Feminism in Jane Eyre

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  • Topic: Jane Eyre, Woman, The Madwoman in the Attic
  • Pages : 6 (2257 words )
  • Download(s) : 220
  • Published : March 26, 2011
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Jane Eyre was written in a time where the Bildungsroman was a common form of literature. The importance was that the mid-nineteenth century was, "the age in which women were, for the first time, ranked equally with men as writers within a major genre" (Sussman 1). In many of these novels, the themes were the same; the protagonist dealt with the same issues, "search for autonomy and selfhood in opposition to the social constraints placed upon the female, including the demand for marriage" (Sussman). Jane Eyre fits this mould perfectly. Throughout the novel, the reader follows Jane Eyre on a journey of development from adolescence to maturity to show that a desire for freedom and change motivates people to search for their own identity. Jane begins to form her identity with the aid of many characters she encounters at Lowood, Thornfield, and Marsh End. Miss Maria Temple, who was Jane's first significant female encounter at Lowood, functions as a role model and an influence for Jane. Miss Temple's character displays the breakdown of the Great Chain of Being, but in a more gentle way than Rochester or Jane herself. She defies Mr. Brocklehurst and his hypocritical ways only as far as she will still retain shelter and her place as a teacher. To Jane, Miss Temple embodies all of the qualities that a woman should. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar write, "Miss Temple, for instance, with her marble pallor, is a shrine of ladylike virtues: magnanimity, cultivation, courtesy - and repression" (Gilbert 344). While Miss Temple seems to show Jane what she should become, she also introduces her to control over her emotions. Unlike Jane, whose self-assertiveness permits her to give in to passionate confrontations, Miss Temple would "never allow `something' to speak through her, no wings will rush in her head, no fantasies of fiery heath disturb her equanimity, but she will feel sympathetic anger" (Gilbert 345). Her influence in Jane's adolescence and early adulthood teach her to have harmonious thoughts, and to give "allegiance to duty and order" (Gilbert 347). Here, Miss Temple teaches Jane to suppress her wild emotions and become compliant under the "superior" male, but still maintain an inward anger that can never be expressed. Jane, however, cannot conform to the lesson being taught to her; through Miss Temple, she learns that her journey into maturity and freedom requires her to be more independent and passionate than Miss Temple instructs. Miss Temple is not only like a mother figure to Jane, but she is also "encouraging of intellectual growth" (Rich 466). Temple's impact on Jane's education allows her to become stronger in character, which will eventually bring her to complete independence. Kathleen Tillotson finds in Miss Temple a sign of hope for Jane: "the warm fire and the cake from the cupboard in Miss Temple's room are assertions of individual loving-kindness, though also of it's limited power" (Tillotson 60) In spite of this, Tillotson writes that Jane at Thornfield is "submitting to virtue in lovable form, as she had once submitted to Miss Temple" (Tillotson 60). In other words, Tillotson argues that although Miss Temple may have positively influenced Jane in certain ways, ultimately her call for repression and submission instigates Jane's realization that she must discover her own place in life, and no one can dictate it for her. While Jane attends Lowood, she encounters another character that will help her to shape her identity. When Helen Burns is introduced to the novel, she brings with her a kind of warmth and spiritual light that touches Jane and Helen aids her in developing into the woman that she will soon become. She has a devout faith in Christ, and using this, Helen is able to function as Jane's main guide in building a strong character who is filled with forgiveness, hope and a strong sense of self. Helen allows Jane to peer into a world where "the values of endurance and obedience" (Singleton, 70) are visible....
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