In the novel Jane Eyre, charlotte Bronte displays the different stages of maturity an individual goes through from childhood to when they become an adult. Bronte shows this idea of….
Feminism in Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre was written in a time where the Bildungsroman was a common form of literature. The importance was that the mid-nineteenth century was, “the age in which women were, for the first time, ranked equally with men as writers within a major genre” (Sussman 1). In many of these novels, the themes were the same; the protagonist dealt with the same issues, “search for autonomy and selfhood in opposition to the social constraints placed upon the female, including the demand for marriage” (Sussman).
Jane Eyre fits this mould perfectly. Throughout the novel, the reader follows Jane Eyre on a journey of development from adolescence to maturity to show that a desire for freedom and change motivates people to search for their own identity. Jane begins to form her identity with the aid of many characters she encounters at Lowood, Thornfield, and Marsh End. Miss Maria Temple, who was Jane’s first significant female encounter at Lowood, functions as a role model and an influence for Jane.
Miss Temple’s character displays the breakdown of the Great Chain of Being, but in a more gentle way than Rochester or Jane herself. She defies Mr. Brocklehurst and his hypocritical ways only as far as she will still retain shelter and her place as a teacher. To Jane, Miss Temple embodies all of the qualities that a woman should. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar write, “Miss Temple, for instance, with her marble pallor, is a shrine of ladylike virtues: magnanimity, cultivation, courtesy – and repression” (Gilbert 344).
While Miss Temple seems to show Jane what she should become, she also introduces her to control over her emotions. Unlike Jane, whose self-assertiveness permits her to give in to passionate confrontations, Miss Temple would “never allow `something’ to speak through her, no wings will rush in her head, no fantasies of fiery heath disturb her equanimity, but she will feel sympathetic anger” (Gilbert 345). Her influence in Jane’s adolescence and early adulthood teach her to have harmonious thoughts, and to give “allegiance to duty and order” (Gilbert 347).
Here, Miss Temple teaches Jane to suppress her wild emotions and become compliant under the “superior” male, but still maintain an inward anger that can never be expressed. Jane, however, cannot conform to the lesson being taught to her; through Miss Temple, she learns that her journey into maturity and freedom requires her to be more independent and passionate than Miss Temple instructs. Miss Temple is not only like a mother figure to Jane, but she is also “encouraging of intellectual growth” (Rich 466).
Temple’s impact on Jane’s education allows her to become stronger in character, which will eventually bring her to complete independence. Kathleen Tillotson finds in Miss Temple a sign of hope for Jane: “the warm fire and the cake from the cupboard in Miss Temple’s room are assertions of individual loving-kindness, though also of it’s limited power” (Tillotson 60) In spite of this, Tillotson writes that Jane at Thornfield is “submitting to virtue in lovable form, as she had once submitted to Miss Temple” (Tillotson 60).
In other words, Tillotson argues that although Miss Temple may have positively influenced Jane in certain ways, ultimately her call for repression and submission instigates Jane’s realization that she must discover her own place in life, and no one can dictate it for her. While Jane attends Lowood, she encounters another character that will help her to shape her identity. When Helen Burns is introduced to the novel, she brings with her a kind of warmth and spiritual light that touches Jane and Helen aids her in developing into the woman that she will soon become.
She has a devout faith in Christ, and using this, Helen is able to function as Jane’s main guide in building a strong character who is filled with forgiveness, hope and a strong sense of self. Helen allows Jane to peer into a world where “the values of endurance and obedience” (Singleton, 70) are visible. Jane often relies on Helen because she “is strong of will, awkward and blundering in the practical world yet intellectually and spiritually mature beyond her years . . . ithout pettiness, hysteria, or self-repudiation” (Rich 466).
These qualities will help Helen in leading Jane down a path that will indefinitely make her shine amongst those who surround her. A sympathetic Helen Burns is seen lavishing emotions upon Jane that she has never felt before, let alone imagined. Helen assists Jane by being a mentor and a friend, a companion that Jane can confide in. “Helen and Miss Temple together represent two key facets of the feminist community: the need for companionship and mentors.
These necessities are what the Reeds denied Jane” (Singleton 66). By showing Jane love and encouragement she teaches Jane that “primary importance is taming her rage and learning to forgive . . . that this is the model that Christ has set forth in the New Testament — to love one’s enemies” (Singleton 73). As Helen encourages Jane to strive to be her best, she acts a “moral and ethical force” (Rich 467), she provides Jane with “a sense of her own worth and of ethical choice” (Rich 467).
Bronte introduces Helen Buns into the novel to aid Jane and to be a guiding light in the ethical and moral world by showing Helen to be a character who is strong and true to herself, even until the end of her life; by using Helen as an example, when Jane leaves Lowood, she finds herself and she is ready to face to world with her head held high, face shining in the light. Another representation of religion, and also a strong male influence in Jane’s life is that of St. John Rivers. The character of St. John is one of the final obstacles to Jane’s maturation and understanding of her role as an independent and free woman.
St. John represents, like the character of Brocklehurst before him, the hypocrisy and unwavering patriarchy of organized religion and its many hypocritical keepers, but unlike Brocklehurst, St. John’s piety is more real and his misogyny somewhat more subtle, and, following his proposal, Jane comes to a better understanding of who she is and where her life is headed. St. John asks for Jane’s hand in marriage, but not out of love; rather, he intends Jane to be a missionary wife, someone who will be of use to him in the service of God.
