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Jane eyre the feminist tract

Jane Eyre, The Feminist Tract"

In 1837 critic Robert Southey wrote to Charlotte Bronte,

"Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it

ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties,

the less leisure will she have for it, even as an accomplishment

and a recreation," (Gaskell 102). This opinion was not held by

only one person, but by many. Indeed, it is this attitude, one

that debases women and their abilities, to which Charlotte Bronte

responds with Jane Eyre. The purpose of Jane Eyre, not only the

novel, but also the character herself as a cultural heroine, is

to transform a primeval society, one which devalues women and

their contributions, into a nobler order of civilization (Craig

57). The effectiveness of Bronte's argument is due to both her

motivation and approach. Bronte found her motivation from the

experiences she had undergone while living in the Victorian era.

Her approach in advocating social reform is to establish Jane as

a model for readers. Readers are meant to examine Jane's life,

especially the manner in which she handles problems or

confrontations in her relationships, and to follow her example in

their own lives. Just as we see Jane as a model of a woman

successful in asserting her self-worth, we are also given a

warning about the possible outcome of failure to realize self-

worth in Bertha Rochester. This facet will also be discussed

briefly. Bronte uses the motivation of personal experiences to

create the life of Jane Eyre in which we see the quest for social

betterment through her relationships.

Bronte herself experienced the social limitations of the

nineteenth century. At this time "respectable women had few

options in life beyond marriage, education of children, and

domestic service," (Magill 747). She ventured to explore her own

literary abilities and wrote Jane Eyre, a novel which "served to

articulate the new sense of self that in Bronte's time was still

emerging and developing against the background of a changing

social order," (Schact 423). This novel not only proved the

capability of Charlotte Bronte, but also, through Jane, gives

readers hope as they view a young heroine who has a strong

desire and struggles for independence, and who thinks for herself

in a society which did not encourage this. Because of the

prejudices against women, she felt that any opportunity for

literary success would be stifled by her gender. For this reason

the first editions of Jane Eyre were published under the pen name

"Currer Bell." As we realize the barriers Bronte faced and had

to overcome, we see her motivation for the development of the

character, Jane Eyre, and for the publication of the novel.

"Throughout the novel," Craig asserts, "Jane ascends new

'gradations of glory,' for in every relationship or

confrontation, Jane emerges as the superior individual," (Craig

61). These "gradations of glory" assert Jane's value as a woman

and virtually depict the worth of all women. Although these

triumphs are not always immediate, Jane is always the ultimate


Even as a child, Jane is faced with relationships which

attempt to extinguish her sense of self-worth. One of the first

relationships we are introduced to is that of Jane with her Aunt

Reed. Aunt Reed's custom of excluding and confining Jane

underscore the sense of inferiority that Jane must deal with from

childhood throughout the majority of her life. This exclusion is

seen on the opening page of the novel as her cousins, "the said

Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their mama in

the drawing-room... Me she had dispensed from joining the group,"

(Bronte 9).

Not only did she face adversity in the relationship she had

with her aunt, Jane also had to endure the unpunished cruelty of

her cousin John. Jane was "accustomed to John Reed's abuse," and

punished for defending herself once when John flung a book at

her, hitting her so hard she fell and cut her head. Jane

pitifully comments, "The cut bled, the pain was sharp; my terror

had passed its climax," (Bronte 13). Jane had to endure this

conflict for quite sometime, submitting, for she rarely resisted,

to the tyrannical relationship she had with both Mrs. Reed and

her "young master," John. (Bronte 14) Concerning her life with

the Reeds, Jane says, "I was a discord in Gateshead Hall; I was

like nobody there; I had nothing in harmony with Mrs. Reed or her

children, or her chosen vassalage," (Bronte 17).

However, Jane did not remain defeated permanently. Her

triumph over Aunt Reed comes after Mr. Brocklehurst has visited

Gateshead Hall. Aunt Reed had trodden severely on Jane by

telling the visitor of Jane's "bad character." (Bronte 38) At

this point Jane stands up for herself, asserting her self-worth,

and threatens to tell everyone of her aunt's treatment, declaring

that she is "bad" and "hard-hearted." (Bronte 39) The prospect

of a ruined reputation frightens Aunt Reed and Jane is sent to

school with "the first victory (she) had gained," (Bronte 39).

