Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre – Literature What are the main moral messages of Jane Eyre? How does Charlotte Bronte convey these moral messages to her readers? To what extent is she reflecting Victorian morality in her writing?
The novel ‘Jane Eyre’ was published in 1847, which was in the Victorian era; this is a significant fact to remember while reading the novel as the storyline portrays many different moral issues in the point of view of Victorian morality, which of course is different to the view we have nowadays. This being one of the main themes of the novel, amongst: religion, social class and gender relations; all of these things give a stark contrast between the views on such subjects between the Victorian times and today.
For example when in the beginning of the novel Jane is beaten as a child; this kind of behaviour would have been overlooked and considered a normal activity, where as today this kind of action would be seen as child abuse, therefore allowing the readers to empathise with Jane through their feelings of discontent towards this subject, thus giving them a taste of how turbulent her childhood was from the immorality of hitting a child.
Charlotte Bronte conveys this moral message and others in many ways through her novel, of which, I shall be studying through the following essay. The issue of morality in Victorian times was unheard of in the terms that we may think of it today, although it was a large issue in terms of religion and other such matters, for example: we wouldn’t consider pre-marital sex a big issue if we were unreligious, where as Victorian people would consider it a huge sin, from their widespread Christian attitude to life.
However we would consider beating a child as a horrific act, where as the Victorians would think of it as normal. This kind of dilemma of right and wrong appears many times throughout ‘Jane Eyre’, a contrast between Victorian and modern morality is broadly shown from start to finish of the novel, and it shows how Jane would have responded to the very same matters. Bronte’s use of language in certain parts of the novel, or ‘Jane’s life story’ which is virtually what the book is, portrays a Victorian’s view on he morals strongly, say when Helen Burns passes away, and the teachers/nurses at Lowood don’t treat the situation with concern, nor do they treat it with seriousness, as the matter of a single child dying at a Victorian charity school is normal and each one has no specific individuality, and thus isn’t given any special care in their time of death. Basically, they are no different in terms of their rank whether alive or dead. When it is said at the end of chapter 9 that: ‘Miss Temple had found me laid in the little crib, I was asleep and Helen was – dead. The sentence itself was quite short, which gives a more dramatic impact of the words themselves; the use of the words ‘found me’ suggests that Miss Temple possibly feels some compassion towards Jane as she must have been searching for her in order to find her, but this does not show any or at least as much to Helen, for shortly after it is said that: ‘Her grave was only covered by a grassy mound’. Thereby showing that the school doesn’t give any special funeral rights to the dying children, nor do they waste time or money on giving them proper graves.
The use of the word ‘only’ shows the grassy mound as inferior, and small, which amplifies the school disregard to the children as anything of worth. This kind of morality issue shows that Victorians did not see children as equals, and to far extents mistreated them, where as today, even if babies die, they are given the equal funeral and death rights of a grown person. Bronte reflects Victorian morality particularly in this chapter, through the sentences which are structured to exaggerate each word that describes the Victorians cruelty to children.
There are many examples of this cruelty to children throughout ‘Jane Eyre’, however, I am going to choose another topic to explore, and I have chosen to look at marriage in Victorian and modern times. Towards the end of the novel, Jane and Mr Rochester are due to be married, and on their wedding day, it is discovered that: ‘Mr Rochester has a wife now living’ and their wedding is cancelled. Later in the story, Jane is proposed to by another man named St John, this she refuses because she is in love with Mr Rochester.
This entire episode displays the role that love and religion had to play in Victorian marriage, and also how Jane responds to moral dilemma. It shows that Jane could not marry Rochester as he had another wife who was still alive, and if he had gone ahead with the marriage, it would have been considered committing bigamy, a largely immoral sin on religious terms; however, on terms of love she rejects St John’s proposal as she believes she cannot enter into marriage unless she loves him.
As ‘love was out of the question’, she returns to Mr Rochester because she truly loves him. Bronte uses many types of language in the entire novel, some to express types of anger or negative feeling, others to express love or positive feelings. It is not only in expressing feelings which Bronte uses her language, although that is a major part of the storyline and evoking atmosphere, but also to convey her moral messages such as the undermining of women by men during this era, and the understating of them as well.
Bronte, being a feminist alike to the title character Jane, writes the novel in a style that would empower women to possible do things as Jane does in her story. For example when Jane speaks her mind and gives her opinion even when not asked, it shows that women, like men, can be bold and express themselves. This kind of style may have been unpopular at the time it was written, as men wouldn’t have wanted women to understand that they could do these things, for fear of an uprising to become equals by the women.
This kind of literature could have inspired the suffragettes of England in 1903, as they fought for their right to vote and have an equal say as men did. This is an amplified version of what Jane intends to achieve during the novel, her life is based around this immorality of feeling worthless and the various obstacles such as beatings that appear in her life, and yet she still remains her outspoken self and wanting the equality she is always shown as desiring.
In conclusion, the main moral messages of Jane Eyre, such as the beatings, marriage, attitudes to women and gender equality, all reflect and summarise the principles of Victorian times within themselves; Bronte conveys these messages in each event in the novel, as they represents an ideal or ethic that was common in Victorian times. Her use of language, such as the short sentence structure, and the emotive words all intensify the empathy which is felt by the readers, thus allowing her messages about morality to get across to the reader from the feelings they experience as they read the novel.
This kind of writing style which is used to communicate messages, is particularly useful in this case, which is to bring the female readers to realise that may be they are not alone in the way they feel about having to stay underfoot of men, or perhaps to realise that there is hope for an equal life amongst both genders, Both of these are sure to empower women to become more extrovert and show their opinions more often, which they were not allowed to do in Victorian times. Bronte’s main moral message is therefore: don’t hold yourself back, and don’t let anyone else hold you back either. – – –