According to Adrienne Rich, there is a certain virtue in this kind of offer, especially for Jane: “What St. John offers Jane is perhaps the deepest lure for a spiritual woman, that of adopting a man’s cause or career and making it her own” (Rich 473). In this proposed marriage, there is the attraction of some of the things she has been searching for, namely a life of service and principle, and a way of overcoming the obstacles of patriarchy she has struggled with her entire life, by adopting a life in service to “male” cause.
Therein lies a part of the problem, however, as service and principle are only part of what she desires in life, and, as she ultimately discovers, even beyond the attraction of taking on a more male role, that this will not fulfill her need for a life that is more complete. In the essay by Gilbert and Gubar, they explain, “In fact, as St. John’s wife … she will be entering into a union even more unequal than that proposed by Rochester, a marriage reflecting, once again, her absolute exclusion from the life of wholeness toward which her pilgrimage has been directed” (Gilbert 366). With St.
John’s proposal of marriage, Jane begins to comprehend more about herself and where her life is headed. She discovers that she cannot devote her energy and ambition towards fulfilling just a part of her life, such as the desire for service, but rather, she discovers that her life needs to be a life of “wholeness,” something that a marriage to St. John could never provide, because St. John, like Brocklehurst, is a “pillar of patriarchy” (Gilbert 366), a misogynist who is bent, consciously or unconsciously, on restraining Jane spiritually and emotionally.
Rich points out in her essay that St. John’s offer of marriage is a means in which “he will use her” (Rich 473), and fortunately, Jane sees through the superficial benefits of a union with the patriarchal St. John, and that her for her to be content, she needs a life of wholeness. Armed with these realizations, Jane is now able to return to her true love, Rochester, on her own terms. The character of Mr. Edward Rochester influences the spiritual and personal growth of Jane through his relationship with her as the master at Thornfield and later, as her husband. His self-proclamation as being equal to Jane shows the breakdown of the Great Chain of Being.
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar write that while in “one sense Jane and Rochester begin their relationship as master and servant, prince and Cinderella, Mr. B and Pamela, in another they begin as spiritual equals” (Gilbert 352). In his allowance of Jane to be his equal, he encourages her progression to a strong sense of her own identity and independence. In a more sexual light, Rochester is the one who will eventually awaken Jane to her own sexuality. This occasion exhibits Jane’s journey into adult maturation: “it is he who will initiate her into the mysteries of the flesh” (Gilbert 355).
Adrienne Rich states that the episodes at Thornfield encompass three defining aspects: the house, Rochester, and Bertha. Rich writes, “Jane comes to womanhood and to certain definitive choices about what it means to be a woman” (Rich 468). In other words, during her stay at Thornfield and due to her interactions with its inhabitants, namely Rochester, Jane realizes what being a woman suggests. The break down of the Great Chain of Being is shown through Rochester even further, when Jane finds that he is married to another woman.
As she leaves him because of her strength and of her own free will, Jane’s independence is reinforced. Critic Elaine Baruch contrasts this action to Romanticism, and states, “Unlike the lady of the chivalric romance who had merely to sit still in order to find a destiny in the form of some passing knight, modern woman must seek her own hero” (Baruch 157). Here, Baruch is commenting on how Rochester’s dark and haunting past results in a positive outcome for Jane, in that it strengthens her independence and desire for freedom and identity.
Instead of deliberately wasting time waiting for destiny to find her, Jane seeks out the right destiny for herself. The various characters in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre provide the heroine with both role models and obstacles to her maturation into adulthood, and more importantly, womanhood. Jane’s experiences with these characters, and what she takes from each, show the importance of determining for oneself his or her own morals, ethics, goals, and by not allowing others to dictate how one lives his or her life, love, wealth, and ultimately happiness can be achieved.
All people have their own unique set of traits, from their morality to their spirituality, their speech, and their faults. To be a person who is happy and truly successful on spiritual, emotional, and physical levels, one must draw from the good and decent people he or she meets that which will be ultimately beneficent; for example, emulating and learning from the spirituality of a person who is truly and passionately spiritual.
Unfortunately, not all the people a person meets in his or her life will have qualities which a person will want to emulate; in a way, these people become obstacles to a person’s pilgrimage towards self-understanding and happiness. These people, the barriers to a person’s self-development, are just as important as the people who function as positive role models. Those who are consciously or unconsciously determined to stop those on the path to happiness and self-discovery can be destructive, but they can also be unintentionally helpful.
All too often, these figures are successful in breaking other another person’s will and forcing their principles upon him, but when people like this, the hypocrites, the self-righteous, the misogynists, the arrogant aristocrats, and the like, fail, that previously oppressed person becomes significantly stronger by overcoming these barriers. Ultimately, nearly everyone has a life-long struggle with self-identity, and nearly everyone has encountered these influential people in his life, the role models and the obstacles.
Unfortunately many become victims to the authority of those people who would force their will upon others, and ultimately, most people never complete their journey to independence; all too often they give up, and allow themselves to bent to the will of others. It is evident that this pilgrimage is a long and arduous one, a journey that few complete, and the author suggests that on top of the inherent difficulty of this journey, women have an even greater challenge before them.
Because of the insidious and ubiquitous influence of patriarchy in the author’s society, the journey towards independence and self-understanding becomes significantly more difficult for women; it is a truly joyous occasion when a woman does succeed in breaking free from the chains of male dominated society, becoming independent, self-aware, and, hopefully, happy.