Analysis of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre


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Analysis of Jane Eyre

 

        In  Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte portrays one woman's desperate

struggle to attain her identity in the mist of temptation, isolation, and

impossible odds. Although she processes a strong  soul she must fight not

only the forces of passion and reason within herself ,but other's wills

constantly imposed on her.  In its first publication, it outraged many for

its realistic portrayal of  life during that time.  Ultimately, the

controversy of  Bronte's novel lied in its realism, challenging the role of

women, religion, and mortality in the Victorian society.

 

        In essence, Bronte's novel became a direct assault on Victorian

morality. Controversy based in its realistic exposure of thoughts once

considered improper for a lady of the 19th century. Emotions any

respectable girl would repress. Women at this time  were not to feel

passion, nor were they considered sexual beings. To conceive the thought of

women expressing rage and blatantly retaliating against authority  was a

defiance against the traditional role of womenJane Eyre  sent

controversy through the literary community. For not  only was it written

by a woman but marked the first use of realistic characters.  Jane's

complexity lied in her being neither holy good nor evil.  She was poor and

plain in a time when society considered "an ugly woman  a blot on the face

of creation." It challenged Victorian class structure in a strictly

hierachal society. A relationship between  a lowly governess and a wealthy

nobleman was simply unheard of. Bronte drew criticism for her attack on the

aristocracy who she deemed as hypocritical "showy but ... not genuine." She

assaulted individual's already established morals by presenting a plausible

case for bigamy. Notions which should have evoked disgust and outrage from

its reader. Yet its most scandaless aspect was its open treatment of love.

Passionate love scenes which were for their day extremely explicit but by

today's standards are less than tame.

 

        Bronte's choice of a strong independent heroine depicted feminist

ideals that would later lead to the overhaul of Victorian culture. By

making Jane an educated woman, Bronte gave her impowerment in a patriarchal

society that denied women education. However, Jane became a woman who

demanded a say in her own destiny. During her courtship, she refutes

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Rochester's  need to  "clasp... bracelets on her wrists" and "fasten a

diamond chain around her neck." These become symbols of female enslavement

within a male dominated world. Jane's will power and integrity prevent her

from succumbing to Rochester and becoming just another of his possessions.

For if she can not preserve her individuality, she "shall not be ... Jane

Eyre any longer, but an ape in a harlequins jacket." With her refusal to

become Rochester's mistress, she demonstrates her inner strength. Strength

that will enable her to face the possibility of hunger, poverty, and even

death. It is in her decision to not marry St. John that Jane finally

liberates herself from the bonds of male suppression. All this has been in

effort to maintain some semblance of self-worth. "Who in the world cares

for you?"  "I care for myself. The more friendless ... the more I will

respect myself."  Even in her ultimate marriage to Rochester, she is in no

way surrendering to convention, for she has entered their union not only

with independence but emotional equality. If anything her actions resemble

a feminist adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, one in which the woman rescues

the prince.  Essentially Jane has sacrificed nothing, rather gaining a

loving marriage in which they are equals; equality resulting from the

disfigurement that has left Rochester in equal stature with Jane. "We stood

at God's feet, equals as we are!" By making Jane the only character to gain

resolution with her passion and successfully created a balance in her

emotions. Bronte attempts to dispel the notion of women being emotionally

unstable. Ultimately, Jane Eyre presented for the readers of that time new

insight into relationships of the 19th century. Jane's belief that

"marriage without love is sacrilege" and should be based on the "mutual

respect of two people entirely compatible" was quite a radical concept for

the time. Ultimately, this novel spread a message of the new emerging role

of the woman. Bronte implies "the importance of women having useful and

creative existence." To no longer be forced into the servitude of one man,

nor enslaved to the social constrictions of the time. As Jane, so

eloquently says "Women feel just as men."

 

        Through the heretic beliefs contained in Jane Eyre, Bronte created

great controversy, during a time that was firmly entrenched in the catholic

faith. Much of this "anti-Christian" sentiment can be derived from Jane's

struggle with the traditional constraints that her religion imposes. Her

unconscious desire to manipulate her religion for her own spiritual needs

is exemplified by her rejection of  the catholic doctrine of self -

sacrifice. "Love your enemies ; bless them thou curse you; do good to them

that hate and despise you". Jane is unable to comprehend Helen's example of

"martyrdom."  In her perspective Helen has fallen a  victim of the clergy".

Instead, Jane becomes the opposite of Helen's compliant  and passive nature,

Jane adopted the belief to "resist those who punish me unjustly." A

doctrine only "heathens and savage tribes hold ... but Christians and

civilized nations disown." Helen freely accepted her life of suffrage in

the promise of being rewarded in Heaven. "I live in calm, looking to the

end." However Jane's outlook is focused more on the present, receiving

affirmation to live for the here and now. "How sad to be lying now on a

sick-bed, and to be in danger of dying! This world is pleasant, it would be

dreary to be called from it, and have to go who knows where?"(80) Jane

lacks Helen's unquestioning blind faith, and even goes to the extent of

questioning the existence of an afterlife. "You are sure, then Helen, that

there is such a place as heaven; and that our souls can get there when we

die." (83) Here once more Jane defies her Christian faith; a religion which

demands undying faith and devotion from its followers.

 

In her  refusal to a

stifling existence under St. John, Jane rears her selfish nature once again

by expressing her desire to indulge in a few earthly pleasures. By

believing that "denying the body kills the soul", Jane articulates her

belief in a mind/body connection. Although Jane believes it  is healthiest

to possess a balance of these two, her religion has labeled her approach to

life as "animalistic". Yet, it is Jane's return to Rochester that marks the

novel's greatest controversy. By doing so, she has gone against the

Church's doctrine of accepting life's lot. By Jane refusing to be satisfied

with her present, she has decided to follow the belief of making "ourselves

as happy as possible on earth. "Her religion refutes this notion, by saying

"It is weak and silly to say you can not bear what is your fate to be

required to bear." But Jane is unable to place her trust in a "God's love

when he sends so much suffering.

 


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