Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre


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Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre


"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day....I was glad of
it; I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons:
dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped
fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the
nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to
Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed."

So goes the opening to the novel 'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Bronte. We
are immediately brought into the story; the scene has been set and
feelings exposed. As can be seen in this quotation, Bronte creates a
very friendly, easy opening, attempting to make an intimate
relationship with the reader. The characters most personal feelings
are openly displayed, this being very uncommon in 19th century novels.
In 'Jane Eyre' Bronte writes in the first person, giving the novel a
more autobiographical feel. These paragraphs also give us an example
of pathetic fallacy, a technique repeatedly used by Bronte throughout
the earlier chapters of 'Jane Eyre'. In addition to this we are shown
Jane's dislike, as a child and adult, of the Reed children and her
position and inadequacy in the Reed household; Gateshead.

The portrayal of life with the Reed family and Jane's whole childhood,
is one both cruel and fascinating. Bronte, through Jane's eyes and
thoughts, manages to convey life and the world from a child's
perspective, while still maintaining an adult's way of thinking. Jane
is very perceptive and intelligent, and this shown when she is faced
with John Reed. Her fear of him is immediately appears when he
interrupts her peace while she is reading, and she states how she
"trembled at the idea of being dragged forth" by him. As the readers,
we are shown how she must have been treated in such a way that she has
become fearful of her own cousins. Moreover, when John tells Jane to
refer to him as 'Master', we are shown how socially inferior and
insignificant she is to them, and is constantly being reminded of
this. Right from the beginning of the novel Jane's sense of loneliness
and isolation is evident form the way she hides herself behind thick
curtains in a deserted room, neglected by her cousins and aunt. The
description of John Reed given to us by Jane is extremely visual and
detailed and we are shown that, although of a young age, Jane is very
sensitive, alert and prudent of people and the world around her.

Mrs Reed, while remaining a minor character, becomes one of the most
influential people in Jane Eyre's life, although still not

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superfluous. One of the most important encounters Jane has with her
Aunt Reed is when Jane confronts her after Mr Brocklehurst leaves.
Just before this occurs Mrs Reed, much to Jane's anger, informs Mr
Brocklehurst that Jane has "a tendency to deceit". This provokes Jane
to feel that any hope of her starting afresh at school has been
killed. When Mr Brocklehurst is gone and Jane knows that she will soon
be free of the Reeds, she finds that she is able to release the anger
that had been escalating within her, much to the shock of herself and
Mrs Reed. "I am not deceitful:", states the newly emboldened Jane, "if
I were, I would say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you:" She
continues to challenge Mrs Reed in this manner, saying how if anybody
asked her how she liked Mrs Reed, she would tell them the way in which
she had been treated and of the time when she was locked in the 'Red
Room'. This results in Jane being swept away on a tide of emotion,
feeling a great sense of freedom that she had long since wanted, and
with Mrs Reed hitting a sense of realisation, as she tries to convince
Jane otherwise, that truly she longed to be her friend. Here it
appears that Jane has found a weakness in Mrs Reed; that she so much
wants to protect her reputation that she would be kind and hospitable
to girl whom she had just that day called a wicked and deceitful
child. Jane's emotional but honest account of her treatment shocks and
undermines her aunt's authority. The power balance has finally shifted
because Jane presents the truth fairly and honestly, truth and honesty
being something that Jane's character upholds the value of in all
things, and becomes a prominent theme in the novel.

Throughout the earlier chapters of 'Jane Eyre' there is a recurrent
theme of injustice. This first emerges through the bullying she
experiences from her cousins. When Jane appears from behind the safety
of the curtains she is degraded by John Reed who uses the same lines
that had been used since her birth to put her down; that she is an
orphan and a dependant, living at their expense. Jane does not seem
surprised to hear these words, nor does she seem hurt by them; they
are as much a part of her existence as is the bullying she suffers at
the hands of those around her, indeed she herself states that she was
"Accustomed to John Reed's abuse,", so it is surprising when she
retaliates and hits John on the nose. Her punishment is to be locked
in the 'Red Room', the chamber in which her Uncle Reed had died. While
in the 'Red Room' she contemplates her life, and tries to reason over
why she can never seem to please anyone and is constantly being
reprimanded, whereas Eliza, John and Georgiana are regularly
committing faults while still remaining the 'darlings' in their
mother's eye. Full of disgrace, her reasoning comes to a simple
conclusion: "Unjust!". The injustice that was put upon her that day
remains with her for the rest of her life, and is something she
cannot, and will not forget. It was traditional of nineteenth century
novels to challenge injustice and suffering, i.e. Oliver Twist by
Charles Dickens, and 'Jane Eyre' is no different.

