REPRESENTATION OF VARIOUS WOMEN IN JANE EYRE AND THE SOCIAL POSITION OF WOMEN IN THE VICTORIAN SOCIETY Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte utilizes the Victorian convention of the orphaned heroine who is forced to find her way in the world. Two popular feminist theorists, Sandrs M. Gilbert and susan Gubar have said in their essay “The Madwoman in the Attic” that there is a trend int the literary history that places women characters into one of the two stereotypes : either the “passive angel” or the “active monster”.
The “angel” image is one of the domesticated woman whose ultimate goal is to please and tend to her husband and family.
However,Charlotte bromte did not limit her characterization to this strict dichotomy between monster and angel. Jane eyre herself possesses many of the qualities of the angel:she is pure,moral and controlled in her behaviour. Yt,at the same time,she is passionate,independent and courageous. She refuses to submit to apposition of inferiority to the men in her life,even when faced with a choice between love and autonomy and ultimately triumphs over social expectations.
Moreover,her childhood experiences demonstrate the same rebelliousness and anger that characterize”the monster”.
Her appearance of control and patience is learnt at her staya y Lowood though she stillll maintains the fiery spirit that defined her charactera s a child. Throughout the novel jane encounters numerous women who offer her either positive or negative models of women. In a book which is so concerned with the narrator’s own development, a typical BILDUNGSROMAN,it is perhaps inevitable that these role models should be reperesented in ways that emphasize the role they have in formation pf her character and opinions. The initial female characters that we are introduced to,apart from Jane herself are Mrs.
Reed and her two daughters,jane’s cousins Eliza and Georgiana. Mrs. Reed palys the role in Jane Eyre of the almost Cindrella-like evil aunt showing llove only towards her two precious daughters and son. The negative connotation is already prevelant in her name, Reed, which was a typical whip to punish little children with at that time. Infact, physiology is a very prominent theme in Jane eyre. The names of the characters are associated with their personality and the way the characters are. As it is,Mrs. Reed provided Jane with a very tiresome and unmindful childhood,continuosl reminding her of the fact that she is a benefactor and dependent.
The Reeds never seem to think Jane as family. More often than not,Mrs Reed abuses Jane mentally and physically. When Jane is shut up in the red room she actually screams and cries for help but Mrs reed turns a deaf ear . The fact that shutting her up in the red room makes it even more cruel on the part of Mrs. Reed considering Mr. Reed died in the specific room. Given the family’s belief in supernatural,makes Jane imagine all sorts of things like seeing Mr reed’s ghost in the room and she ultimately passes out. Despite all the tortures that Mrs Reed put Jane through one cannot disagree that Mrs.
Reed is a strong character in the novel. At a time when women were ony confined to houseld work and were subjugated by men Mrs Reed seems to be an independent and strong woman, a trait that jane herself inherited. She also appears to be a social woman who enjoys formal gathering and has no qualms in talking to pther men and can handle situations effectively. The other two female characters are Eliza and Georgiana Reed, Daughters of Mrs Reed. They are beautiful and confirm to the notion of the Victorian woman. For example Georgiana when she was older wanted to marry Lord Edwin Vere but her sister told her mom and she didn’t approve.
Therefore she did not marry him. Although he really liked him Georgiana ended up marring a wealthy man. The only mother figure in Jane’s early life was Bessie. Bessie was nurse at Mrs. Reed’s house, she took care of Jane when was a child. Bessie was far more than a nurse to Jane, she was like Jane’s mother. Charlotte Bronte has given a good character to Bessie, as Jane as the narrator recalls her as follows, “Bessie Lee must, I think, have been a girl of good natural capacity, for she was smart in all she did, and had a remarkable knack of narrative; so, at least, I judge from the impression made on me by her nursery tales.
She was pretty too, if my recollections of her face and person are correct. I remember her as a slim young woman, with black hair, dark eyes, very nice features, and good, clear complexion; but she had a capricious and hasty temper, and indifferent ideas of principle or justice: still, such as she was, I preferred her to any one else at Gateshead Hall. ” (Page 20, Jane Eyre) This quotes shows that Jane liked Bessie more than anyone in Gateshead. She has a hasty temper and indifferent ides of principle or justice. she used to get very angry when Jane said anything rude to Mrs. Reed, although she never thought about the idea that Mrs.
