Jane Eyre discusses the idea of love verses autonomy. It is very much the story of a quest to be loved. Jane struggles continually to achieve equality and to overcome oppression and fight against patriarchal dominationagainst those who believe women to be inferior to men and try to treat them as such. Jane searches, not just for romantic love, but also for a sense of being valued, of belonging. Her fear of losing her autonomy motivates her refusal of Rochester's marriage proposal. Jane believes that "marrying" Rochester while he remains legally tied to Bertha, Rochester's first wife would mean rendering herself a mistress and sacrificing her own integrity for the sake of emotional gratification. Only after proving her self-sufficiency to herself can she marry Rochester and not be asymmetrically dependent upon him as her "master." The marriage can be one between equals (1)'. As Jane says: "I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine. . . . To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company. . . . We are precisely suited in characterperfect concord is the result" (2). The idea of a woman turning down marriage was controversial at the time. Women were supposed to marry and stay in the home. For a woman to choose independence over marriage was radical. Jane feels the need to find her independence, away from a man, in order to truly be happy within a marriage. Once she has done that, she is able to return to Rochester and feel content with their love. In her character doing this, Bronte
(1)Brian Phillips, Sparknote on Jane Eyre.
(2)Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre.
is making it clear that she feels as though women should feel completely free before entering marriage. Bronte's novel allows her to discuss this new idea, as the entire story revolves around Jane finding true autonomy.
Jane Eyre is critical of Victorian England's strict social hierarchy. Jane is a figure of ambiguous class standing and, consequently, a source of extreme tension for the characters around her. Jane's manners, sophistication, and education are those of an aristocrat, because Victorian governesses, who tutored children in etiquette as well as academics, were expected to possess the "culture" of the aristocracy. Yet, as paid employees, they were more or less treated as servants; thus, Jane remains penniless and powerless while at Thornfield. Jane's understanding of the double standard crystallizes when she becomes aware of her feelings for Rochester; she is his intellectual, but not his social equal (3).' Jane herself speaks out against class prejudice at moments in the book. For example, in Chapter 23 she chastises Rochester: "Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!I have as much soul as youand full as much heart!" (4). These double standards of class are what Bronte is lashing out at.
(3) Brian Phillips.
(4) Charlotte Bronte.
Her heroine rebels against social exclusion, in a society which treats class as a...