The theme of injustice also runs through the book in the way of
sexism, religion and social standings. In the figure of the eponymous
heroine Jane Eyre we see the struggle against political, religious and
sexual repression all drawn together in an individual's protest
against an overbearing society. This novel is often said to be a very
political book because it explores the idea of a woman alone, in
charge of her own life and making her own decisions. Miss Temple, in
particular, possesses many of the values that Jane admires, and serves
as a role model for her in many respects. Jane sees in her a mother
figure, and she is clearly a very good teacher; knowledgeable and
intelligent as well as kind and fair. But Jane is still veryaware that
Miss Templeis not treated as she deserves to be and this is indicative
in the following line: "she now gazed straight before her, and her
face, naturally as pale as marble, appeared to be assuming also the
coldness and fixity of that material". We, as the reader, can see that
Miss Temple has an underlying disrespect for Mr Brocklehurst, even
though she is putting on a stance that is expected of women from her
social standing. She would have had to have composure, self-restraint,
and she would have had to be deferential, self-denying and serene. At
this period of time respect was earned, and those without money did
not deserve it. Bronte, suffering the same constraints as Miss Temple,
would have been unable to declare her opinions, and so used 'Jane
Eyre' to voice her protests. The fact that the novel was first
published under the male pen-name 'Currer Bell' only displays this
point to a further extent.

The nature of Christianity is explored a great deal throughout the
novel, so much so that many people say it is as much a book about
religion as it is a feminist or love story. There are several very
religious people in the novel, in the earlier chapters these being
Helen Burns and Mr Brocklehurst. Jane's reaction to the religious
figures in the book is interesting, in that whilst she can admire some
and condemn others, she still adheres to her own system of belief. Mr
Brocklehurst is fearsome and tyrannical, and uses religion as a
justification for oppression, cruelty and neglect. Their first
encounter produces a very effective description and puts a strong
image of Mr Brocklehurst in the reader's mind, due to the use of
metaphors. Jane describes him as "a black pillar" and "the straight,
narrow, sable-clad shape standing erect". This gives the impression
that he is steely, imposing and powerful, and it is easy to how a
young girl of Jane's age would be frightened of him. She goes on to
describe his features as "harsh and prim". This reflects his
personality which is common among Victorians as they believed that
one's looks reflect what sort of a person they are, otherwise known as
physiognomy, as is seen in the above quotations. In another
description of him it seems Mr Brocklehurst reminds Jane's childish
mind of the wolf in the fairy tale 'Little Red Riding Hood'. This is
when, at closer inspection of him, she states, "what a great nose! and
what a mouth! and what large prominent teeth!". This puerile reference
to 'Little Red Riding Hood' shows that Jane has instantly made Mr
Brocklehurst a figure of both threat and mockery. The overall image of
Mr Brocklehurst is imposing and oppressive, and not at all the figure
of Christian charity, which is what he is supposed to represent. The
school is apparently charitable in that it raises and educates these
orphaned children, however its true role is not to teach Christian
ethics, but to use these ethics to undermine the girls social
standing, loss of privilege and dependence on the institution. Mr
Brocklehurst is also shown to be a hypocrite, because although he
advocates physical suffering for the girls at Lowood, his wife and
daughters are allowed to wear fancy clothes and expensive jewellery
and have their hair curled (even after Mr Brocklehurst ordered that a
girls hair be completely chopped off because it was naturally curly).
Furthermore, in the novel he is clearly shown to be an acquaintance of
Mrs Reed. This already gives the reader a strong indication that he is
not a pleasant man, because we already know enough of Mrs Reed's
character to assume that anyone she admires will not be a particularly
'nice' person.

Helen Burns is another prominent character in the earlier chapters of
'Jane Eyre' who has strong religious faith, although quite the
opposite to Mr Brocklehurst's beliefs. Jane is instantly drawn to
Helen, and she has a profound effect on Jane's life in many ways. She
is the first person ever to be consistently kind to Jane, Jane's first
friend in fact. She is clearly very intelligent and well read,
qualities Jane very much admires because they lead to independence of
mind. She is a Christian in a sense much more truer than Mr
Brocklehurst is. She believes that it is her duty to suffer patiently
whatever punishment she is given. Jane reacts strongly to this; "I
could not comprehend this doctrine of endurance". Jane's confusion to
Helen's views shows that she has become unruly, and Bronte highlights
her strengths and faults through her reaction. Here we can see the
heroine Jane Eyre battling with her faults, and this kind of battling
is described with a realism rare to nineteenth century novels. Jane is
unaware of Helen's illness although the more modern reader is alerted
of it through her coughing. Her death affects Jane so deeply that she
never mentions her again, although we can assume that it is Jane that
erects the gravestone in Helen's memory fifteen years later.

Throughout the earlier chapters of 'Jane Eyre' there is a lot of
Gothic influence and superstition. The first experiences of
superstition that Jane has come from Bessie, the maid. While reading
at the beginning of the novel she says the books are "as interesting
as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated on winter evenings". These
tales are to stay strongly in her memory, and she mentions them
several times throughout the novel. In chapter two Abbot gives us
other examples of Victorian superstition when she tries to scare Jane
by telling her that something will come down the chimney for her and
that God will punish her if she did not behave. The description of the
'Red Room' is one of the gothic paranormal. "I had heard of dead
men.... revisiting the earth", we are again shown the great amount of
superstition in the Victorian era, and the huge affect it could have
on people. In this imaginative passage of the 'Red Room' Bronte
portrays the imagining of supernatural dread and the orphan's sense of
being rejected and consequently being herself abnormal.

