Sexism in Jane Eyre

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The social system of the Victorian era was one that was heavily influenced by the patriarchal right of men. This social construct favored men while forcing women into submission. Sigmund Freud, in his essay entitled “The Relation of the Poet to Day-Dreaming,” articulated that women were considered capable only of having erotic wishes that dominated their “phantasies” and that even their ambitious “phantasies” were rooted in erotic wishes (177). The prevailing thought concerning women during the Victorian era was that—due to their nature—only desired marriage. Those women who were not fortunate enough to marry (due to appearance or social status) had only one remaining position, to become a governess. Charlotte Brontë, through her protagonist Jane Eyre, clearly depicts the struggles of an indigent young woman who is forced into being a governess. The tale of Jane Eyre is clearly articulated by Adrienne Rich in her essay entitled “Jane Eyre: The Temptations of a Motherless Woman,” when she states that Jane wants to “choose her life with dignity, integrity, and pride” (471). Even though Brontë depicts a woman who will not be bound by the mores of her society, she is not so exuberant as to have her protagonist proclaim: “I am woman, hear me roar.” The toning down of Jane’s demeanor and actions can be attributed to satisfy the critics, but Brontë also demonstrates that the societal expectations of men (considered their patriarchal right) produced a similarly negative effect on men in addition to women. From John Reed and his self-righteous attitude, to Rochester’s internal battle in regards to the treatment of women, Charlotte Brontë argues that sexism—something that is inherent in a patriarchal society—has an adverse effect on both m...

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...hal society, and sexism that is inherent in this sort of social structure, is that there is a negative result on both men and women. Patriarchal societies that discriminate against women simply because of their perceived weakness, is no more empowering of men as it is disenfranchising of women.

Works Cited

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre, An Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. Ed. Richard J. Dunn.

W. W. Norton & Co Inc., 2001. Print

Freud, Sigmund. “The Relation of the Poet to Day-Dreaming.” Collected Papers Vol IV. New

York: Basics Books, 1959. 173-183. Print.

Rich, Adrienne. “Jane Eyre: The Temptations of a Motherless Woman.” On Lies, Secrets, and

Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978. W. W. Norton, 1979. Rpt. in Jane Eyre, An

Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. Ed. Richard J. Dunn. New York: W. W. Norton

& Co Inc., 2001. 469-83. Print.
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