- Published: November 25, 2021
- Updated: November 25, 2021
- Language: English
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Jane Eyre is a praised contentious feminist novel but yet it does nothing more than reinforce male regime over women’s attempts at patriarchal roles. Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre, published in 1847, details the life of the Victorian society; revolving around many events that paralleled her own life. Bronte uses her characters to criticize the various forms of social hierarchy within her society through the characters in this novel. Tyson (2006) writes: “ For some Marxists, realism is the best form for Marxist purposes because it clearly and accurately represents the real world, with all its socioeconomic inequalities and ideological contradictions, and encourages readers to see the unhappy truths about material/historical reality. Thus, Jane Eyre portrayals of the Victorian upper class, attempts to dismantle the capitalist, religious and sexist and patriarchal ideologies through critical theory prevalent in that time period in order to empower her readers. Bronte takes readers deep into her memories and experiences. Even when she writes, “ Gentle reader, you may never feel what I then felt!” readers think otherwise. Her “ stormy, scalding, heart wrung tears” seemed real, her “ agonsised prayers” justly accounted, her “ dread” distinct and comprehensible.
Bronte shaped Lowood Institution after her own boarding school, Cowan Bridge where she and her sisters endured harsh living conditions. The plot itself contains many elements to capture and maintain the reader’s attention; an abused orphan who rebels strongly against her dictators, blaring screams in the attic and a burning bed, erotic temptation and moral success, a marriage stopped at an altar, and the reformation of a good man gone wrong. Having said this, the novel is not dependant entirely on a vigorous plot, but relies on the depth of characters. Jane Eyre is an intriguing character that is boldly reluctant to accept others’ interpretations of her as an unattractive, dependent relation and she alleges herself against those who treat her crudely. Jane is a character that fights for appropriate values and morals through her society. Because of this, her sensual responses are considered character flaws throughout her society, but the reader is positioned to see that her rebelliousness is appropriate in the Victorian era. Psychoanalysis in literature deals with the unconscious instinctual tendencies of both writers and their characters, the recognition of the suppressed desires, the dreams, and the uncanny relating to them. Throughout Jane Eyre, there is a strong emphasis on the meaning of dreams. Psychoanalytic theory proclaims that it is in dreams that a person’s subconscious desires are revealed. What a person cannot express or do because of social rules are then expressed and accomplished in dreams, where, furthermore, there are no social rules. An example is when Jane first dreamt of Rochester, in which Jane was “ burdened with the charge of a little child: a very small creature, too young and feeble to walk”. According to Bessie, “ to dream of children was a sure sign of trouble, either one’s self or one’s kin”. In this sense, Jane’s dreams reflect her reality while simultaneously represents the passion for Rochester that Jane suppressed due to the social rules surrounding their relationship. According to Selden, Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism began with Sigmund Freud’s representation that: “ The relationship between author and text was analogous to dreamers and their ‘ text’. . . A representation of the relationship between the personal and the collective unconscious, the images, myths, symbols, ‘ archetypes’ of past cultures…”. An example of this is Bronte narrating her own life events vicariously through her character Jane’s experiences. Readers are able to be part of Bronte’s journey as her life unfolds because of the challenging socio-economic influences, conscious thoughts, and unconscious desires contributing to her character development.
Sigmund Freud’s development of psychoanalytic theory has inspired major influences on literary criticism in a wide variety of ways. An precedent of this can be seen through the relationship between the writer and text. Thus this approach focuses on Bronte’s own experiences such as, her lack of a mother, her time she spent at Cowan Bridge School and her supposed isolation and ignorance of sexual love. However, Bronte’s most profound innovation, nonetheless, is the division of the Victorian female psyche into its intense element of mind and body, which she then externalizes as two characters; Helen Burns and Bertha Mason. Helen and Bertha both operate at realistic stages in the novel and present implied and explicit connections to Victorian sexual ideology. Both characters also function as an archetypal dimension within the story. Bronte gives readers three discourses of Jane; heroine’s psychic dilemma by destroying the two polar personations literally and metaphorically, to make way for the full development of the central consciousness, and for the integration of the spirit and body.
Jane Eyre is a novel that depicts Jane’s rebellious search for her personal identity of self and society, and of changing gender expectations. But this search for her true self also contributes to the burdensome investigations of the psyche and interpretation of dreams. According to Freud, anxieties and inhibited desires are inherent feelings to human beings. Such wishes are intensely repressed in everyday life, although, are acted upon in dreams. The childhood aspiration of admiration to one’s same gendered parent is what Freud called the “ Oedipal Complex” refers to this behaviour, naming it as an implication to Oedipus, the Greek tragic hero who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. In Jane Eyre, the father figure is epitomized by Mr. Rochester, an alternative for the missing father in Jane’s life and family structure. Rochester’s patriarchal power is extensively expressed throughout the novel, thus contributing to the Oedipal dynamic in Jane Eyre. Currer Bell was the pseudonym name of Charlotte Bronte. Writing under a pseudonym name was common among both female and male writers, although seen specifically useful for women being able to have ownership of the various different social positions and privileges one could assume as a writer. That, in turn, entailed freedom to writers who could create disparate types of texts. To understand Jane Eyre’s role as a feminist must be thoroughly clearly defined.
