more rebellious than the children in her household. When she tried to defend herself from John Reed, Bessie and Miss Abbot punish her for striking a young gentleman(7). His bullying could not even be penalized because he was the male power. Girls at this time were to be quiet and at the feet of their male counterparts. Instead of justice being brought, it only brought shame and torture for girls and women.
Mrs. Reed decides to send Jane to an uninhabitable boarding school, Lowood Institution, and leave her there until she finishes her education. Mrs. Reed saw this as an opportunity to get rid of the responsibility her husband left for her as his wish on his deathbed, not because she cared about Janes education or quality of life. The education of women in the Victorian era was concluded unnecessary because women were meant to only be good wives to their husbands. It was a worse situation for working-class women because they could only receive the most basic type of education. Hence, schooling was majorly based on the class one belonged to and gender. Victorian attitudes toward education differed considerably from those prevalent in modern America. For one thing, the level of one’s schooling was determined by one’s social class and also by one’s gender. (Gale) The way girls were taught were extremely different from the way boys were taught. When Jane arrives at Lowood, she is explained by a girl what her classes are and who will teach her. The one with the red cheeks is called Miss Smith; she attends to the work, and cuts out- for we make our own clothes, our frocks, and pelisses, and everything; the little one with the black hair is Miss Scatchard; she teaches history and grammar, and hears the second class repetitions; and the one who wears a shawl and has a pocket-handkerchief tied to her side with a yellow riband, is Madame Pierrot; she comes from Lisle, in France, and teaches French. (52) This reflects what girls were being taught subjects that would most likely not lead to a career while boys were taught subjects that could further their educational careers. In the traditional curriculum of the time, girls and young women did not study such “serious” subjects as mathematics, science, or classics. However, they were taught grammar, history, geography, and French. Art, music, and sewing or embroidery were also considered appropriate subjects, and young women were all expected to have a knowledge of the Bible and basic Christian teachings. (Gale) Jane eventually leaves Lowood after Miss Temple leaves to be a housewife and advertises her services as being a governess where she obtains a position at Thornfield.
When Janes mother figure Miss Temple leaves Lowood to be a wife, she gains more perspective as to how Miss Temple has affected her life. Miss Temples abandoning of her career for marriage is an indication of how women would have to leave her career behind to become a wife. She could not do both or would be negatively branded as an old maid or maiden aunt. In a society where this was the expectations of all women, many women with any type of career had to make a choice. Women’s roles in the Western world during the 1800s were highly restricted and centered around husband and family. A woman was expected to find a man to marry and then raise a family. Single women were labeled, ‘old maids. (Shultz) As they had to choose between being a working woman or wife, there were not many opportunities for women to work in diverse fields. Women and girls had few avenues for supporting themselves financially if they weren’t married or their husband died or ran off. Without education or job skills, some relied on a handful of charitable organizations, such as the Chicago Relief and Aid Society, for bare-bones necessities.(Shultz) Because of the lack of effort into girls education, women could rarely advance to vigorous careers.
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