Jane's victory over John is not a deliberate vanquishing

confrontation, but rather a situation in which both he and Jane

get what they deserve. Throughout the novel imprisonment is

equated with inferiority while freedom is synonymous with

superiority. Although Jane suffered confinement as a child in

the red room, and thus was viewed as inferior, she ultimately

ends life happy and free. (Bronte 455) John, on the other hand,

spends his adult life in debt and in jail. He dies by his own

hand and leaves this world much the inferior of Jane.

Her monumental "gradations of glory" begin while Jane is at

Lowood. At times is was an "irksome struggle" for Jane as she

was forced to yield to the overbearing Mr. Brocklehurst, whose

philosophy was, "to render them...self-denying," (Bronte 62-65).

Mr. Brocklehurst singles Jane out from all the other students and

declares her an agent of the Evil One. He warns the other pupils

by saying, "...this girl, who might be one of God's own lambs, is

a little must shun her example: if necessary,

avoid her company, exclude her from your sports and shut her out

from your converse," (Bronte 69). Again we see Jane facing

exclusion as she is declared a "castaway." In this same episode

we see an example of the confinement that was so customary at

Lowood, for Mr. Brocklehurst orders that Jane must stay standing

on a small stool for the remainder of the day. (Bronte 69)

Again we see Jane's unwillingness to deny herself, because

she knows that she does have value. Jane is does not remain

excluded, but finds genuine friendship in the respectable Miss

Temple and Helen Burns. Also, Jane availed herself fully of the

advantages offered to her and in time becomes the first girl of

her class. (Bronte 86). Her self-worth was affirmed when she

was "invested with the office of teacher," (Bronte 86). Jane was

no longer excluded or confined, and thus no longer considered

inferior. Mr. Brocklehurst, on the other hand, is no longer the

dictator of Lowood, but must abide by conditions set forth to him

by committee members. Therefore, he has been demoted, while Jane

has been elevated.

Her second gradation begins with the introduction of

Thornfield Hall and Mr. Edward Rochester into her life. This

gradation begins with Mr. Rochester's proposal which shows

another recognition of her worth. Before Mr. Rochester directly

proposes to Jane she delivers an impetuous speech which she has

been driven to by the "acute distress" caused by the prospect of

Mr. Rochester's marriage to Blanche Ingram. (Bronte 254) Jane

cries out with passion:

"Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you

think I am an automaton? -a machine without feelings? and

can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips,

and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you

think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am

soulless and heartless? You think wrong! -I have as much

soul as you, -and full as much heart! And if God had gifted

me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it

as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave

you. I am not talking to yo now through the medium of

custom, conventionalities, or even of mortal flesh: -it is

my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had

passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal,

-as we are!" (Bronte 255).

This is a crucial passage to the text, because it is here

that Jane asserts to her "only friend" and her only love that she

does have self worth. Even though she is not beautiful or

wealthy, this does not cancel the fact that she and Mr. Rochester

were created equally in the sight of God. She acknowledges that

this is not the tradition of the time and it is not

conventionally the place of a lady of this day to speak in this

way, yet she must say it, because she feels it with every part of


Jane goes further to imply that one's character, their inner

beauty, is what determines equality. She does this by pointing

out that the superficial marriage supposed to take place between

Miss Ingram and Mr. Rochester is a thing to be scorned. Because

a loveless marriage is the sign of a serious character flaw, Jane

feels that if Mr. Rochester does marry Miss Ingram, she will be

better than him. (Bronte 255)

When Rochester proposes, he declares, "I offer you my hand,

my heart, and a share of all my possessions," (Bronte 256). He

also asks her "to pass through life at (his) side- to be (his)

second self and best earthly companion," (Bronte 256). This

offer to be a joint heir with Mr. Rochester and to be his

companion is his obvious admission of equality to Jane. This

proposal is Jane's first "gradation of glory."