Throughout the novel, Bronte uses animal imagery to describe the
untameable and the uncivilised. Right at the beginning of the story
John Reed calls Jane a rat and the servants refer to her as a mad cat.
Animals do not follow the laws of our social world and so they provide
a very appropriate image with which to describe the uncivilised. Mrs.
Reed's characterisation of Jane as an animal also provides information
about her own character. She did not think of Jane as a sensitive
human being any more than Jane thought of her as one. The selfishness
and the ego-centric way in which they both viewed the world kept them
from sympathising with each other. Bronte shows the importance of
being able to sympathise with others by showing Jane grow and mature,
learning this skill. Helen Burns in particular has a profound affect
on Jane. Helen teaches Jane that "the imaginative understanding of the
natures of others, and the power of putting ourselves in their place,
is the faculty on which virtue depends." (Fors Clavigera, 1873). This
philosophy, known as emotionalist moral philosophy, had a acute effect
on society in realms such as art, literature, religion, psychology,
politics, and revolution.

In the earlier chapters of 'Jane Eyre', Bronte regularly uses the
narrative technique of pathetic fallacy, a way of emphasising mood by
linking it to the surrounding world, to reflect Jane's state of mind.
A strong example of this is when, at the beginning of the novel Jane
is reading 'Bewicks History of British Birds' :

"Where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,

Boils round the naked, melancholy isles

Of farthest Thule; and the Atlantic surge

Pours in among the stormy Hebrides."

Jane's emotions are easily seen to be reflected in this. She herself
is "naked and melancholy" in that she has been excluded from the
content family scene, and when she is faced with John Reed her
emotions are indeed "stormy". Another example of pathetic fallacy is
when the freezing conditions at Lowood add to the misery there, in the
same way that spring heralds the start of a new beginning for Jane and
Lowood school.

"What a long way! I wonder Mrs Reed is not afraid to trust her so far
alone." By using sentences like this Bronte invokes our pity and a
certain amount of empathy for Jane. This is called pathos; evoking the
reader's emotions, a technique repeatedly used by Bronte throughout
the earlier chapters of 'Jane Eyre'. The novel has a linear
chronological narrative which is revealed retrospectively. This is
used because Bronte wanted to give a sense of a journey through life,
but also because this type of narrative makes the novel revolve around
one character which makes the character seem more real as the
character's history can be traced back to past events. This kind of
realism was very popular in nineteenth century novels. Narrating in
the first person and using a very friendly, easy opening Bronte
attempts to make an intimate relationship between the reader and the
heroine, Jane. During the course of the novel Jane's raw feelings and
emotions are laid bare to the reader. This articulation of emotions,
feelings and passion was an extremely modern dimension in novels of
the era.

The novel 'Jane Eyre' is highly reminiscent of an autobiography, not
only in the way of its narrative structure, but also because many of
the characters and places are undoubtedly based upon real people and
places in Charlotte Bronte's life. Into 'Jane Eyre' Bronte poured much
of her own life story; her elder sister Maria, reproduced as Helen
Burns, the agonies of Cowan Bridge School, the hypocrisy of the people
who ran it, and the cruel savagery of Mr Carus Wilson. As a child,
Charlotte Bronte's mother died, and with her two elder sisters Bronte
was sent to the 'charitable' Cowan Bridge School, which was run on
Christian charity in the same way that Lowood was. Here both
Charlotte's elder sisters Maria (who was said to have had a very
similar personality to Helen Burns) and Elizabeth died of
tuberculosis. The regimentation of Lowood and the tyrannical features
of the teachers there are largely implicative of Bronte's own
experiences at school. Reverend Carus Wilson, with his austere
Evangelical beliefs and harsh running of the school, is a sure source
of inspiration for the character Mr Brocklehurst. The character of
Jane Eyre, as many people how knew her would remark after reading the
book, was Charlotte herself, struggling for independence, for
recognition and for love, and as she herself said; "Novelists should
never allow themselves to weary of the study of real life."

In 'Jane Eyre' Charlotte Bronte gives a frank and honest revelation of
the female character as it was, as opposed to what it was supposed to
be, and an equally frank criticism of the Evangelical clergy.
Deliberately contradicting the usual angelic stereotypes used to
portray children in most Victorian novels, Bronte created an
unorthodox heroine; the unangelic Jane Eyre. Bronte boldly contrasts
Jane's courage and honesty with the unholy behaviour of the
Evangelical Calvinistic clergy, represented through Mr Brocklehurst,
whose conduct was shown to be cruelly unnatural. 'Jane Eyre' was also
Bronte's protest against the stifling convention society imposed,
which never allowed true feeling to be voiced.


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