Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

January 30, 2013
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When Charlotte Bronte wrote her beloved novel Jane Eyre, she unleashed a woman that had been pent up for far too long. In an era when females were considered domestic servants, Jane Eyre was viewed as nothing short of preposterous. Despite its early criticism, Bronte’s novel eventually earned a lasting spot in the hearts and minds of women of all ages. Her subtle attacks on society aroused a craving for freedom in women who knew not what the word meant. Bronte’s quirky and determined Jane became a heroine.

One might assume that such a strong-willed character such as Jane came from a supportive and solid family, one that fostered in her the burning flame of ambition. However, Jane’s situation was quite the opposite. The death of her parents left her alone in a world that did not want anything to do with her. Taken in by her histrionic and rigid aunt, Jane suffered years of both physical and emotional abuse. Her two cousins, jaded by luxury, treated her as a mere slave who needed to work to earn her keep. But despite the endless torment she endured, Jane’s inner confidence did not falter. Her sarcastic remarks and defiance towards her aunt earned her countless punishments, but Jane did not succumb to the anguish. She simply told herself that individuals such as her aunt and cousins were not “fit to know her.”

When Jane’s aunt grew so weary of harboring such a “horrid and unattractive” child in her house, Jane was sent to Lowood School for Orphans. Her time spent at
Lowood marked a period of extreme growth; her spirit fueled by the desire to achieve. Although the conditions at Lowood were a meager improvement from her aunt’s house, Jane discovered her passion for learning and clung to it. After her successful years as a student at Lowood, she became a teacher there and enjoyed the work. However, she felt an eternal “unrest” as a teacher at Lowood, an unrest fueled by her desire to accomplish much more.

Anxious for a new direction for her life, opportunity called to Jane when she published an advertisement for her skills in a local newspaper. Rather quickly, she was hired by a Mrs. Fairfax to be the governess of an estate in the countryside. Jane left Lowood enthusiastically, eager to settle her restless soul. She enjoyed her new job, and was paid fairly; however, her ambition for something greater lingered.

Jane’s world soon shifted from bleak to bright when she met a peculiar man called Mr. Rochester, the owner of the estate. She was fascinated with him, and he took a similar interest in her. Remarkably, despite their starkly different backgrounds and lifestyles, the pair found much to discuss. Their relationship soon blossomed into a mutual passion. Soon enough, Mr. Rochester proposed to Jane; his euphoria evident upon her acceptance. The couple went on to enjoy their tender relationship until the day of the marriage. Jane discovered that Mr. Rochester had kept a dark secret from her; he had been harboring his first wife, who had gone mad, in the attic for many years. Infuriated upon hearing that Mr. Rochester had not been truthful about his past, Jane fled without so much as a goodbye kiss. Destitute and miserable, she stumbled onto a lamp-lit doorstep and begged for mercy. Coincidentally, the house belonged to her very own blood

relations, and she was taken in. Jane sincerely enjoyed spending time with her relatives, and she felt at home for perhaps the first time in her life.

After a few months with her relatives, Jane’s cousin John offered her a proposal: She would travel with him to foreign lands and become his wife, and they would fall in love with each other along the way. Disgusted by John’s scheme, Jane refused. She would not be tied down to someone she did not love, let alone her own cousin.
Jane eventually returned to the estate where she began her duties as governess once more, her love and curiosity for Mr. Rochester pulling her back. Finding him crippled and half-blind by a terrible fire that resulted in the death of his first wife, Jane married him. It is at this pivotal moment that Jane became the free woman that she always wished to be; she has married her true love because she loved him. She loved him despite his deformities, and he loved her despite her plainness. By leaving Mr. Rochester after he was deceitful, she proved to herself that she had self-worth and the ability to choose independence over petty emotion. Referring to her marriage, Jane states that: “I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine. . . . To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company. . . . We are precisely suited in character—perfect concord is the result.” Once she knew her own strength, Jane’s soul was satisfied in her marrying Mr. Rochester.
The significance of Bronte’s masterpiece Jane Eyre is that it proved that women do indeed have the same driving emotions as men. Jane herself sums up this important theme in perhaps one of the defining passages of the book: “Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a constraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer…it is

thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.” From the very beginning, the reader has a very intimate glimpse into Bronte’s philosophy of equality between men and
women. Through the creation of a character that lacks physical beauty, Bronte took a radical step both as an author and as a woman. It is common knowledge that the female characters in novels are usually stunning, seductive almost, with names that fit their appearance. By discarding this sex appeal and naming her character simply “Jane,” Bronte opened up a new world where women are judged based on the contents of their character instead of their physical appearances.

Not only did Jane Eyre change the public’s view of female characters, it also altered the world’s perception of women and love. In Bronte’s time, marriage was the ultimate goal for young women; it was something to strive and prepare for. Jane moves in the opposite direction; she chooses independence over her love for Mr. Rochester, because she will only bind herself to another person when she feels as if she is in an equal relationship. If Mr. Rochester’s wife had still been living in the attic, Jane would feel as if she were a mere mistress. She chose to leave her true love, despite the unbearable pain, because autonomy was simply more important to her. This decision is vital to the development of Jane as an effective character; had she chose to marry Mr. Rochester in the beginning, the book would have lost much of its effect on the reader. Jane’s choice to pursue her own life before marriage underscores the potency of Bronte’s novel, a novel which radicalized female writing.

Charlotte Bronte’s story is an enlightening tale of an unimportant girl who thought she was anything but. Jane Eyre birthed a heroine who was admirable not for her beauty or her name, but for her pugnacious spirit and her will for autonomy. As readers,

we find ourselves in Jane’s rather ordinary life. We find ourselves in her struggles and in her triumphs, in her losses and in her gains. Jane’s everlasting place in the reader’s heart
is due to her accessibility as a character. We connect with her and believe in her, because we can see ourselves in her. She is a woman so utterly normal yet so decidedly extraordinary. But above all, she is simply Jane; and for readers, that is the best part about her.

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