Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Published: 2021-07-30 21:00:08
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Category: Feminism, Jane Eyre

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Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte is a gothic, Romantic novel that was seen by critics at the time as a controversial text. All though not revolutionary it did contain elements of social rebellion. Elizabeth Rigby from the Quarterly Review labelled ‘Jane Eyre’ an “anti-Christian” novel and an “attack on the English class system”. When read from a 21st century context, the novel shows, through the use of various motifs and imagery, the development of one central character.
You can read also Analysis of Literary Devices of Jane Eyre
Bronte shows Jane’s development, while highlighting aspects of her own social and personal context through the characterisation of Jane’s friends, family and acquaintances. A contemporary contextual reading allows the audience to view Jane Eyre as a character based novel. One critical paper known as the “Tablet” described Jane Eyre as being “simply the development of the human mind”. This bildungsroman genre underpins this reading of Jane Eyre. Similar to other Victorian authors of the time, like Charles Dickens, Bronte uses Jane to represent an individual’s search for identity and their adjustment to society.

Q. D Leavis wrote that “the novel is not…but a moral psychological investigation”. As such the novel becomes laden with varying themes and ideal and is neither restricted by genre or by political view (much like the human mind) Characterisation is used consciously from the beginning of the novel to show the development of Jane’s individual nature and strength. One of the motifs used to represent Jane’s character is the colour red. A fine example of how the colour gains various meaning as the Jane develops is in the first 3 chapters.
While in the first Chapter she is enshrouded by the curtains, which provide here with haven from The Reeds the colour soon becomes one symbolic of anxiousness, fear and anger as she is locked up in the red room. “A bed supported by massive pillars of mahogany , hung with curtains of deep red damask. ” The description of the magnificent bed reflects Jane’s feeling of inferiority and belittlement. However in chapter 3 she awakes to the soft red glow of the fire which provides here with warmth and comfort. Bronte continues to use this theme later on to represent Jane’s passions for Mr Rochester and the wild nature of Bertha.
Jane is represented as a strong-willed character with her own opinions, morals and mindset. While she is somewhat repressed by the society and context she lives in, she does not let this limit her entirely. Jane is not afraid to speak her mind even from a young age, nor is she afraid to think outside the conventional framework of society. “Women feel just as men feel…they suffer too rigid a constraint”. All other characters are seen through Jane’s eyes, and it is their impact on her development that is important, rather than their individual personalities.
In the early stages of the novel, Jane is seen to be in conflict with Mrs Reed but later in the novel, the maturity that Jane has developed is seen, when Jane overlooks Mrs Reed’s cruelty, and treats her with kindness. “A strong yearning to forget and forgive all injuries”. Bronte’s use of setting provides a backdrop against which Jane develops from a young girl to an adult. The Five main settings symbolise the stages in Jane’s quest to find herself. The setting traces Jane’s childhood development at Gateshead Hall, followed by her schooling and work at Lowood institution and the development of Jane’s passionate nature at Thornfield.
Moor House is then characterised by a moral and religious development of Jane. “God directed me to a right choice”. This counteracts the critic E. Rigby’s anti-religious reading of Jane Eyre, discussed later. Jane’s development concludes with her reunion with Rochester at Ferndean. Jane’s words “Reader, I married him”; show her internal fulfilment as she has found a balance between passion and reason and found her place as an individual in society. The gradual development of character highlights the textual integrity of “Jane Eyre” and enables readers in all contexts to trace the development of a central character.
The narrative technique used by Bronte shows the gradual development of Jane as the central character. The first person narrative voice given to Jane enables a closer connection between Jane and her readers, allowing expression of feelings and emotions as her character develops. “Reader, though I may look comfortably accommodated, I am not very tranquil in my mind”. A duality present in Jane’s narration presents a child’s voice, echoed by a mature and intelligent adult voice of reasoning and reflection. “I should, if I had deliberated, have replied to that question”.
This self-reflexivity is important in showing Jane’s character development. Consistency of Romantic imagery, linking nature and weather to characters, also adds to character development and sustains textual integrity. “The sun was just entering the dappled east and his light illuminated the wreathed and dewy orchard trees”. The imagery reflects the implications of characters choices and its impact on future character development. In the garden, after Jane agrees to marry Rochester, a storm breaks out and the great chestnut tree is damaged.
This imagery symbolises the forbidden relationship that Jane agreed to. Throughout Bronte’s novel, elements of her personal and social context are highlighted, adding depth to her characters and her novel. Religion was significant in Bronte’s personal context, and in the Victorian context. Changing religious ideas, religious doubt, and an increase in non-conformists had emerged due to science and history. While the critic E. Rigby labels Jane Eyre an “anti-Christian” novel, I believe Bronte is representing religion without taking a clear stance on the issue.
Bronte conveys no specific religious message but instead shows more of a general concern for religion, reinforced with religious language. “No nook in the grounds more sheltered and Eden-Like”. The text does not ignore religion or openly oppose Christianity; rather it represents the contextual importance of religion, while adding depth to Jane’s character development. Feminism is another contextual influence in Jane Eyre. The critic S. Gilbert suggests that Jane Eyre is “a traditional feminist reading of the Bronte’s…”.
This critic has drawn parallels between Bronte’s life and Jane’s life, inferring that Bronte was exploring her contextual feminist struggle through the character of Jane. While there are some elements of feminism in the novel (mostly due to the independent ubringing of Charlotte Bronte) it is not the central theme. As seen from the above discussion, Jane Eyre is about the development of a human mind, with feminist themes simply an influence on Jane. Jane’s feminist comments show her character exploring the social context. “Women are supposed to feel very calm generally, but women feel just as men feel”.
These elements link back to a “moral psychological investigation” rather than an exploration of feminism. ‘Jane Eyre’ is primarily focused on the development of an individual. The text shows Jane’s development from a child to an adult using characterisation, setting, narrative voice and romantic imagery. Bronte adds depth to characters by introducing aspects of her social and personal context. While critics in the Victorian context label Jane Eyre as a “feminist novel” or an “anti-Christian book”, in my contemporary reading it is neither of these things. Its merely the exploration of an individuals development.

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