Bront portrays Jane Eyre as an untypical heroine. Examine Bront's language use, structure and character portrayals

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Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë

Brontë portrays Jane Eyre as an untypical heroine. Examine Brontë’s language use, structure and character portrayals.

The heroism of Jane Eyre is central throughout the novel of the same name. The classic Victorian novel, written by Charlotte Brontë, follows the protagonist Jane Eyre through episodic stages of her life as she strives to find her niche in life. Although she is clearly the heroine in this tale, she often displays characteristics that are contrary to those of a stereotypical heroine and a 19th century woman.

        The main character’s traits are recognised by the reader early on in the novel, as she begins her first battle in life against her guardian the cruel Mrs Reed and her children. In chapter one, the reader learns to feel sympathy for Jane as she is unjustly accused of attacking Mrs Reed’s son John and is immediately sent, without question, to a mysterious place known as the ‘red room’. In the ensuing struggle, as she is dragged to the room by the servants, Jane is described ‘as a mad cat’ and even the central character admits ‘I was a trifle beside myself’. It is important in this incident that Jane has a cause for this behaviour, which is why John Reed is an essential device in the early chapters, because, particularly for readers in the Victorian age, this behaviour would be abhorrent and unforgivable, which could lead to the reader losing compassion for Jane. This passionate behaviour, perhaps hinted at with the use of the colour red in the ‘red room’, is certainly unorthodox for a Victorian girl. It is obvious that this encounter is a crucial point in Jane’s life, signposted when Jane comments on her resistance, ‘this was an new thing for me’. This is the first time that Jane’s rebellious nature has been revealed, which marks the start of a new episode in her life. In fact, the idea that battles against injustice indicate a change in direction is a trend that goes on throughout Jane’s life. An example of this is found in chapter 27, when Jane leaves Thornfield after realising that Mr Rochester tried to wed her whilst still married.

        The relationship between Jane and Mr Rochester is extremely unusual in many ways when viewed in the context of its time. Under the British class system, a match between two people whose status is poles apart would be unheard of. Jane was an orphaned child, who had been dependant upon charity, and had risen to the role of governess, which was about the most respectable position a single woman could achieve in Victorian society (although it was still a very low position in society). Mr Rochester was a wealthy landowner who, while not possessing striking looks, appeared to be an extremely eligible bachelor. A man that many families would like to marry their daughters to, as the Ingrams demonstrate. The fact that Mr Rochester chooses Jane over the beauteous Blanche Ingram demonstrates what an untypical man he is. Despite this, he never materialises into a hero because of the cruel way that he taunts Jane by pretending that he wants to marry Blanche Ingram. Rochester is able to do this because Jane cannot imagine her master wanting to marry anyone but Blanche Ingram, who she describes as ‘the very type of majesty’.

Jane describes herself as ‘plain-looking’. Charlotte Brontë described herself in the same way and perhaps she alluded to her attitude towards vanity, particularly in the upper class, through Jane when she chuckles ‘there was something ludicrous as well as painful in the Parisienne earnest and innate devotion to matters of dress’. The ignorance of superficial qualities and the faults that both personalities posses, make the relationship between Jane and Mr Rochester less stereotypical than most fictional relationships and perhaps more meaningful. A more cynical reason that could explain why Mr Rochester pursues Jane appears when we learn later that, as a young man, he married Bertha Mason for shallow purposes: money and land in the West Indies. This, as the reader finds out, backfired spectacularly and Jane could be his way of redeeming himself.

        The relationship between the two is unbalanced throughout the novel as illustrated by Jane’s consistent use of ‘Sir’ and ‘Mr Rochester’ to refer to him. The lack of equilibrium exists because Jane is dependant upon Mr Rochester. From the start of the novel, dependency is an aspect of Jane’s life; perhaps that is why Bronte chooses to terminate Jane and Rochester’s relationship so that Jane can find independence first. In the aftermath of Jane’s split from Rochester, she inherits a large amount of money and discovers that she has respectable relatives. This gives her elevated status and, as St John Rivers points out, Jane is now an attractive prospect for marriage. Meanwhile, Rochester loses his sight and the use of his hand in the fire that destroyed his home. When Jane finally returns to him, Rochester is now dependant upon her. When Jane marries him it is for love and not status. This is certainly unique for a woman of the Victorian Age.

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        A characteristic of many 19th century novels is the contrasting types of love that feature. Jane Eyre is no exception. In Jane’s early years she is expected to show love for her carer, Mrs Reed, because she has given her a home. As Bessie tells Jane, ‘you are under obligation to Mrs Reed’. Jane finds this preposterous, ‘This means I should love Mrs Reed, which I cannot do’ because Mrs Reed is, in Jane’s opinion, ‘a hard-hearted, bad woman’. At Lowood School, Jane discovers, for the first time, the love that she can give to a friend, with her relationship with ...

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