Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre - Confronting Repression, Achieving Progression

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre - Confronting Repression, Achieving Progression

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Jane Eyre:  Confronting Repression, Achieving Progression

Jane Eyre tells the story of a woman progressing on the path of acceptance. Throughout her journey, Jane encounters many obstacles to her intelligence. Male dominance proves to be the biggest obstruction at each stop of Jane's journey: Gateshead Hall, Lowood Institution, Thornfield Manor, Moor House, and Ferndean Manor. As she grows, though, Jane slowly learns how to understand and control repression.

Jane's journey begins at Gateshead Hall. Mrs. Reed, Jane's aunt and guardian, serves as the biased arbitrator of the rivalries that constantly occur between Jane and John Reed. John emerges as the dominant male figure at Gateshead. He insists that Jane concede to him and serve him at all times, threatening her with mental and physical abuse. Mrs. Reed condones John's conduct and sees him as the victim. Jane's rebellion against Mrs. Reed represents a realization that she does not deserve the unjust treatment. Jane refuses to be treated as a subordinate and finally speaks out against her oppressors. Her reactions to Mrs. Reed's hate appear raw and uncensored, and foreshadow possible future responses to restraints. This rebellion also initiates the next phase of her journey.

Lowood Institution represents the next step in Jane's progression. Her obstacle here appears in the form of Mr. Brocklehurst, the operator of the "respectable" institution. He made his first appearance at Gateshead Hall in order to examine Jane and verify her evil qualities (according to Mrs. Reed). At Lowood, Mr. Brocklehurst exemplifies the perfect hypocrite. He constantly preached for the denial of "luxury and indulgence" (p.95), though his values conflict with these ideas. His wife and daughters personify the meanings of luxury and indulgence in that "they were splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs" (p.97). He extends his hypocrisy in quoting bible passages to support his preachings, though these preachings and passages do not apply to his own life. He says, " I have a master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world: my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh, to teach them to clothe themselves with shamefacedness and sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel. . ." (p.96). Although she must learn to deal with Brocklehurst's complete dominance, Jane changes a lot during her years at Lowood, due mainly to the teachings of Helen Burns and Miss. Temple. Through their instruction, Jane learns how to control her anger over Mr.

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Brocklehurst's false accusations and understand her feelings without yielding to a vocal rebellion like the one prompted by Mrs. Reed at Gateshead.

 

Jane's journey next brings her to Thornfield Manor. Mr. Rochester becomes the dominant male figure at this juncture. While in residence at Thornfield, Rochester demands undivided attention from the servants, Jane included. He insists on dominance in every aspect of his life, and he needs recognition for his superiority. Jane somehow resolves to accept his control and she concedes to him by calling him "sir," even after beginning their intimate relationship. She even goes so far as to excuse herself for thinking. She says, "I was thinking, sir (you will excuse the idea; it was involuntary), I was thinking of Hercules and Samson with their charmers-" (p.289). Jane's irony suggests displeasure at Rochester's complete dominance of their relationship. Jane's reference to religion also becomes associated with the idea of a dominant (male) sex. For Jane, Rochester embodies the idea of love which has so long been denied to her. She still must continue her pilgrimage when she finds Rochester's physical and material love unacceptable.

Jane's next lesson comes at Moor House. Here, she must answer to St. John, her cousin (though in name only). He portrays the ultimate sacrificer, willing to do anything for others, no matter how undesirable. St John also expects this of Jane, and she must decide whether to answer to his call. By this point in her journey, Jane understands that her search for simpatico can not be realized without real love. She denies St John's marriage proposal by saying, "I have a woman's heart, but not where you are concerned; for you I only have a comrade's constancy; a fellow-soldier's frankness, fidelity, fraternity. . .nothing more. . ." (p.433). She knows real love can not be given to her by St John and she must continue still in her journey.

Ferndean Manor emerges as the final stop in Jane's journey. Once again, Rochester appears as the dominant figure, although his superior air becomes greatly reduced in light of his ailments and complete dependency on those around him. A new man results in this change, and in him, Jane finds her real, spiritual and physical love. She says, "All my heart is yours, sir: it belongs to you; and with you it would remain, were fate to exile the rest of me from your presence forever" (p.469). Rochester no longer demands a subservient being to boost his ego; he demands an equal partner. He does not try to contain Jane; he sets her free. He says, "Miss Eyre, I repeat it, you can leave me" (p.468). She does not leave him though. In him, Jane finds her simpatico. Rochester embodies the perfect balance between the physical and the spiritual, the natural and graceful, intellectual and physical beauty, and love and servitude. Rather than being ruled, Jane realizes her true abilities and she finds her balance.

Jane Eyre makes many stops on her pilgrimage for happiness and equality. Each stop helps her understand and realize qualities in herself and others. With each new experience and trial, she learns how to rationally confront the repression, which leads to her progression. Understanding dominance, though not yielding to it, becomes the key for Jane to achieve her balance.

 
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