Reed was far more then rude to Jane. In the starting of the novel, it was clear that the minor character of Bessie was developed more then the character of Mrs. Reed. Bessie visits Jane at Lowood several years after her departure and is impressed with Jane’s gentile demeanor. She marries the Gateshead coachman, Robert Leaven, and has three children, the youngest of which she names Jane which shows her attachment with Jane. A character that has a significant impact o n Jane’s later life afre she goes to Lowood is Miss Temple. Miss Temple is only a secondary character, yet her relationship to Jane is pivotal to understand the plot of the novel.
Miss Temple is the first adult who shows kindness and understanding towards Jane. She is a teacher at Lowood, the orphanage Jane attends. Through Miss Temple’s eyes, we, the readers, start to grasp the exceptional character of Jane Eyre, who is not merely the rebel or the liar Jane’s aunt and Mr. Blocklehurst made us to believe. She also has a semi-allegorical aspect; for eight years, she basically is Jane’s place of refuge,hence her name. This aspect is a very important feature in Bronte’s novels where she associates the character’s names with their personality.
Miss Temple is the kind and fair-minded superintendent of Lowood School, who plays an important role in the emotional development of Jane Eyre. Miss Temple is described by Helen as being “good and very clever” and “above the rest, because she knows far more than they do”. This description is more significant because it has been said by Helen, and she herself is extremely mature. One of Miss Temple’s most outstanding qualities is her ability to command (perhaps unconsciously) respect from everyone around her, “considerable organ of veneration, for I yet retain the sense of admiring awe with which my eyes traced her steps”.
Even during their first encounter Jane is “impressed”… “by her voice, look and air”. hroughout Jane’s stay at Lowood, Miss Temple frequently demonstrates her human kindness and compassion for people. An Example of this is when after noticing that the burnt porridge was not eaten by anyone, she ordered a lunch of bread and cheese to be served to all, realising their hunger. This incident is also evidence of her courage, of how she is not afraid to stand up to her superior, when she feels that too much unnecessary suffering has been inflicted on the children.
Miss Temple also displays a sense of natural justice when she helps clear Jane of the accusations that Mr. Brokelhurst charges her with. It is of no coincidence that Bronte choose to coincide Miss Temple’s arrival into the schoolroom with the moon’s light “streaming in through a window near”. Bronte throughout the novel uses weather to set the mood of a character. Jane admits “to her instruction I owed the best part of my acquirements; her friendship and society and been my continual solace; she had stood me in the stead of mother, governess, and latterly, companion”.
When Miss Temple invites Jane and Helen for tea, Jane listens enraptured to Helen’s and Miss Temple’s intellectual discussion, while observing a real warmth and affinity between them. It is clear to Jane that both Miss Temple and Helen are both very intelligent and well read, Jane admires these qualities and tries to seek them herself as they lead to an independence of mind, another quality that Jane wishes to acquire and which were unlike the women of the Victorian society who were made not to think for themselves.
The extent of Miss Temple’s influence on Jane can be seen by the way she reacts to Miss Temple’s departure, “from the day she left I was no longer the same: with her was gone every settled feeling that made Lowood in some degree a home to me” and without the presence of Miss Temple there to guide her she feels that “the reason to be tranquil was no more”. Miss Temple acts as a strong role model to Jane, and holds the qualities which Jane aspires to have: kindness, sensitivity to the sufferings of others and resolute in her stance to injustice, “I had imbibed from her something of her nature and much of her habits”.
It is through Miss Temple’s influence that Jane deals successfully with situations that occur later in her life, including leaving Gateshead and refusing to marry St John. Miss temple si important because she teaches Jane about patience and acting righteously despite the temptation to do wrong. It helps her to hgain peace of mind and accept herself as she is. Helen Burns, Jane’s friend at Lowood. Though she dies early in the novel,she holds a lot of importance upholding the Christian values of tolerance and forgiveness at all costs.
In Jane Eyre Bronte often juxtaposes Jane with characters who espouse strikingly different religious beliefs. Where Jane is seen as searching and questioning, these other characters hold strongly to one form or another of Evangelical protestantism, the religion that Helen Burns espouses. The Evangelicals “stressed the reality of the ‘inner life,’ insisted on the total depravity of humanity (a consequence of the Fall) and on the importance of the individual’s personal relationship with God and Savior. ” On her deathbed Helen speaks with Jane about both her depravity and her deep affinity with God. By dying young, I shall escape great sufferings. I had not qualities or talents to make my way very well in the world: I should have been continually at fault. ” But where are you going to, Helen? Can you see? Do you know? ” I believe; I have faith: I am going to God. “Where is God? What is God? My Maker and yours, who will never destroy what he created. I rely implicitly on his power, and confide wholly in his goodness: I count the hours till that eventful one arrives which shall restore me to him, reveal him to me. You are sure, then, Helen, that there is such a place as heaven; and that our souls can get to it when die? ” It is easy to condemn Brocklehurst’s religious doctrine, but here Bronte also undermines Helen’s absolute and self-abnegating religious beliefs. Jane’s questions may not plant any seeds of doubt within Helen, but the reader would be hard-pressed to miss her point. Helen and, later, St. John Rivers seek happiness in Heaven; Jane is determined to find hers here on Earth. Soon after Jane joins Lowood she meets Helen, She was the only person who was consistently nice to her.