Feminism has been evolved as a prominent and controversial topic in writing for over two centuries, articulating the view that in the “ 19th century meaning that women were inherently equal to men and deserved equal rights and opportunities”. Multitudinous of women throughout time have stood progressively towards the recognition of women’s contribution to cultural roles, achievements and social and political rights. And yet, even in texts that are considered feminist, from an author who is considered to be a voice for female equality; that males always enjoy the privilege of having the power to control a woman’s life. However, Bronte depicted strong and clear examples of feminist ideals through Jane’s personality, actions, thoughts and beliefs. Jane’s strong personality and her continuous lack of respect towards social expectations were apparent. Jane’s second courageous feminist act is leaving Rochester when she learns disturbing facts about Rochester’s life. By doing so, she is expressing an approach of herself through Victorian life; being symbolized as Rochester’s second wife and her strong will that allows her to break her love relationship with Rochester. Therefore, this shows that Jane has the utmost strength to overcome all kinds of emotional barricades which a traditional women holds. Furthermore, Jane maintains dignity by refusing to give in to her physical and emotional desires that would of which be seen as uncultivated by society.
Throughout Jane Eyre, Jane conducts many tasks of which women of her time did not accomplish because they were not permitted to participate in the first place. Jane started reading and writing as a little girl. Providing her with an uncommon female skill that she used to compete against males. Jane is a character that is in complete control of her life and destiny, whereas most women were entirely dependent on their husbands for financial and physical support because they were property belonging to men. “ Women of the Victorian era were not part of a man’s world, as they were considered below them”. Having said this, fundamental assumptions create inauthenticity. Simone De Beauvoir states that “ The second sex shows how these fundamental assumptions dominate social, political, and cultural life and how women internalized this ideology, so that they live in a constant state of inauthenticity”. The clear fundamental cultural assumptions of the era created authenticities which are embodied through Jane as she lives through the struggle every woman of the time was familiar with.
Bronte depicts women writing about the meaning of a ‘ home’ and the divided position of the woman as author of her own story and as inhabitant within the home she has built. Being the writer of one’s own story implies that the control over designing the plot and each of the characters belongs solely to the author. However since women are not the authors of their own stories, Bronte`s authorship using her own experiences highlights the problematic traditional female roles that women encounter in the Victorian era. Although some may question how Bronte can maintain the truth when she has Jane stepping outside of her expected gender role. She is thus faced with the anxiety of authorship and the principle responsibilities of domesticity that are at once upheld and subverted through the process of storytelling through writing. Bronte writes about the home, reflecting the universal, inherent need to establish a suitable ‘ home’, while questioning the fundamental ideals upon which the concept of ‘ home’ is founded. Jane does not follow the fundamental ideals of a `home` however, throughout the course of the novel Jane in fact searches for a place that she can call home. Throughout Jane`s life, ever since she was a child, she never knew the feeling of a `home`; jane was seen as the quest of an orphan girl for a `home` and in the end, finds a place of belonging; her family and a `home`.
This unusual and ambivalent attitude towards home, expressed by female first-person narrators who grapple with the task of telling their own story in a society of selfless women, is further complicated by their orphaned condition: “ Writing the first person narrative becomes for these female protagonists, a means of questioning the order of their lives and then a way of reordering it. . . . Often it becomes an act of recuperation and reconciliation. . . ” of which Jane achieves. Feminism is an integral involvement through Jane Eyre. However, it exemplifies how a phallocentric system governs “ Western Metaphysics” across cultural norms, language and politics. Jacques Derrida states that “ language is structured as an endless deferral of meaning… There is no transcendental signified that is meaningful in itself and thus escapes the ceaseless play of linguistic deferral and difference”. Furthermore, western culture has embedded “ the importance of language in establishing, maintaining, and reflecting an asymmetrical relationship between men and women” and, continuing to effectively stretch the issue as it uses neutral defences. Although, masculine connotations encourage positive emotions and negative emotions being evoked through feminine implication. Although Jane’s strength and independence surrounding women’s rights grows, it is clear that to some degree, a Phallocentric society which “ denotes the assumption that maleness is the natural, and… The only source of authority and power” and therefore reinforces the idea that men rightly hold all of the absolute power over the guideline of life. In Jane Eyre several different gender based binary oppositions can be found. The way that binaries operate is that they must constantly be in opposition with one another. Reasonable and mad, nature and nurture, black and white: one draws significance from the other. Binary oppositions and the definition of fe/male characteristics and behaviour are involved throughout the novel and are convoluted by an arbitrary process. These binaries have also been compared to the idea of the Byronic Hero as a male ideal. Through this, a relevant account of the hitherto theory concerning Jane Eyre’s transgression of the binary oppositions of fe/male and behaviour are achieved. However, there is always a risk that the subjects will not be covered in a satisfactory way. The Byronic Hero in the comparison of female/male roles is that the figure is often referred to in terms of the behaviour model “ of avant-garde young men” and that he “ gave focus to the yearnings of emancipated young women”. Thus presenting a seemingly accepted ‘ male ideal’ to the feminist texts in order to achieve a more historically accurate representation of expected gender roles that members of society adhered to.
