In the beginning of Jane Eyre, Jane struggles against Bessie, the nurse at Gateshead Hall, and says, I resisted all the way: a new thing for me. “(Chapter 2). This sentence foreshadows what will be an important theme of the rest of the book, that of female independence or rebelliousness. Jane is here resisting her unfair punishment, but throughout the novel she expresses her opinions on the state of women. Tied to this theme is another of class and the resistance of the terms of one’s class. Spiritual and supernatural themes can also be traced throughout the novel.
Soon after Jane is settled at Lowood Institution she finds the enjoyment of expanding her own mind and talents. She forgets the hardships of living at the school and focuses on the work of her own hands. She is not willing to give this up when she is engaged to Rochester. She resists becoming dependent on him and his money. She does not want to be like his mistresses, with their fancy gowns and jewels, but even after she and Rochester are married, she wants to remain as Adele’s governess. She is not willing to give up her independence to Rochester, and tries to seek her own fortune by writing to her uncle.
In the end, when she does have her own money, she states, “I am my own mistress” (Chapter 37). Jane not only shows me her beliefs on female independence through her actions, but also through her thoughts. Jane desires to see more of the world and have more interaction with its people. While she appreciates her simple life at Thornfield, she regrets that she does not have the means to travel. She relates her feelings to all women, not just those of her class, saying: Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts s much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags (Chapter 12). It is also important here to talk about Bertha, for she is a female character who is often seen resisting. It may be wondered why Jane seems to have little sympathy for her, and part of the reason for this may be seen with how Bertha is portrayed.
While Bertha is a woman, she is not presented as such. She is described in animal-like terms, and is called ‘it’, not even ‘she’ in the beginning. Jane describes her meeting with Bertha as such: In the deep shade, at the farther end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it groveled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing; and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face (Chapter 26).
There is an ample amount of evidence to suggest that the tone of Jane Eyre is in fact a very feminist one and may well be thought as relevant to the women of today who feel they have been discriminated against because of their gender. At the beginning of the 19th century, little opportunity existed for women, and thus many of them felt uncomfortable when attempting to enter many parts of society. The absence of advanced educational opportunities for women and their alienation from almost all fields of work gave them little option in life: either becomes a house wife or a governess.
Although today a tutor may be considered a fairly high class and intellectual job, during the Victorian, a governess was little more than a servant who was paid to share her scarce amount of knowledge in limited fields to a child. With little respect, security, or class one may certainly feel that an intelligent, passionate and opinionated young woman such as Jane Eyre should deserve and be capable of so much more. In the mid-nineteenth century, a woman would have carried the burden of “staying in her place. In other words, she was subject to the generally accepted standards and roles that society had placed upon her, which did not necessarily provide her with liberty, dignity or independence. Yet if Charlotte Bronte’s character Jane Eyre had truly existed in that time period, she would have defied most of these cultural standards and proved herself a paradigm for aspiring feminists of her day. Jane’s commitment to dignity, independence, freedom of choice, unwillingness to submit to a man’s emotional power and willingness to speak her mind were fostered by some female characters in the novel.
Yet these traits also contrast sharply with some of Bronte’s other female characters Jane Eyre can be labeled as a feminist role model due to her relationships with men that defied the generally accepted role. While Jane is often inspired by women who share her views, two women contrast sharply with Jane, which emphasizes both her free-thinking tendencies and her role as a woman unconstrained by societal demands. Blanch Ingram and Bessie are two female characters in the novel who have given in to those demands.
Blanche Ingram is probably the best example of a woman who does not fall under the category of “feminist,” due to her misplaced self-worth. Blanche is not deeply in love with Rochester, yet she wishes to marry him because of his wealth. As Jane attests, Blanche “cannot truly like him, or not like him with true affection. If she did, she need not coin her smiles so lavishly, flash her glances so unremittingly, manufacture airs so elaborate, graces so multitudinous” (Chapter 15).
These actions, along with her fancy garments and constant obsession with her appearance, show that Blanche places her self-worth on two components of “marriage ability”: her physical beauty and the social status that she has the potential to obtain. This stands in sharp contrast to Jane, who prides herself on being independent from a man and not defining herself by the riches Mr. Rochester offers her. Jane also contrasts, but in a different way, with her former maid Bessie Lee. Jane has the ability to finish her schooling and the opportunity to marry outside of her social class despite the challenge.
Bessie marries Robert Leaven, a coachman who would be considered in the same social class, and is therefore confined to that class through the end of the novel. Though Bessie is happily married, her marriage contrasts with Jane’s, which will “lift” Jane into a new social class and therefore a new life. The heroine of the novel Jane Eyre has undoubtedly succeeded in building up the image of a woman who has the courage to fight against the unfair reality and pursue the equality in life. She calls for women to struggle for and be the mastery of their own lives. During the whole story, Jane serves as a