Jane Eyre: Feminist Hero Submissive, domestic, good-tempered, quiet, agreeable and mild; these are all words that could be used to describe the ideal Victorian woman. Sexism and discrimination put up roadblocks and didn’t allow much room for educational growth for women. Education and job opportunities were limited and left most women with marriage, particularly to a wealthy man, as their best option for security. Jane Eyre broke the mold of the common Victorian woman; she was determined, stubborn, and would not be swayed from doing what she believed to be right and just.
She worked her way up from orphan, to governess, to wife of a wealthy man – all without compromising her integrity, her moral standards or her pride. In a time where women had little to no say over how they lived their lives, Jane was doing just the opposite and taking control over her own destiny. It all begun when Jane left Gateshead as a young girl. She escaped her cruel aunt and cousins and ventured out on her own, leaving a semi-comfortable living situation and the familiar in pursuit of bettering herself with an education.
As a result of Jane receiving an education, she was able to further her independence by taking a job as a governess at Thornfield. Though the profession of governess was considered low class and seen as little more than a servant, Jane took the opportunity. Again, Jane left the comfort of familiarity and moved on to do what she believed best. As a governess, Jane was able to make her own wages and, though she was living in someone else’s home and worked for Mr. Rochester, she wasn’t taking charity from anyone; she was working for her keep (Bronte 140).
Jane was a very passionate person and, despite the social norm being that women held their tongues in front of men, Jane spoke her opinions boldly, especially to Mr. Rochester. Jane didn’t feel that stifling her voice was fair, and she refused to do it. Jane explained her views on the women of the day in the following passage: Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as en would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex (Bronte 130). When Mr. Rochester told Jane that he was going to be marrying Miss Ingram, Jane’s true feelings for Rochester came to the surface and she insisted on leaving Thornfield. ‘Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you?
Do you think I am an automation? -a machine without feelings? and can you bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soul and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart … I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; — it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal, — as we are’ (Bronte 296)!
Jane couldn’t stay at Thornfield as anything other than his significant other. She couldn’t stand the idea of watching him with someone other than her. On the day of Rochester and Jane’s wedding, the truth about Rochester’s marital status was discovered and after learning about Bertha, Jane left Thornfield and “fled from temptation” (Bronte 372). If she had stayed at Thornfield with Rochester, she would have become his mistress, and despite loving Rochester with all of her heart and wanting to be with him, she ran, knowing that being his mistress would be morally wrong.
Jane couldn’t be Rochester’s mistress, even though most women would have accepted the opportunity to be with Mr. Rochester, even if only as his mistress, because it meant security, wealth, comfort, and love. Rochester put Jane’s strength and determination to the test when he begged her to stay (Bronte 371). As much as he pleaded with her, she couldn’t and wouldn’t lower herself to living a life of sin, so instead, she bravely and independently ventured out on her own with no money, no job, and no plan.
Jane was constantly fighting to overcome the obstacles that stood in her way: a repressive family, a low social class standing, no wealth, and sexism. She overcame Mr. Brocklehurst’s oppression, refused St. John’s proposal, knowing that it was wrong to marry him, and only married Mr. Rochester after she received her uncle’s inheritance. As a result of inheriting the money, Jane became Rochester’s financial and social equal. Mr. Rochester was also blind at the time of their marriage, which meant that the typical roles had been reversed; the male was dependent on the female, rather than the female being dependent on the male.
Rochester looked to Jane to be his eyes and to take care of him (Bronte 515). Jane didn’t do what was easy; she did what was right, moral, and what she knew to be best not only for her, but for everyone. Despite the ways of the era and the way that women were perceived, Jane wanted to be independent and strong. She spoke her mind and gave her opinion despite most people not wanting to hear it. Jane Eyre has brought inspiration to many women throughout history with her strength and independence and will continue to do so for many generations to come.
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