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The Topic of the Independent Woman in Jane Eyre

Magda is a university student with a major in English, but her life seems a little bit rough, so she decided to escape from it.

About the Novel

Jane Eyre is a novel written by Charlotte Brontë, it was firstly published in 1847 and belongs to the Victorian Age; it’s a bildungsroman which explores the experiences of its eponymous heroine, her growth to adulthood from being an abandoned child, in the middle of the Reed family, to the wife of Mr. Rochester, the master of Thornfield Hall.

“The first person narrative and the use of the dear reader device, allows us, as readers, a sparkling feel of excitement and intimacy of a life being discovered to us.” (Dr Sally Minogue – in the introduction of Jane Eyre). The themes that describe the novel are Social Class and Social Rules, Gender Roles, Religion, and most importantly Independence.

“Life is considered from the heroine’s point of view; her male counterpart is important only in so far as he has found a way to her heart, although we may wonder whether we are not faced with a female writer’s first admission that the reverse process is just as true, for there is much to support the idea that woman may fall in love before her partner-to-be has really felt any affection for her. This shows progress indeed in feminine self-definition!” (Philippe Séjourné).

The novel follows the story of Miss Jane Eyre, a simple and plain girl who struggles to overpass the obstacles in her life: the abusive treatment of her aunt and cousins, the grim conditions at Lowood School, and her love for Mr Rochester, his betrayal and lies. The novel explores the idea of a woman alone, in charge of her own life and making her own decisions; because Jane is alone, she has to forge her own path in life and be responsible for herself.

In her eponymous heroine, Brontë had sought to create a deeply unconventional character that was nonetheless a profoundly moral being. For young women like Jane, educated but without high-born family connections, there were limited options in terms of making a living, apart from being a governess – a dependent, in other words.

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The Theme of Independence

But Jane Eyre isn’t our typical Cinderella story; it is an outstanding Journey to Independence because the heroine is fearless in her questioning and challenges of society. “For example, the journeying nature of the novel has been frequently remarked as Jane moves from place to place as the narrative progress, each marking a new structural departure. Gateshead is the front of her development and her point of entry into life; Lowood is on the side both of decay and growth; at Thornfield, we are waiting for the hero and the heroine to be trapped; however, when Jane heads for her reunion with Rochester, green shots of cheerfulness will keep breaking through.” (Dr Sally Minogue – in the introduction of Jane Eyre) It implies that Jane Eyre matures in each stage of her journey, as in a classic bildungsroman.

“The famous scene of violence with which the novel begins, John Reed’s assault on Jane and her passionate counterattack, associates the moment of rebellion and autonomy with bloodletting and incarceration in the densely symbolic red-room. It is thus as if the mysterious crime for which the Reeds were punishing Jane were the crime of growing up. The red-room to which Jane is sentenced by Mrs. Reed for her display of anger and passion is a paradigm of female inner space.” (Harold Bloom – The Victorian Novel)

Jane gains financial independence so that she can support herself; she raises her standing, from being a lonely and rejected orphan to being a wealthy and influential woman; as a governess. Miss Eyre pursued independence during an era in which women were inferior to men, proving her autonomy by demanding self-respect, becoming socially independent, and pursuing true love based on equality.

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“Her strong individuality is paradoxically emphasised through her often-mentioned plainness, which become becomes a mark of her special nature when compared to all the other women characters.” (Luminița Turcu – The Victorian Novel) In the novel, Charlotte Brontë introduces several strong female characters who all have to deal with their lack of independence: Miss Temple, Diana and Mary Rivers all possess the values Jane admires. They all have to work for a living for rather poor earnings and therefore have little independence. They all marry men who deserve them and whom they love, rather than settling for financial security at the expense of happiness.

Jane is very conscious that these women are not treated as they deserve to be, for example, the description of Miss Temple’s reaction to being scolded by Mr Brocklehurst – “she now gazed straight before her, and her face, naturally pale as marble, appeared to be assuming also the coldness and fixity of that material.”

In a passage, Jane asserts her strong individuality “Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer.”

Jane Eyre is very much the story of a quest to be loved; Jane searches, not just for romantic love, but also for a sense of being valued, of belonging. She was an orphan left to depend on unsympathetic relatives who mistreated her; with the Reeds, she suffers not only the dependency of childhood and femalehood but the severe humiliation of the poor relation. The cruel treatment she received from her family members caused her to have no sense of belonging.

Jane’s perspective of love is based upon a mutual understanding and equality in a relationship, which is derived from her desire for independence. Jane reveals her need for independence in her relationship with Mr Rochester when she told him she would always call him master but she would not be inferior to him. Although she ranks far below Mr Rochester in social rank and wealth, she feels equal to him in the soul, understanding his true nature.

This entire novel could be understood as a rise of a strongly developed character, and an awakening leading to a positive end.

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Quotes


  • “Every atom of your flesh is as dear to me as my own: in pain and sickness it would still be dear. Your mind is my treasure, and if it were broken, it would be my treasure still.” – Mr. Rochester
  • “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 you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor 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!”
  • “Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”
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What do you think about the novel?

You can buy the book from here

© 2022 Axinte Magda

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