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Jane begins her journey within a patriarchal society as an angry, frightened girl. At first, she seems numb to oppression as she demonstrates submissive qualities towards John Reed, "Accustomed to John Reed's abuse, my care was how to endure the blow, which would certainly follow the insult," (12). She realizes that standing up to John will yield more harm than good. Already, she has an understanding of her inferior position in society. However, Bronte soon provides insight to Jane's inner, pent-up emotions. She feels significant fear towards new people, particularly men, "I looked up-a black pillar!- at first sight... the grim face at the top was like a carved mask," (43). In addition to fear, she expresses her anger in occasional outbursts. Despite her better judgement, she exclaims to John, "Wicked and cruel boy!...You are like a slave-driver-you are like the Roman emperors," (13). As already shown, Jane grapples with an internal conflict between society's attempt to make her small and her strong spirit that feels the injustice of those expectations.
The next phase of her life marks a period predominately absent of men, with the exception of Mr. Brockleburst. He describes his mission at the school: "Not to accustom them to habits of luxury and indulgence, but to render them hardy, patient, and self-denying," (91). Instead of giving his students "luxury", he causes an outbreak of Typhus. He also engrains the modest, soft-spoken, compliant standard for the girls. Under the influence of Mrs. Reed,he cruely tells the entire school that Jane is a bad girl and should be avoided at all costs. Mr. Brockleburst believes nothing is worse than a "Trouble child, especially a little girl," (52). In essence, he holds a deep aversion towards bold women and molds girls into fearing flaws and mistakes. So between John and Mr. Brockleburst, Jane has experienced only drastically negative experiences with men and her self-esteem suffers from them.
Fortunately, Jane does mature through her positive relationship with Helen Burns and the feminist role model Miss Temple. In her own gentle way, she stands up to Mr. Brockleburst by providing the children with food and helping Jane clear her name. The kindness and confidence demonstrated by Miss Temple assists Jane in staying positive and embracing the world's possibilites, rather than cower from them.
Chapters 10-20 Edit
In this next section, Jane courageously leaves the safe life at Lowood for a more independent one at Thornfield. As her horizon and opportunities expand, so does the feminist theory. Jane explains her reasoning behind the move, "I have served here eight years; now all I want is to serve elsewhere. Can I not get so much of my own will? Yes-yes- the end is not so difficult; if I had only a brain active enough to ferret out the means of attaining it," (125). This is one of the first instances readers witness of Jane taking control over her own life. Her decision will serve as the basis of her development into a feminist hero. Her feminist views continue as she elaborates on her feelings of discontent, "Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel...and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves...if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex," (160). This rant reads as a break from the narrative structure in order for Charlotte Bronte to interject her beliefs. As a result, readers understand that Charlotte is as much of a feminist hero as Jane because the two are the same.
After settling in at Thornfield, she meets Mr. Rochester, a peculiar man who plays a crucial role in Jane's life. From the beginning, the two share a strange relationship, especially within the social structure of the time. Upon their first lengthy conversation, Mr. Brockleburst asks her if she finds him attractive. Jane replies, "I should have replied to this question by something conventionally vauge and polite; but the answer somehow slipped from my tounge before I was aware-"No, sir," (193). This instance explains their resulting relationship. Mr. Brockleburst draws Jane's most candid and unconventional side which in return delights Mr. Brockleburst and reminds him of the genuine goodness possible within humans. This special connection results in Jane loving her benefactor. He is not only the first man she has felt comfortable around, but also the only person who truly understands her. However, she feels her love is futile as he is of a higher class and may marry the beautiful an charming Miss Ingram. Her feelings demonstrate the belief engrained into women that in order to obtain a desired husband they must possess those qualities. Although Jane is above jealousy, it also exemplifies the competitive spirit women often feel towards each other. In a patriarchal soicety, women are pitted against each other while trying to fit into impossible ideals.
Finally, these chapters introduce Jane's student Adele. The significance of Adele lies in her shallow frivolity. Jane feels amused towards her little student, "I turned my face away to conceal a smile I could not suppress: there was something ludicrous as well as painful in the little Parisienne's earnest and innate devotion to matters of dress," (252). Adele represents the stereotype men often hold of women as a whole gender. She is concerned with beauty and materials and little else. Charlotte Bronte uses Adele to emphasize how this stereotype holds women back from progressing forward on the path of equality.
