It was extremely difficult to be a woman in Victorian England. The female sex were deemed inferior to their male counterparts and it was near impossible to gain respect in a society conditioned to deride women and their talents. However, Jane Eyre attempts to redress this prejudice. Janes moral courage marks out her independence and strong will, and this gives her the ability to withstand the oppression she faces from her aunt at Gateshead. At Lowood, however, she comes to learn that there are other, more temperate ways of dealing with injustice. From her friend Helen Burns she learns Christian forgiveness and humility; from her teacher Miss Temple she learns the importance of adhering to the conventions of society. Both are considered with thought; however, this brings Jane to have faith in herself and her own beliefs. To be true to herself and her God she must remain independent, even if she must sacrifice her happiness by parting from the man she loves.
Individual moral courage is also explored in relation to religious faith. Jane Eyre explores the meaning of religion and how it relates to individual behaviour. All aspects of religious practice are explored. Lowood shows the best and worst of it, while in Rochester we are shown a man who wants to twist morality to his own dictates. It becomes clear that Bronte is placing religion and its followers under extreme pressure to justify their views. Every character professing religious faith is subject to the authors irony, and we see that social conventions are confused with the expected behaviour springing from religious doctrine. In the character of Jane, and her search for self-fulfillment, we are made to question if morality is ever anything more than social convention. And if it is, what does this mean for the individual, and for religion as a whole?
Jane Eyre depicts an insatiable quest for love. Janes yearning for affection seems to have been precipitated by the death of her parents and uncle at an early age, and while she becomes attached to Bessie, she is torn from her when sent to Lowood School. Similarly, when she starts to feel a sisterly love for Helen Burns, her friend dies; when she finds a mother figure in Miss Temple, her teacher leaves to get married. Always we are shown the tenuousness of devotion and feeling, but this has the effect of elevating true love, emphasizing the importance in treasuring it when one is lucky enough to find it. The love Jane feels for Rochester is starkly different to the brotherly love she feels for St John Rivers. Bronte seems to suggest in the reduction of Rochester to a broken man, that love and happiness are achieved at a price. However, although this tempers the danger and authority first shown by Rochester at the beginning, Bronte repels the passionless marriage that St John Rivers offers. Fiery devotion may need to be tempered to stand a chance of lasting in the world, and this may require great hardship and suffering. But the alternative, a soulless platonic marriage, can never satisfy in place of it.
On the face of it Jane Eyre is the story of a womans quest for love, and yet this fails to consider the way the novel also attempts to tackle the difficulties facing young and penniless middle-class women in Victorian Britain. These women only had the choice of marriage or posts as governesses to survive, and the difficulties they faced were immense. However, the novel provides no easy solutions to this problem. Jane is taken as a representative of her sex but her story offers no way out for others of similar background and status, nor for those women who wished to challenge the dictates of society. She becomes a success through her awesome will and a lucky inheritance. The others around her, though, do not fare so well. Helen Burns self-sacrifice contributes to her death, and most of the other women from her class examples being Miss Temple, Miss Oliver and Georgiana Reed marry according to the conventions of the day by compromising their true feelings in order to gain security. Unfortunately, Jane is a rare case.
Imagery and Symbolism
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