Jane Eyre endures a tragically stagnant existence in the Lowoood school for eight years, serving as both a pupil and teacher. In this later portion of her childhood, Jane experiences a sort of spiritual awakening due in great part to the unwavering companionship of her first friend, Helen Burns, and the unyielding motherly affection of Miss Temple; she comes to the realization, for perhaps the fist time in her misguided youth, that she both deserves and is capable of receiving warmth and goodness from others. However, with the departure of Miss Temple from Lowood, Jane finds herself seeking more from life. She leaves only to become governess of the young, naïve Adele, and companion to the kind-hearted Mrs. Fairfax. Still, within a few weeks time, Jane yet again finds herself pondering the possibility of a higher purpose in life.

Who blames me? Many no doubt; and I shall be called discontented. I could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes. Then my sole relief was to walk along the corridor of the third story, backwards and forwards, safe in the silence and solitude of the spot, and allow my mind's eye to dwell on whatever bright visions rose before it- and certainly they were many and glowing; to let my heart be heaved by the exultant movement which, while it swelled in trouble, expanded it with life; and, best of all, to open my inward ear to a tale that was never ended- a tale my imagination created, and narrated continuously; quickened with all of incident, life, fire, feeling, that I desired and had not in my actual existence.

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt again their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. 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, too 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. [178]

It can be gleaned from the above passage that Jane is very much conscious of the unfortunate disparity between both the rights, and assumed roles, of males and females in the time period in which she lives. She seems to explode with passion not only over the subject of gender inequality, but over every concern that her mind has preoccupied itself with at that given moment. She is unsatisfied, with a void she deems insatiable; she feels oppressed, only able to escape the monotony of daily life in the ideal created by her imagination; she longs to be filled with the excitement of life, not only to settle for one on which she feels grateful to be accepted. However, standing in her way is the entity society has condemned her to be. As a woman of her time, Jane will face tremendous adversity in fulfilling her potential as an individual.

Questions

1. Our in-class discussion of insanity compared the state of mind of Jane Eyre, and Thomas Shap of "The Coronation of Mr. Thomas Shap," pointing out that Jane's acknowledgement of her insanity made such a predicament quite doubtful whereas elements of Shap's mannerisms, such as his fascination with his fantasy world, leave barely any room to doubt his insanity. Jane notes her own imaginary tale; is this in any way comparable to the fantasy world of Shap?

2. Though we have observed Jane's character to be one differing greatly from the expected character of a female protagonist in this time period, this passage from the text includes the first instance in which she directly speaks to the issue of gender roles and gender inequality. Why has such a forthright outburst occurred at this point in the text?

3. The mention of "fire" is prevalent throughout the entirety of Jane Eyre. In this particular excerpt, however, does it have the same significance it does in its other appearances in the text?

4. The use of first person pronouns is also prevalent throughout the text. Why does Brontë refrain from using first person pronouns in the second paragraph of the above excerpt? Why does she use "their" instead of "our," seeing that both she herself and Jane as the narrator are female? Could this have been part of the attempt to conceal her gender as the author of such a controversial novel?

5. How do the effects of the punctuation of this passage compare to the effects of the punctuation observed in other portions of Brontë's well controlled prose?


Victorian Overview Charlotte Bronte Jane Eyre

Last modified 25 January 2009