Critical Examination of Jane Eyre as a Bildungsroman
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte boasts a multitude of themes such as gothic, romance, fantasy, social class, religion, morality and the supernatural. However, first and foremost it is a novel of growth and development within a restricted social order. It follows the protagonist, Jane’s ‘coming of age’ story in a chronological order from Gateshead to Lowood to Thornfield and Moor House to Ferndean. At each place Jane begins a new emotional phase. All the elements described here sum up to Jane Eyre as a Bildungsroman. I will outline in my essay what makes Jane a female Bildungsroman, along with her prolonged, arduous and successful journey to adulthood and maturity which become evident in her position in society by the end of the novel. Bildungsroman follows a person through their life, displaying their successes and failures, their struggle between personal desires and society’s norms. The protagonist overcomes these trails and is independent at the end. It allows the readers to witness the innocence and morality of a young character, and choices he/she makes to fit in the world. It starts with an emotional loss, which sends the protagonist on his/her journey, and a protagonist who is also socially confined, often poor, sensitive and looking for answers and experiences. By the end of the novel, the same protagonist is mature, happy and financially well off often by the way of an inheritance. “The Bildung narrative in Victorian novels thus traces the growth to mature consciousness of an individual who, without parents, though sometimes with inadequate foster parents (sisters, uncles, cousins), develops a powerful internal life that is imaginatively well beyond the constraining realities of actual life” (Levine 82-83). All these elements can be traced in Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre is a plain heroine, but her physical appearance isn’t the only unusual thing about her. She is the emotional equal of any man. She is intensely ardent and zealous, has a deep need for excitement and adventure, and even for a career that is of consequence in the overall hierarchy of human accomplishment. For these reasons, Jane is a strong willed and determined woman who strives to be in control of her destiny. According to George Levine, Jane Eyre is someone who “resists the conventions of female behavior, resists oppression, and ends entirely in control, even of the man whom she loves” (26). In the first chapter of Jane Eyre, Jane suffers emotional, verbal, psychological, and physical abuse at the hands of her averse family. Jane displays a need for equality despite her low status early on when she is attacked by her cousin John Reed as she is minding her own business. She retaliates and stands up for herself, but only receives worse punishment for her actions. True to its name, Gateshead is the ‘head’ of her problems at such a young age. Despite the constant reminders of her low birth, Jane doesn’t waver in her belief that she is not inferior to her wealthy and hostile family. Although she searches for a place she can call home, Jane learns quickly enough, that Gateshead is not it. Gateshead portrays the beginning of Jane’s psychological development, which remains an unpleasant reminder for her in her adulthood. For her age at the time Jane is pretty bold in expressing her views to her aunt before she is sent away to school at Lowood. “I am glad you are no relation of mine. I will never call you aunt as long as I live. I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if anyone asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty [..] You think I have no feelings, or that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity” (Bronte 38). Even at ten years of age Jane refuses to be a victim and suffer in silence and resents the fact that she has been made out to be a...
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