In the Norton Anthology of English Literature the Byronic Hero is defined as an: “ alien, mysterious, and gloomy spirit, superior in his passions and powers to the common run of humanity, whom he regards with disdain. . . He is in his isolation absolutely self-reliant, pursuing his own ends according to his self-generated moral code against any opposition, human or supernatural. And he exerts an attraction on other characters that is the more compelling because it involves their terror at his obliviousness to ordinary human concerns and values…”. Mr Rochester refers to Jane as his “ little English girl”, which suggest that he sees Jane as an inferior. However Jane doesn’t allow Mr Rochester to treat her as a servant or slave, she talks back and speaks her mind regardless if she offends him. Nonetheless, Jane breaks the traditional behaviour one as a women usually expresses and instead began making her own money and living on her own, as an independent woman; Jane becomes the master of her own life. This detailed definition gives an interpretation of how the Victorian era’s expected male roles in literature seemingly captured many of the Rochester’s characteristics.
Another binary opposition that will be discussed both literally and metaphorically are master/servant. In Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, the reader is discerned that women can be found in positions of obedience “ For she has been thought to accept masculine authority”. Beauvoir also describes women as servants in the way that they are products of the previously mentioned patriarchal structure. This highlights how men are perceived as the domination gender and women in charge of traditional chores in the household. This shows how the role of women are more the one of a servant than a master in comparison to men. The binary of master/servant is present from the very beginning of the novel and is exceedingly evident through power between John Reed and Jane. In the beginning of the novel when John Reed enters the room where he finds Jane reading behind a curtain, Jane asks “ what do you want?” whereupon John Reed replies with an aggressive tone, “ Say, what do you want Master Reed?”. This shows a strong inadequacy expressed from John Reed; he proclaims himself as the master yet he is only fourteen years old, however, portrays the possibility of a child acting as the master of the house. Thus John Reed is an example of how important gender is regarding power relations. After the death of John Reed’s father, Mr Reed; he acquired the patriarch role in the home.
Marxist ideology discerns ideologies and criticizes them, thus demystifying the ideological elements that create the social structure citizens are encouraged to follow. However, analysis of how a text advances class ideologies and viewpoints is a crucial part of Marxist criticism. Marxist Criticism is repeatedly evident throughout Jane Eyre and can be known as a cultural text that is identified through sources of social knowledge. Marx wrote of British realist novelists that their “ eloquent and graphic portrayals of the world have revealed more political and social truths than all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together”. Furthermore, novels are more equipped and more efficient at documenting human behaviour and past events than newspapers or magazines owing to the novel’s providing a more in depth knowledge. The class division between Victorian men and women were very distinctive. Men increasingly commuted to their placement of work; the factory, shop or office. Whilst men were doing the ‘ hard work’, wives, daughters and sisters were left at home for majority of the day to oversee the domestic duties that were carried out by servants. Jane however ignored her social standing because the protagonist she is, she fought for her rights in a time where they believed that she, as a governess and a woman, did not deserve any. Regardless, Jane disobeyed society’s idea of a perfect woman to gain respect as a human. Jane being the persistent woman she is, stood for equality. However the Victorian era, Jane was regarded as very liberal which caused more discrimination on her behalf.
An example of this can be depicted when Jane first met Rochester the scene presented a feminist portrayal of Jane. Jane went out of her way to assist Rochester stating that “ if you are hurt, I can help”. However, a women walking alone in that era should never address a man. This shows her perseverance in being independent beliefs that women should be of equal to men`. As a child, jane always resented those in power therefore one would assume that she would then resent this man`s gruff contempt when she offers to help; however, as mentioned above, she stays to help him. This clearly illustrates her growth as a character. Whilst, most women would not have the audacity to help this man.
The act of being ‘ feminine’ creates stereotypes and misrepresents the realities of women’s lives and of social change, thus sustaining patriarchal images and values. This can be supported by Juliet Mitchell argument that “ gender is socially constructed, and. . . there are other ways of constructing human subjectivity…”. Class differences can cause an abundant amount of problems. An example of this is the love between Jane and Rochester. In order for Jane to make people recognize and respect her personal qualities, she must break through class prejudices. Furthermore, Bronte tries to illustrate how personal virtues are better indicators character than class.