In these chapters, Jane continues to mature and ultimately makes an extremely difficult decision, supporting her development as a feminist hero. Her first sign of maturity presents itself within her reunion with Georgina and Eliza. They continue to treat her poorly and while she allows them to do so, she explains, "A sneer however, whether covert or not, had now no longer that power it once possessed over me," (343). Growing up has caused Jane to become more confident in herself, a self-assurance that was understandably difficult for a woman to possess. Her maturity continues as she genuinely seeks reconciliation with Mrs. Reed. The fact that she faced and overcame the person who began her life of hardship and loneliness, points to her resilient character.
The most consuming and threatening situation Jane encounters is her relationship with Rochester. First, she boldly claims her love for him, an act usually initiated by the male. She even goes on to claim their rank as equals, "and we stood at God's feet as equals, as we are!" (378). She is aware that social class, age, and gender mark them as unequal in the world's eyes. However, she looks past social constructs to the two as individuals. Eventually, Rochester reveals that he too loves her and proposes, defying social expectations.
After he proposes, readers begin to understand that Rochester highly idealizes Jane, expecting her to conform into his ideal. He sees her as an "angel sent to save me," (388), and expects her to redeem him. He also expects her to be eternally thankful for his excessive gifts and romance, ignoring what Jane would actually want. Jane is not eternally thankful and instead distances herself from him because she is not only apprehensive towards Rochester's love for her, but also because she finds that she is losing herself. She loves Rochester to a borderline unhealthy amount and finds herself submitting to him. She fights against this tendency, wishing to maintain her identity, "I will be myself. You must not expect anything celestial of me," (388). Rochester is upset at her apprehension, pointing to his habitual nature of controlling women.
Jane's internal conflict comes to head on her wedding day. It is revealed that Rochester has more complex motives in marrying Jane than love, a fact assumed but not explained until their marriage. Jane discovers he already is married to a crazy woman who lives on the third floor. She is heartbroken and tempted to give into Rochester's pleads to stay with him. Readers fully understand that his love has been an extremely selfish one. He knows Jane has strong morals and would never agree to this arrangement, yet he tries to deceive her in hopes of clearing his character. He even ironically reasons, "Hiring a mistress is the next to worst thing to hiring a slave: both are often by nature, and always by position, inferior: and to live familiarly with inferiors would be degrading," (466). In this quote he attempts to explain why Jane is different to him than his past mistresses but he forgets that he is proposing that Jane be his mistress. He also reveals that no matter what he says a part of him will always view Jane as an inferior. Jane knows all this and chooses her own morals and identity over Rochester, leaving him. She knows she would rather be miserable than lack self-respect. She explains this, "I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself...[laws]have a worth, I have always believed so; and if I cannot believe it now it is because I am quite insane," (474). Jane courageously chooses herself over a man. This is a decision that establishes Jane as a feminist hero. She decides her needs are more important than the selfish desires of a man, a decision not only unheard of, but also deemed wrong.
In these chapters, Jane describes the last phase in her life. She forms a new life for herself, becoming a schoolmistress for a poor village school. Although she cares for the children, she admits, "I felt-yes, idiot that I am-I felt degraded," (538). This is a strange twist in her attitude as Jane usually feels like her presence degrades others. This feeling indicates the transformative effect Thornfield has had on Jane in regards to how she views her position socially and economically. However, the most significant benchmark in Jane's new life is St. John. He is yet another man who holds significant power over Jane. Despite being a moral man Jane respects, he abuses this power. He orders and manipulates Jane in order to form her into a suitable wife, beginning with her language of choice and mannerisms. Jane describes this process: "As for me, I daily wished to please him; but to do so, I felt daily more and more that I must disown half my nature, stifle half my faculties, wrest my tastes from their original bent, force myself to the adoption of pursuits for which I had no natural vocation," (595). Yet again, Jane struggles in maintaining her sense of identity admist feelings of obligation to submission. This conflict climaxes in a second temptation scene. St. John attempts, and almost succeeds, in persuading Jane to marry him: "Remember, we are bid to work while it is day-warned that 'the night cometh when no man shall work.' God give you strength to choose that better part which shall not be taken from you!" (625). Jane has developed a strong sense of perception and realizes that he does not truly love and that she would dislike their life together. She wants love. She wants Rochester. That is exactly what she achieves. Their next marriage is drastically different. Jane has now completed self-actualization ("I am an independent woman now,"). Additionally, Rochester no longer seeks his redemeption within Jane and instead truly loves her for who she is. So although, the conclusion of the novel may seem to contradict the feminist voice running throughout the novel, the opposite is true. Jane's story proves that women can find love and joy in conventionalities as long as the patriarchal fist loosens its grip.