jane eyre as a bildungsroman

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Bronte’s Bildungsroman: Jane Eyre

From a seed to a flower,
Spreading itself like a weed
Through the world.
From a chick-let to a hawk,
Spreading it’s wings and soaring high
Through the heavens.
A rose unfolding its petals,
Showing its beauty to the world.
A sponge soaking up water,
Like a mind with the knowledge
Of the world.
I am here
And I am ready to take on the world.

Such are the aspirations of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre who grows up moving from a radical stage to “a more pragmatic consciousness” From unloved, penniless orphan to treasured, upper class wife, the story of Jane in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is one of development and personal growth. When published, Charlotte Brontë took a male pseudonym in order to avoid prejudices based on gender (Guy). While speculation on the identity of the author was a factor in the popularity of Jane Eyre, the story of Jane’s character kept the audience reading.

As a novel in the bildungsroman genre, the narrative carries readers through the development of Jane and her “healthy self-interest and rebellious questioning of rules and conventions” (Watkins). Readers are introduced to Jane when she is a young girl living in the manor known as Gateshead. As an orphan, Jane is isolated and unloved by the Reeds, the family of the house. The lack of compassion for Jane is evident when she is locked in the “Red Room,” a haunting chamber where the last of Jane’s known blood relatives died. Mrs. Reed’s harsh punishment of Jane and the cruelty the orphan faces from the other children of the house leave Jane without a sense of belonging. Early in the story, Jane’s questions of belonging connect the novel to the bildungsroman genre. Jane’s desire for a better life is seemingly fulfilled when she learns she will be leaving Gateshead for the Lowood School. However, a cruel and abusive headmaster leaves Jane wondering if her situation will ever truly change. Fortunately, a fellow student named Helen Burns befriends Jane. Her deep religious beliefs and ability to suppress anger show Jane a new way to view her situation. Through her friendship with Helen, Jane is exposed to an alternative point of view that helps her grow emotionally and mentally.Many critics are of the view that Helen who is an ethereal and oblivious soul brings forth the spiritual facet to Jane.It is suitable to hail Helen as the “Little Rose” of Emily Dickinson as, Nobody knows this little Rose-

It might a pilgrim be
Did I not take it from the ways
And lift it up to thee.
Only a bee will miss it-
Only a butterfly,
Hastening from far journey-
On its breast to lie-
Only a bird will wonder-
Only a breeze will sigh-
Ah Little Rose-how easy
For such as thee to die!
Helen’s death comes as a result of poor living conditions at the school, a situation similar to the death of Charlotte Brontë’s sisters, Maria and Elizabeth (Homans). Experiencing the death of a friend at such a young age forces Jane into a very adult situation early in life. Once again, the placement of a child or childlike character in an adult situation emphasizes Jane Eyre as a coming of age story.

Jane’s development continues throughout her time at Lowood as she transitions from a pupil to an instructor. However, Jane soon finds her position unfulfilling; her longing for something more drives her to a governess position at Thornfield manor. During the Victorian era in which the novel was written, the position of governess was one of the only occupations available to women. In fact, Charlotte Brontë worked as a governess from 1839 to 1841. Brontë hated being a governess because she felt like an “inferior who was not ‘considered as a living and rational being except as connected with the wearisome duties she has to fulfill’” (Homans). Contrary to Brontë’s experience, Jane is described as excited and anxious at the new prospect of the occupation.

At Thornfield, Jane teaches a French girl named...
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