“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel” (Bronte 123). The Victorian period stereotyped women to be calm, domestic, and submissive to their male counterparts. But Charlotte Bronte developed Jane Eyre’s personality from a powerless child to an independent woman on her journey through Thornsfield in order to address the gender role issues of men’s dominance over women.
In the novel, Jane Eyre tended to express a thirst for freedom and equality from her experiences of being a “she” rather than “he.” Her stubborn personality aided her in breaking down society’s norms. During her stay in Thornsfield, Jane Eyre encountered a battle between her will and the manor walls that threatened to trap her inside. Starting from when Jane first met Mr. Rochester, Jane clearly stated, “I don’t think, sir, you have a right to command me” (151). When facing Mr. Rochester, Jane didn’t allow herself to feel inferior for her status as a governess. Rather than allowing Mr. Rochester to push her around, Jane didn’t hesitate to lecture him when he abused his power, implying that he cannot and will not control her.
Another example was when Mr. Rochester attempted to prevent Jane from leaving; Jane spoke out: “Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart!… and we stood at God’s feet, equal, as we are!” (291). Jane refused to bow down to the social norms of a “silent angel,” a maiden with beauty, selflessness, and innocence. Instead, she gathered her courage and fought back with words and deeds. In addition, she expressed her wishes to pursue love while also keeping her dignity. All in all, Bronte molded Jane to be a female who had the boldness and persistence to retain her own independence and liberation of thought.
One of Jane’s most influential personality’s aspects was her liberation of thought. Akin to the writer of the Feminist Criticism, Jane was a woman fighting against her cultural programming. “I was socially programmed…not see the ways in which women are oppressed by traditional gender roles. I say that I’m recovering because I learned to recognize and resist that programming” (Tyson 82). Men justified patriarchy to undermine women’s assertiveness and confidence.
The absence of these qualities was seen as evidence that women were naturally submissive- an “angel in the house” (86). But women who resisted this brainwashing, who achieved their own perspective, were in a way, free. The notion that “gender categories are constructed by society” and are not biologically produced was what strived women such as Bronte to construct Jane Eyre’s character as a stubborn, unwavering will to resist the encroachments of men (82).
- Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre: With Connections. Austin; Holt, Rinehart And Winston; 1999.
- Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. New York, Routledge, 2006.