In the early nineteenth century, which was when Bronte wrote the book, men were considered to be superior to women and therefore played a much more dominant role in society whereas women were secondary and thought to be merely appendages to men. The heroine of the novel Jane Eyre contradicts the role women played as she is brave enough to say “no” to the social conventions and instead play the role that she wants to play instead of the role she “should” portray.
As the author of this classic, Charlotte Bronte is thought to be a pioneer of the feminist movement. This essay is to explore the aspects of feminism and the oppression of men within the novel to explain why the book is considered to be a feminist novel. Jane was oppressed by four different men during the novel although in different ways. The first of these was her cousin John Reed, who tormented and bullied young Jane because she was an orphan.
She did nothing to ignite his rage and was unable to do anything but withstand it.
“Accustomed to John Reed’s abuse, I never had an idea of replying to it: my care was how to endure the blow which would certainly follow the insult”, this quotation shows how Jane never once thought to retaliate to his words or actions, reflecting the fact that it was a woman’s place to do as she was told and not as she wanted. It was only after John’s harsh reminders of her past that it was as if she could withstand no more, “Wicked and cruel boy!
”Cried she, symbolising her determination to fight against this unfair world.
This is the first representation of feminism in the book. However, despite the reasons for Jane’s actions, she is later reprimanded and punished for it, is this the consequence of her standing up to a male figure or is it a reflection of their individual social class? Later Jane experiences oppression at the hands of Mr Brocklehurst, the treasurer and manager of Lowood School, of which Jane attends.
Mr Brocklehurst represents those who obtained a very strong belief in the women-inferiority theory, which he expresses when he says, “My plan in bringing up these girls is…to render them hardy, patient, self-denying” and also through his actions of allowing the girls no luxuries, be it in food, or clothing, etc. It appeared to be his opinion that women should live a simple life perhaps in order to depend on men.
He insults Jane in the novel and says she is evil and should be shunned by her peers despite the lack of proof for his statement he is not overruled or ignored because of his superiority because he appears as quite a threatening character or simply because he is a man. The main male protagonist in the novel, Edward Rochester, although undeniably in love with Jane seemed to try and control her slightly, for example he seems to want to change Jane through buying her several dresses, etc.
Which are overly extravagant compared to her own plain and standard wardrobe. In trying to change her appearance it is as if he is trying to also change Jane as a person and perhaps by receiving the clothes she would have been accepting his dominance over her and so by refusing his offer she is showing herself as a strong individual who seeks equality. Her final oppressor, St. John had quite strong opinions of the purpose of women and thought that a woman’s worth was only recognised only when she devoted her life to a man.
He thought that it was an honour for Jane, if she married him and helped him with his work in India. He assumed that Jane would undoubtedly agree to his proposal because it was what a ‘good woman’ should do, however Jane declined because she wanted a marriage based on love not convenience. The character of Miss Blanche Ingram is portrayed as a sharp contrast to that of Jane because she represents how a typical woman of this time period would act. All she wanted was to find a wealthy husband to serve and to bare his children.
She believed – as did most – that marriage should be established within social ranks and money and that husbands and children were a woman`s whole world. Women had no control in their lives or even over their bodies; they had no idea of their value they were just a possession belonging to a man. Whilst some women were quite content just to follow this regime, some like Jane were unhappy with the obvious dominance of men and henceforth the obvious lack of equality between the two genders and so I believe that the characteristics and beliefs of Jane are what most strongly equate to this being a feminist novel.
To conclude I believe that there are several reasons and points within the book that successfully suggests that Jane Eyre is a feminist novel, but I think most prominent and perhaps obvious is the overall character of Jane and how she breaks out of the mould of the typical woman with her independent and intelligent actions. When reading the novel, women of that time would perhaps look to Jane as a heroine and feel inspired that there is may be more to a woman than merely a wife and a mother, but a strong, independent individual.