Family in Jane Eyre and Hamlet

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In both William Shakespeare’s play, ‘Hamlet’ and in Charlotte Brontë’s novel, ‘Jane Eyre’ the self is an extremely powerful notion. One of the main constraints and one of the main motivators in both texts is the importance and influence of the family. Both texts explore the powerful impact of the family, or perceived family, to define or shape the self and the extent of influence that the family can have to alter, prevent or encourage development of the self. This influence is used effectively by both authors to reveal and accentuate character growth. The movement in character growth is both physical and spiritual, revealing through a combination of both, the extent of family influence. The unusual and controversial representations of the family in both ‘Jane Eyre‘ and ‘Hamlet’ allow a deeper and more complex analysis of the power and influence of the perceived notion of the family unit. In Jane Eyre, the setting, characters, motifs and symbols and concepts such as masculinity have a profound impact on the significance of the family. In comparison, to the eventual creation of a family for Jane, Hamlet portrays the destruction of the family unit. This is effectively conveyed through extremely powerful language use, use of symbolism, characters and interpretations of the destroyed family. Jane Eyre is a classic coming-of-age novel, using the popular format of a character reaching maturity through a series of obstacles, similar to both Mark Twain's ‘Huckleberry Finn’, and J.D. Salinger's ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. However it creates a more complex picture through clever crafting of the novel incorporating the physical movement and growth of Jane with her spiritual development. One of the strongest influences on her movements is the notion of the family. As Jane is an orphan, she must ‘create’ her own family. Her choices reflect her need to find her own family. Jane Eyre is a novel which has no firm setting. As the locations change, Jane herself is affected in different ways. She is searching for the love and affection that she believes she will find in a family, which would include a sense of being valued, and of belonging. The novel begins with Jane as onlooker on the Reed Family. She is not included or wanted in the family, after the death of her uncle who wanted her to be part of the family. The concept of masculinity comes into play, as the responsibility of the family was heralded by the father. This masculine dominance was passed to her cousin John Reed, who hates Jane and makes life difficult and miserable for Jane. This illustrates the powerful link between the influence of male characters as being seen to represent the strength of the family, but it also reveals Jane’s repression by male dominance. Although this was common in the 19th century, Brontë conveys the struggle behind what was generally regarded as the accepted power of males within the family. Several notable characteristics of Jane are demonstrated in the beginning chapters. She is seen as strong, fiery and as having a fierce sense of independence even at a young age. However this force is met with much restraint by the authority figures in her world. These restraints over her are wielded by various forms of Jane’s ‘family’; John Reed, Mrs Reed, Lowood, St John and others who attempt to crush her spirit. Jane’s strong sense of self has the reverse effect from that which was intended; she develops and matures through her powerful self conviction. She draws strength from the different family influences, rejecting Mrs Reed; ‘I am glad you are no relation of mine: I will never call you aunt again as long as I treated me with miserable cruelty.’ Jane Eyre (pg. 45) However she creates positive role models in the form of Miss Temple and Helen Burns, who become a part of her created family at Lowood .They appear to have a...
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