Ever since the first night when Helen provided Jane with food, Jane realized that Helen was a kind hearted and decided therefore that Helen was her first and only best friend. Helen is more docile and religious. She feels that things happen for a reason. Jane,on the other hand believes she needs to fight for herself at all times. However, after hanging with Helen for a long time Jane starts to take after her more and more. Helen is more of a calm and reflective person while Jane is passionate and outspoken. They both come from poor beginnings but want to rise to make something of their lives and have a purpose.
Helen Burns belonged to the spectrum which believed that Christian values are meant only for lower classes. Her name itself implies something burning,destruction,matry which she ultimately turns out to be. She anticipate contentment with Gid and a reunion with Jane in heaven. Helen espouses a Christianity in which faithfullnesss and compassion are rewarded in heaven. She faces tortures from Mrs. Scratched and though she is distressed she remains unwavering in her beliefs. This ideology is outrightly rejected by Jane. Christian values are questioned several times in the novel.
While Jane initially rejects Helen’s brand of religion she does incorporate it later in her life especially when she realizes spiritual kindness of strangers after leaving Thornfield. Also, when jane forgiving her aunt Mrs. Reed is probably a result of this as well. Forgiveness gives her a peace of mind and she’s able to deal with herself and the world better. THorugh Helen’s character,though short-lived,Bronte gives a an insight into the christioan values during the Victorian era and it’s consequences which makes her character an important one.
In jane eyre the character of Bertha Mason serves as an ominous representation of uncontrollable passion and madness. While some critics regard Bertha as a mere plot device, as a villain who stands in Jane’s way of eternal happiness and bliss in marriage,others have argued that she may be seen as Jane’s doppelganger,her dark alterego. Her dark sensuality and violent nature contrast sharply with Jane’s calm morality. On the surface,two more opposite women could not exist. As an adult,Jne o “quite,plain,simple,grave “ in the eyes of Mr.
Rochester and is often describes ad small and pale,whereas Bertha is “ a big woman,in stature almost equalling her husband and corpulent besides with a virile force and purple bloated features. ” Jane describes Bertha as “a woman,tall and large,with thick and dark hair hanging long down her back who possessed a fearful and ghastly discouloured face,red eyes and fearful blacked inflammation of the lineaments. ” She looked to Jane like “the foul German spectre,the vampire” Both Jane and Bertha are oppressed by the system of British patriarchy,in which men control the world.
However both of them differ in the way they deal with this patriarchal society. Although Jane was a rebellious child,her conformance to social rules becomes the defining feature of her adult life. She knows her place,and although she may not be comfortable with it she controls her behaviour through unwavering self discipline. Although she initially revolts against what she believes as unreasonable restrictions and Gateshead and Lowood, ahe soon realizes that rebellion carries a high price and overtime she learns to modify her behaviour to conform to socially accepted norms.
Unike jane,Bertha never cares about social acceptance or respect in the society. She is a spoilt and pampered daughter of a rich man and her childhood experiences have not prepared her to function within the patriarchal framework of polite society. She is brought up in an atmosphere of extravagance,delighting in the luxuries provided by her wealthy family. But the innocent desires o her languid,pampered childhood begin to transform by adulthood into sensual appetites which in this society are not so easily accepted or tolerated in a woman.
Bertha’s father fears that his daughter is beginning to show the socially ippropriate tendencies exhibited by her mother who was shut up in a lunatic asylum and conspires to marry her off as quickly as possible. After marriage,these tendencies repulse Mr. Rochester. He punishes her for her unacceotable behaviour by locking her up in the attic. However even after she is imprisoned she continues to rebel against Rochester’s control . The reader only meets when she is in the depths of madness,having been confined in the third story attic of Thornfield for nearly fifteen years and there is not enough interaction between her and any character.
