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Jane Eyre lived in the time of the Victorian Era, which Queen Victoria reigned. The way of life of women in Victorian England has a great impact on how Jane was brought up. This is because of their system which “defined the role of a woman” and every woman had a customary routine for their respective class. If one were to take on the standards of another, it would be considered as a serious offense.
Jane was born to a family of petite bourgeois where her family was not in a state of poverty but neither of the upper middle class. A few years after birth, Jane’s parents died of typhus and she was left for her Aunt Reed to foster. Her Aunt Reed neglected her and disregarded her as her own blood because she was poor and ugly. Jane has been treated illegitimately against her will and was in constant rule by Mrs Reed’s family enabling Jane of sufferings of emotional and physical abuse. After a fight with one of her cousins, Mrs Reed holds Jane to blame and is locked away in a red-room where past events have painted the room looking “ghost-like” and fearful. In this room she longs to be freed and as she is, there are a few occurrences in the novel where the memory of being locked in that room reminds her of her still “un-freed” life and situation.
As Jane grew up into this household, she knew that there was a great contrast between herself and her two female cousins, Georgiana and Eliza. They were beautiful, granted schooling and Jane was not. Jane always hoped for these privileges, to possess beauty, attend school and to even be included in the group of Mrs Reed and her children when they would gather around and talk. When Jane is finally able to go to school, she receives another deal of cruel treatment. At the time of Jane and Mr Brocklehurst’s first meet, he has already in his mind, placed Jane into the lowest of the four distinct groups of the Victorian society – aristocrats, middle, upper and lower working class. He does this because of Jane’s frank and quick replies to him when questioned for example, “What must you do to avoid it?
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Jane says “…Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings...Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart!”
In this quote it is clear that that Jane is telling us that emotionally she is able to have such feelings and is as equal as him.
“And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.”
Jane believes that her beauty isn’t enough for Mr Rochester and if she were wealthier like him, it would be harder for him to leave her. Again, this inequality between them causes Jane to think that Mr Rochester will never love her. Blanche Ingram on the contrary, is rich and beautiful. Her social status is high. In those days, Victorians would say that he and Blanche are the perfect couple because they are both wealthy and superior.
After Mr Rochester asks for Jane’s hand in marriage, she realises her need to be on the same lines with him in the sense that she feels she has to possess some amount of money or value to feel equal in status and everything else. Adding to that, Jane stands against accepting Rochester’s proposal because of her new discovery of his secreted wife. Jane escapes Thornfield and arrives at the doorstep of the Rivers Family. Here at the Moor House, Jane meets governesses of her own kind, Diana and Mary. She finds equality in herself with the two sisters. She is quite happy with the state she is in, until St. John asks her to go to India with him for missionary practices and he asks to marry him. Jane knows that they don’t love each other and if she accepts his marriage she will be forever trapped without love and care, she will be miserable. Jane shuts out Rochester, rejects St. John and now she has realised her self-independence in taking these steps. For the time being she knows now that she is able to stand alone and not fall. But her love for Mr Rochester is so strong that it drives her back to Thornfield.
Jane has come back to Thornfield and she discovers that her master has lost his sight and a hand in a fire. Mr Rochester now needs someone to depend on as Jane, in the past also needed someone to depend on financially and emotionally. Now that Jane has inherited her Uncle’s possessions, she turns a wealthy person overnight. Mr Rochester’s handicaps presents a form of equality with Jane because he is now limited to a number of things that he can only do. They marry finally, both being equal in many ways and Jane living her life the way she chooses.