Issues of Class in “Jane Eyre”
Issues in Charlotte Bronte`s “Jane Eyre” Charlotte Bronte was a unique woman. In the Victorian times it was impossible to imagine that a woman can write novels, especially such bright and revealing as “Jane Eyre”. The author managed to create ever-lasting romantic story bringing to attention the most acute problems of her time: social inequality, poverty, female rights. Bronte created a personage that was meant to suffer: sophisticated, proud Jane was not able to take a decent place in society due to class and lack of education. Discrepancy between a woman`s real potential and social class restrictions turns Jane Eyre`s life into long and tiresome way full of hardships. Class inequality in Victorian époque was especially degrading for women. Thus, it is possible to argue that Jane Eyre overcomes class inequality by positioning herself as mentally equal and not submitting to those who degrade her.
It was not such a complicated task for Bronte to portray Jane Eyre as the character`s life resembled much the author`s life. Bronte was brought up in a poor family and was left without mother since the age of five (Gaskel 13). Jane first faces social inequality when she gets to the Reeds house after her parents loss. Despite the fact that they are her relatives, they treat her as a dependent orphan underlining their superiority. House possession, social statuses are extremely important for Victorian society as only these things can guarantee social acceptance. Jane`s cousin John is taught by his cruel and mighty mother the value of money and status so he explains to Jane who is superior from the beginning: “Now, Ill teach you to rummage my book-shelves: for they are mine; all the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years”(Bronte 67). Jane has very acute sense of justice and she prefers to suffer in a remote school than to live with relatives who treat her unfair. Jane finds out soon that school education is also far from inspiring and positive. Jane`s position of a poor orphan makes people of higher status and social class oppress and humiliate her. However, the girl only becomes stronger inside and more passionate. At school Jane understands the value of money that serves as a key to social perception. Her concept of poverty changes: “Poverty looks grim to grown people; still more so to children: they have not much idea of industrious, working, respectable poverty; they think of the world only as connected with ragged clothes, scanty food, fireless grates, rude manners, and debasing vices: poverty for me was synonymous with degradation” (Bronte 117). So she understands that such qualities as sharp mind, sense of justice, the desire to work hard and to serve people are those qualities that people can possess regarding their class.
The most important event in Jane`s life happens when she meets with Mr. Rochester, a rich gentleman from the upper class. At Victorian time women were supposed to be housewives and guarantee comfort to their husbands. Single woman without legacy and status had no chances to succeed in life and could only hope to find a husband. Women were not able to receive education and make a career as they were no colleges for women. Even the most educated women from low and middle class could only work as governesses in rich houses. Jane also accepts her fate and becomes a governess in Thornfield Hall. Here she realizes that she has feeling towards the master of the mansion but social class inequality make their marriage impossible: “You have nothing to do with the master of Thornfield, further than to receive the salary he gives you for teaching his protégée, and to be grateful for such respectful and kind treatment as, if you do your duty, you have a right to expect at his hands. Be sure that is the only tie he seriously acknowledges between you and him: so don’t make him the object of your fine feelings, your raptures, agonies, and so forth. He is not of your order: keep to your caste”. However, her experience of living in her relatives` family, people`s observation, and inborn sense of dignity help her to show Mr. Rochester that class inequality is not important as soon as people are clever, educated, and honest. All these qualities along with Jane`s passion and purity enchant Mr. Rochester and after numerous ordeals they finally get married.
To conclude, it is important to say that people always were divided on classes according to their origin, education, wealth, and this will never change. However, class inequality is a secondary issue for people who value bright mind, intellect, and honesty. Jane Eyre is the perfect embodiment of Victorian woman who managed to overcome class prejudices in her, which resulted in her finding her own place in life
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: the Book League of America, 1926.
Gaskell, Elizabeth. The Life of Charlotte Brontë. London: Smith, Elder & Co, 1857