Still Not Fair, Jane Eyre:
Analysis of the Anti-Feminist Sentiments in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
Undeniably, the female characters in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre exist within a dramatically misogynist society. Consequently, Jane Eyre’s independence, while seemingly greater than that of other women in the novel, is not a victory for feminism; rather, closer examination of Jane’s desire for liberty reveals a troubling pattern. Specifically, men control Jane Eyre’s destiny and while she insists that an unloving marriage is an infringement on freedom, she ultimately accepts inequality and subjugation in a supposedly loving marriage.
Although Jane is very courageous and takes many steps toward independence, her successes are almost entirely attributable not to self-governing, but to the actions of men. This paternal dependence is first illustrated in Jane’s escape from Gateshead to Lowood school as she admittedly “scarcely knew what school was” until Mr. Lloyd suggested the possibility to her (25). Furthermore, it was Mr.Lloyd who “ventured to recommend” that Jane be “sent to school” (25). While Jane’s need for Mr. Lloyd’s assistance in leaving Gateshead could be attributed to her youth, young age does not serve as an explanation for Jane’s continued reliance on men well into her young adulthood.
In a lament for “liberty” Jane eventually suggests that she will settle for “at least a new servitude” and, alas, a “new servitude” is what she gains in leaving Lowood and coming to Thornfield (85) as even to leave Lowood is to admit that she does not have freedom of destiny as she must ask a committee of “gentlemen” for leave (83). Furthermore, almost immediately after meeting him, Jane allows Mr. Rochester to govern both her feelings and actions. For instance, though Jane’s life was “full and delightful” at Thornfield, she is convinced of the “necessity of departure” from it because Rochester plans to marry another woman (252). Similarly, Jane flourishes that she is “happy at Moor House” (384) that her life there is a “blessing, bright, revived, and exhilarating” (385) but eventually contradictorily claims that it was “half a year wasted in vain expectancy” over word from Rochester (399). Consequently, when Jane finally does act out of complete independence and leaves both Rochester and Thornfield, her fate would once again be subject to paternal dependence.
Moor House is a place of a great change for Jane, though these changes are still controlled by men. Jane’s courageous act of leaving Thornfield on her own is met immediately with the punishment of “hunger, faintness, chill and [. . .] desolation”(329) and it is not until St. John allows her entrance into Moor House that she is saved from “lingering and premature doom” (336). More significantly though, during her time at Moor House Jane is “lifted in a moment from indigence to wealth” through the inheritance that her estranged Uncle John has left to her (382). It is this inheritance that Jane feels finally grants her “independence” and thus, a man once again provides Jane with liberty (382). However, independence and liberty do not last as Jane uses her freedom to gain something that restricts that same freedom: marriage to Mr. Rochester.
Throughout most of the novel, Jane associates marriage with freedom in some way and the first instance of this association occurs when Miss Temple leaves Lowood. Jane reflects upon Miss Temple’s departure, remarking that Miss Temple married and then “removed with her husband” (Bronte 84). Although Jane laments that Miss Temple was now “lost” to her, the experience also provides Jane the realization that the “real world was wide” (85). Consequently, Jane watches Miss Temple’s carriage “mount the hill and disappear beyond its brow” (84), something that Jane herself “longed” to do (85). As such, Jane undoubtedly sees Miss Temple’s marriage as a loss of a friend, but also as a new life for Miss Temple of which she herself is jealous.
Further entwinement of marriage with freedom becomes evident in Jane’s refusal to marry St. John. Throughout Jane’s many refusals of St. John’s proposals, she equates unloving marriage to oppression. In response to becoming a missionary’s wife, Jane asserts that if she “were to marry you [St. John], you would kill me” (412). She insists that while her body can fully serve St. John, her “heart and mind would be free” if she was not his wife (405). Thus, her declaration that she is “ready to go to India, if I may go free” (405) is not a refusal of general oppression, but rather oppression through unloving marriage. In fact, an examination of Jane and Rochester’s marriage suggests that Jane is more than willing to forego liberty in the face of a union she deems loving.
Although Rochester insists he wishes to marry Jane because they are “equal,” his treatment of her would suggest otherwise (254). For example, Rochester often refers to Jane as various supernatural beings; at one point describing her to Adele as “a fairy [. . .] from Elf-land [. . .] its errand was to make me happy” (267). Not only does this statement dehumanize Jane but in fact puts her in Rochester’s service. That Rochester assumes some type of servitude along with marriage is even more clear when he states that Jane’s time “will be [his]” and that he intends to “figuratively speaking – attach [Jane] to a chain” after they wed (270). However, what is more troubling than Rochester’s subjugation of Jane, is Jane’s acceptance thereof.
While most certainly marriage to a man of a woman’s choosing is a tenet of most feminist doctrine, Jane’s willingness to be in Rochester’s service as his wife is not. When Jane is sure that Rochester does not wish to marry her, she claims to be “a free human being with an independent will” (253). Then, upon hearing that he does in fact intend to marry her suggests that her “only feelings [towards Rochester] must be gratitude and devotion” (255). Furthermore, despite once proclaiming that people “must have action”(109), that she is not “an automaton”(253) and that above all she desired “liberty” (85), upon her marriage to Rochester, Jane claims that “[n]ever did I weary” (451) of serving him. She gives up her wandering, independent ways of which she seemingly longed for to instead be “as happy as I can be” (445) in a marriage wherein she must “ask and obtain leave” (450) from her husband. It would appear then, that Jane’s almost constant desire to “go forth into [the world’s] expanse to seek real knowledge of life” was not a desire to be given equal opportunity as a woman, but rather a desire to find someone to love her at any expense.
Although Jane’s progress throughout Jane Eyre is certainly defined by great personal transformation and growth, these changes are still within the context of male dominance. Consequently, while Jane’s courage and tenacity are certainly a departure from Victorian ideals of femininity, her acceptance of a controlling marriage in place of actual freedom suggest that these traits were mere personality quirks, as opposed to exercising of a pro- feminist attitude. Thus, the novel is not an attempt to redefine womanhood, but rather a reflection of the misogynist attitude that a supposedly loving marriage is paramount to gender equality.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Ed. Margaret Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
For the first little while, you will find in brackets at the bottom of each parent post an unexhaustive list of some topics which you might wish to consider or address in your response.
(critique of post, feminist literary analysis, 1st wave feminism, other critiques of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, marraige, objectification of women, feminine ideals, etc....)
hm well I don't know if I was supposed to put this here or in an entry, but I'll put it here to be safe.
she looks a little drawn,
mistaken for pale when really,
she's just faded.
Dressed in a nicotine stain,
shuffling a deck of creased old cards
she allows the day to pass away.
Was she always this plain?
She kept herself a secret,
and watched the world through venetian blinds.
She does laundry on sundays,
and hangs it out on the line to dry.
You won't remember,
but you probably saw her walking by.
She lives her life
in tepid air and muted light,
a careful balance
of not quite wrong and not quite right.
She sits out on the porchswing
and barely swings, for hours.
Once she put a ribbon in her hair
and I almost noticed her there.