How does Bronte explore the position of women in Victorian society in the novel Jane Eyre and how does she challenge it?

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How does Bronte explore the position of women in Victorian society in the novel “Jane Eyre” and how does she challenge it?

The Victorian era was a tough period for women, and Charlotte Bronte, a woman herself growing up in the Victorian times, reflects this in 'Jane Eyre', and also shows the way Jane challenges the classical stereotypes of a woman in this period in a variety of ways.

Thinking of a woman in Victorian society, one may think of a woman as submissive, passive, less-educated, emotional, and obliged to serve their male spouses- somebody who should “learn their place” and slot into it. We however do not see characterises as strong as these with Jane.

To call Jane a “feminist” may appear a little too extreme, however it would be fair to say that she would best fit in a society where men and women were treated as equals, living with the same lifestyle. R.B Martin however explains, that when Jane says her “Do you think I am poor, obscure, etc..” 'speech', she is not acting as a feminist, it is purely said due to emotion, and the fact that Jane never questions her limited career opportunities or her submissive-like role, shows that she is not quite the 'complete' feminist.

   Throughout the novel, it is clear that Jane “struggles” to fit into the established social gender classes of the Victorian era ,and that she is not willing to give up her values and beliefs in order to adjust to the traditional role of a Victorian woman. Despite having some characteristics for a woman of the time period, such as humility and a good work ethic, her belief in equality and independence see her struggle to become the traditional Victorian woman. Indeed she does not fit into the mould of the ordinary Victorian woman, she is instead her herself- she is Jane, and this too could reflect the personality of Charlotte Bronte.

A passage at the beginning of the novel illustrates the general status of women at the time the book was written. The cruel treatment of Jane at Gateshead (in the red room) foreshadows similar treatment that she will go on to receive later on in the novel- a feeling of entrapment and a general feeling of being small. Also, throughout the novel Jane is described as being “small in stature” and is said to be appear child-like even when she becomes a teacher at Lowood and governess at Thornfield. This all represents how women are treated by society as if they were no greater than children, hence being treated and looked at in a way that is inferior.

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At Gateshead, we get a clear view of the harsh treatment of females. Brocklehurst's cruel treatment of Jane foreshadows the male dominance that is to be exerted over her throughout the novel, however the way in which she stands up and defends herself against his question of where the “wicked” go after death,- “I must keep in good health, and not die” foreshadows the way in which she will defend herself against the men later on in the novel, and demonstrates her willpower to stand up for herself.

Linking in with the actions of Jane in the red room, we ...

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