Soon after Jane ascends another gradation. On the day of

her wedding it is revealed that there is an "insuperable

impediment" to the wedding (Bronte 292). Jane learns that Mr.

Rochester has been deceiving her for the duration of their

relationship- he already has a wife. This is a moral ascension

which she rises to in two ways. First, she has risen morally over

her master in that "she has plotted no bigamy, she is no

deceiver," (Craig 61). Also Mr. Rochester entreats her to be his

mistress saying, "I shall keep to you as long as you and I live.

You shall go to a place I have in the south of France... Never

fear that I wish to lure you into error... Why do you shake your

head? Jane you must be reasonable." (Bronte 306) Yet even

though Jane loves him now more than ever, she must waken "out of

most glorious dreams and (find) them all void and vain," (Bronte

299) Jane sacrifices her love for Rochester reasoning, " The

more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am,

the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by

God." ( Bronte 319) Her respect for herself, again an assertion

of her self-worth, and for God prevents her from being with

Rochester, thus completing the second gradation.

The next gradation we see is the evasion of St. John Rivers'

proposal. St. John tells Jane, "God and nature intended you for

a missionary's wife." (Bronte 405). By saying this St. John has

defined Jane's role by declaring God's purpose for her life. Yet

Jane refuses him. "It is hardly conceivable that our heroine

should rise above his claim," (Craig 61). But she does, and in

so doing recognizes her self-worth and refuses to allow anyone,

whether it be man or woman, to delineate her position or function

in life.

Jane's decision is affirmed when she hears and responds to

the supernatural voice calling her name. Her final gradation is

at hand as she returns to Rochester and finds him a changed man,

physically and spiritually. Jane has returned as an heiress and

Mr. Rochester has lost much of the wealth he once had. At last

they seem equal because of this reversal of fortunes. However,

Jane still emerges as the superior figure because of Mr.

Rochester's physical handicaps which cause him to be led by Jane,

his "prop and guide," (Craig 62).

In Jane we have seen the model of a woman successful in

asserting her self-worth and emerging victoriously. Yet Bronte

gives us another model with Bertha Rochester, one which serves as

a warning. Bertha is the example of the utmost depreciation and

debasement of women. Again we see the idea of confinement as

synonymous with inferiority as Bertha is confined to a lifetime

in an attic, finding her only freedom in death. Therefore,

Bronte acknowledges that while some, like Jane, are successful,

others, like Bertha are condemned to a life of inferiority. She

has written this novel to challenge women not to allow society to

demean any more women as Bertha was demeaned.

Jane Eyre is an obvious feminine tract, an argument for the

social betterment of women. This argument is supported by the

fact that Jane is much like the author. Bronte, by writing and

publishing the novel Jane Eyre, asserts her own self-worth by

making literature a part of her life, even when discouragers such

as Southey advised against it. Just as Jane found success in the

realization of self-worth, so too does Bronte by attaining great

literary acclaim. The argument is also supported by examining

Jane's relationships and finding that in every confrontation,

Jane emerges as a superior and valuable individual. Bronte uses

Jane to serve as a prototype for all women, encouraging them to

realize their value. Jane is also set forth as an example to be

viewed by society in order that they might be transformed into a

nobler civilization that realizes the worth of women.


Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Penguin Group,1982

Craig, G. Armour. "The Unpoetic Compromise: On the Relationship

Between Private Vision and Social Order in the Nineteenth-

Century English Fiction." Nineteenth Century Literary

Criticism. Ed. L. Harris and E. Tennyson. Michigan: Gale

Research Co., 1985. 61-62

Gaskell, E. The Life of Charlotte Bronte. England: E.P. Dutton,

Inc., 1975

London, Bette. "The Pleasure of Submission: Jane Eyre and the

Production of the Text." "ELH." Spring 1991. 195-213

Schact, Paul. "Jane Eyre and the History of Self-Respect."

"Modern Language Quarterly." Dec 1991. 423-53

Sienkewicz, Anne W. "Jane Eyre An Autobiography."

Masterplots II. Ed. Frank Magill. California: Salem Press,

1991. 745-748

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