How far do you agree that the character Jane Eyre challenges Victorian ideals of social class?
How far do you agree that the character Jane Eyre challenges Victorian ideals of social class
Charlotte Bronte’s protagonist ‘Jane Eyre’ challenges the structure of Victorian society through the use of first person narrative, the negative construction of characters such as Mr Brocklehurst, Blanche Ingram and through the developing relationship between Jane and Rochester. Presenting Jane’s strong sense of morality, Bronte describes Jane’s challenging experiences throughout her life - simply because she was poorly connected and dependant on those in more fortunate positions than her. Social class was particularly important within this era, as this depended on how you were judged and treated.
This is emphasised by the Reed family’s treatment of Jane as the Reed children were ‘clustered around their mama’ indicating their tight bond and how inseparable they are and how impenetrable their circle; Jane being the only one ‘dispensed’ from the group emphasises Jane’s loneliness and separation from them. The reasoning of Jane’s separation from the upper class children is because they have been accustomed to being disparaging towards the poor. This is even evident from Jane when she comments that “she would not like to belong” to poor relations even if they were kind, she admitted that she did not understand, “how they had the means of being kind.” Bronte’s presentation of even Jane’s attitude to poverty suggests that this is an attitude that has been impressed upon her and others continually by the Reed family from a young age.
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Jane does not fear to defy the reed family regardless of how 'higher' they are in comparison to her, unlike others of her generation she does not consider the consequences but continues to express herself, ‘I will say the very thought of you makes me sick’ and ‘Because your wicked boy (John Reed) struck me’ this clearly indicates her rebellion against Mrs Reed who is of a higher class. The words ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’ connotes that Jane is challenging the normality of how lower classes present themselves to upper classes.
Likewise, the first appearance of Mr Brocklehurst he uses words such as "charitable", "kindness" and "generosity" to describe Mrs Reed; all of which have very positive connotations and make Mrs Reed look perfect, simply due to her higher social class. In contrast, when Mr Brocklehurst discusses Jane Eyre, he uses negative words such as "ingratitude", "bad" and "dreadful". Jane being stereotyped as a terrible being; automatically indicates the reasoning behind Mr Brocklehurst’s assumptions as the upper and middle classes had no respect towards the working class as they seemed filthy, rude and immoral; the poor were extremely powerless whereas the rich were exceedingly dominant.
[She’s still within they’re society yet they are critical to her and she remains firm]
However, Jane is also confronted with these attitudes from the servants at Gateshead, she was repeatedly told where she stands as part of the house hold which was ‘less than a servant’. ‘You ought not to think yourself on equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed’ this clearly indicates that even the servants felt confident to berate and abuse Jane. Jane’s powerlessness is further emphasised through comments such as ‘I had nothing to say to these words: they were not new to me’ from this it can be inferred that Jane was well used to these degrading comments. The reader finds themselves empathising with the young Jane Eyre as a result of the first person narrative and the extent of the unjust abuse that she suffers so soon into the narrative. This is effective as Bronte is presenting a clear challenge to class attitudes at this time, persuading the reader to agree with her perspective.
The character Blanche Ingram who is of the upper class would be an antithesis to Jane Eyre as she only remained around Rochester due to his wealth whereas Jane remained due to her love and attraction towards him. Although, Ingram may be selfish she represents an ideal Victorian woman as she chooses to marry someone within her social class; whilst Jane breaks this norm and falls in love with Rochester who is beyond her level.
Additionally, during Jane’s stay at Thornfield she experiences various emotions and suffered emotionally due to her love for Rochester; which complicates as they were not on the same level of social class. ‘Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless?’ this signifies Jane’s fight towards equality as she proves that poor people also experience every emotion that an aristocrat would feel. This also suggests that Jane was the light to Rochester as she proves to him that happiness does not necessarily come with great wealth. As it is difficult for social mobility to occur, people usually married those who were socially equal to them; as a result there was lack of social mobility. Nevertheless, Jane can still love Rochester because he treats her as his intellectual equal, ‘my bride is here, because my equal is here; and my likeness’ and he is willing to see past her social standing-this is the first time that she has been appreciated and needed by someone, before this she has always been dependent on others and eagerly seeking for her own dependence -she saves him repeatedly and he ends up dependent on her. This highlights Jane challenging conventional ideals of social class as lower class women usually married someone within their class as they were not ‘worthy’ of anyone above their social standing, therefore indicating Jane’s immoral behaviour.
Although, Jane comes across various obstacles because of her social class; she asserts that her poverty does not make her an inferior person; her gradual ascent out of poverty helps her overcome her personal obstacles. Bronte’s Jane Eyre challenges attitudes to social class by defying the rigid structures in place at this time.
Written as an autobiography but not anymore