Yet,Bertha’s position as an obstacle to Jane’s happiness with Mr. Rochester as well as her state of complete imprisonment suggest that her madness may have been partially manufactured by the male dominated society that forced her to give up her wealth in marriage to Mr. Rochester. Morever the similarities between Bertha’s behaviour in the third story ttic and Jane’s actions as a child in the red room reassert the fact that jane and Bertha are actually alter ego of one another.
In accordance with their individual responses to patriarchal control,Jane reasons out causes and effects of women’s domestic oppression and the results of rebellion whereas Bertha burns down the imprisoning house. Jane,therefor,Is ultimately successful in achieving her desired place in society as Rochester’s wife because she learns the value of confirming to the rules and operating within the context of their established structure. Bertha does not conform and therefore does not survive.
But Bertha may also serve as a warning to Jane of what complete surrender to Rochestr could bring about. The face-to-face encounter between Jane and Bertha occurs two nights before Jane’s bridal day, when tensions peak and she stands on the verge of her ultimate imprisonment in an unequal marriage. The veil which Rochester splurged on, an elegant piece for a plain woman, represents his hold on Jane that the wedding vows will make permanent. Bertha, in her bride-like attire, rips this very symbol into two, symbolizing Jane’s refusal to live imprisoned for the remainder of her life.
This climax in Jane’s personified oppression finally leads to a self-realization of her darker side as Jane glances into the candle-lit face of Bertha, and vice versa. “Just at my bedside the figure stopped: the fiery eyes glared upon me: she thrust up her candle close to my face, and extinguished it under my eyes. I was aware her lurid visage flamed over mine, and I lost consciousness” (311). Finally, Jane perceives the invisible bars that Rochester uses to constrain her and sees the part of herself that she needs to set free.
Once she achieves this freedom, by fleeing Thornfield and returning at an equal plane with her beloved Rochester, the oppressed maniac inside of her dies, “dead as the stones on which her brains and blood were scattered” Bertha represents all the vengeful things that Jane would like to do but also shows the consequences and results of these actions therefore justifyinf Jane’s actions and stance. She not only reflects Jane’s internal turmoil in living colour but wants Jane of the consequences of giving in to patriarchal pressure.
Without Bertha’s character it is impossible to study Jane’s character in it’s totality with all it’s nuances. Bertha provides illumination into not only Jane and her character but the novel as a whole and how society worked duribg that period. Therefore,with regard t this essay,I think,Bertha’s character holds utmost importance. Although Bertha does serve as one of the seeming villains in the novel she should be seen more as a critique of a society in which passionate women are termed as monsters or madwoman just how Jane was termed in her early life at Gateshead when she was utterly rebellious.
Bertha supports Bronte’s critique of gender inequalities and Victorian marriage uring that period. She comes to symbolize the more general sense in which the female voices were often silenced or muffled in the nineteenth century,both in the society and in literature. It is seen as an uncomfortable,disturbing voice,reminding people-men-of truths they did not wish to acknowledge. This silencing has been perpetuated in another sense by the ways in which male dominated literary history hastended to either demote women’s writing to lower rankings or to ignore all but a very few of the many women writers from the Victorian age.
Infact, Charlotte Bronte’s act of writing a novel,particularly such a gothic novel was no doubt equally threatening to the men of the tine period. In some ways through these characters she might be making a personal statemenr about the conflict between asssion and passivity in her own life. The river sisters as well Dina Rivers and Mary Rivers, also represent kindness and an apetite for knowledge which they share with Jane. They are not rich or conventionally beautiful,just like Jane but they show warmth and kindnesss when they take her in from the harsh worl when she leaves Thornfield.
The Rivers are important as they are not only Jane’s long lost relatives but also because they show Jane that there are kind people out there restoring her hope. Jane Eyre proved to the world of the 1800’s that the idea of women beating the odds to become independent and successful on her own was not as far fetched as it may have seemed. Jane not only gains wealth and position but is successful in terms of family and love,the two needs that evaded her for so long. As Jane was a role model to women in the nineteenth century she is also a role model for women today.
Her legacy lives on in the belief that as long as there are hopes and dreams nothing is impossible irrespective of your gender or class. Jane Eyre may seem like a fairy take with a haooy ending but by looking closely one will find that it truly reveals the oppressed and the non oppressed thoughts of Charlotte Bronte through the use of words,sentences and most importantly,the characters in the novel. For Charlotte,the power and honour of her women seems far more important than their living happily ever after. BIBLIOGRAPHY “Madwoman in the Attic” Sandra Gilbert and susan Gubar Dark Dobles in Jane eyre-Chatnoir
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