There are a variety of different perspectives from which to analyze the content and purpose of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. From a superficial perspective, especially in regarding the segment of the novel in which Jane arrives at Thornfield and gradually falls in love with Mr. Rochester, it is possible view Brontë's work as an example of sentimental Victorian romance. Later in the novel, during Jane's year-long encounter with St. John Rivers, the novel explores issues of morality and religious devotion and seemingly abandons questions of romantic love in favor of addressing themes of "higher" Christian duty and sacrifice. Another reccurring theme in the novel, however, is that of social criticism. Often the author's own voice is inserted amidst Jane's thoughts and actions, a voice that seems to remonstrate the English public for its various prejudices and inequities. One such social critique addresses women's place in English society in the nineteenth century. In the following passage, Jane criticizes popular notions of female servitude and passivity in a tone that deviates from that of a Victorian sentimentalist. In her declaration, Jane defines Brontë's work as more than either a romantic or moralistic novel, and through Jane's voice, the author establishes her own rebellion against the confines of the society in which she lived and worked.
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 it 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 against 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.
When thus alone I not unfrequently heard Grace Poole's laugh: the same peal, the same low ha! ha! which, when first heard, had thrilled me: I heard, too, her eccentric murmers; stranger than her laugh. [p. 93]
Does the tone of this passage deviate from the rest of the novel? Specifically, do Jane's thoughts seem credible as her own or do they seem to be solely social declarations by the author? Do you feel Brontë is too blatant in exposing her political objectives in this passage?
Is Jane Eyre a plausible figure for representing feminist objectives in the novel? Do her actions in the novel ever seem to conflict with her declarations of female equality?
Do you find it at all hypocritical that the restlessness Jane describes in the first paragraph is eventually quelled by her growing attachment to the male figure of Mr. Rochester? How does this fact affect (if it does at all) Brontë's social/political purpose in the novel?
The maniacal laugh that Jane describes in the beginning of the third paragraph could be said to represent the stereotypical hysterical nature of the female in the nineteenth century. What is the effect of Brontë's introduction of Bertha's character immediately following Jane's declaration of female equality? From a gender perspective, how do you view the character of Bertha Mason? For instance, is Bertha a direct contrast to Jane, or are they occasionally related in the course of the novel? What is the purpose of the lunacy theme in the novel from a social criticism perspective?
Last updated 2 February 2004