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harlotte Brontë shows that resistance and fighting for one's rights does not always achieve positive results. In Jane Eyre, Mrs. Reed makes the unfortunate consequences of Jane's strong rebuke clear:

Because I disliked you too fixedly and thoroughly ever to lend a hand in lifting you to prosperity. I could not forget your conduct to me, Jane, the fury with which you once turned on me; the tone in which you declared you abhorred me the worst of any body in the world; the unchildlike look and voice with which you affirmed that the very thought of me made you sick, and asserted that I had treated you with miserable cruelty. I could not forget my own sensations when you thus started up and poured out the venom of your mind: I felt fear, as if an animal that I had struck or pushed had looked up at me with human eyes and cursed me in a man's voice.

Jane made no use of tact or any of the various social conventions for protecting the feelings of someone with whom she had a disagreement. Brontë highlights this lack of social propriety by portraying Jane as an animal, full of venom and fury.

Throughout the novel, Brontë uses animal imagery to describe the untamable and the uncivilized. Right at the beginning of the story John Reed calls Jane a rat and the servants refer to her as a mad cat. Mr. Rochester often compares her to a bird when she refuses to be contained by him and his ways. When Jane returns in the end to Mr. Rochester and finds him hidden away from society she comments to him, "Your hair reminds me of eagles' feathers; whether your nails are grown like bird's claws or not, I have not yet noticed" (Brontë, Jane Eyre). Animals do not follow the laws of our social world and so they provide a very appropriate image with which to describe the uncivilized.

Mrs. Reed's characterization of Jane as an animal also provides information about her own character. She did not think of Jane as a sensitive human being any more than Jane thought of her as one. The selfishness and the ego-centric way in which they both viewed the world kept them from sympathizing with each other. Brontë shows the importance of being able to sympathize with others by showing Jane grow and mature, learning this skill. Helen Burns in particular has a profound affect on Jane. Helen teaches Jane that "the imaginative understanding of the natures of others, and the power of putting ourselves in their place, is the faculty on which virtue depends." (Fors Clavigera, 1873) This philosophy, known as emotionalist moral philosophy, had a profound effect on society in realms such as art, literature, religion, psychology, politics, and revolution. The Scottish school explained that "the sympathetic imagination. . . . provides the psychological mechanism of the Golden Rule: we do not steal from others because our imagination projects us into their vantage point (into their minds), and we thus experience how it would feel to be a victim."

Mr. Rochester also learns the value of moral sympathy after the fire destroys his pride and allows him to see others more clearly. Brontë illustrates how it changed Rochester's and Jane's lives in addition to their life together.


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Content last modified December 1993