Repressive Patriarchs of Jane Eyre

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“The men in the novel are all repressive patriarchs. For them, male supremacy must be absolute.” In the light of this comment, discuss Bronte’s presentation of male characters in ‘Jane Eyre’. Throughout the novel of Jane Eyre, there seems to be a common sense of patriarchal dominance, as possessed by the male characters. Bronte shows male supremacy through four key characters that Jane encounters throughout her life. Each character differs hugely, though this sense of a higher and more powerful individual, over Jane, remains prevalent in each – they are all repressive patriarchs in some way, though of varying magnitudes. The Victorian society was a completely different society to the one we live in now and it was well-known to be male-dominated and one in which women had almost no rights at all. The fact that Bronte wrote Jane Eyre during this period in time is clearly reflected in the male characters in the novel. It is evident that Bronte herself may have experienced or been put in some of the situations that she portrays Jane to be in by some oppressive male character in her own life. Nevertheless, it is seen that these characters do change as the novel progresses as Bronte seems to give them a chance to withdraw themselves as a repressive force, and show a little more consideration and compassion towards others and women in particular. John Reed is the first of Bronte’s repressive patriarchs in the novel. He is placed at the beginning of the novel and is introduced to us almost immediately. He is in fact the very first oppressive force to Jane in her life and in this way is very significant. At first, John does not seem to be a huge threat to Jane, merely branding her a “bad animal” and a “rat”. This juvenile name-calling behaviour, as expressed by John, is still oppressive in that he uses these names to assert a higher power over Jane, subsequent to pronouncing all the books in the house as his property. He reminds Jane that she is in a highly precarious position in society and that she has no class due to the fact that she is living with them. She is classified as “less than a servant” according to him because she does “nothing for [her] keep”. John taunts Jane proclaiming that she “ought to beg” to even live. He continuously reminds Jane that she is a “dependent”; somewhat indicating that she is dependent on him due to the fact that he is the only male in the household, and therefore the master by birth. Furthermore, John demands obedience of Jane, even though he is only but four years older than her. He exercises what he feels is his power as a male over her physically, as can be seen when he hits Jane with a book as the “volume was flung”. This physical abuse is indicative of Bronte expressing that John Reed believes that male supremacy must be absolute. The regularity of his bullying as a demand for obedience of Jane, not “once or twice in a day, but continually” is also characteristic of a repressive patriarch who would feel more secure in continuous rather than periodic abuse. John Reed’s appearance may even be said to be one of a typical oppressive male character. Being “large and stout” with “heavy limbs and large extremities” indicate that he is quite a large boy for his age and automatically an intimidating individual. His actions towards Jane are also somewhat animalistic such as “thrusting out his tongue at [her] as far as he could without damaging the roots”, suggesting his belief in a primal sense of alpha male dominance over a shrewdness of apes. He is quite grotesque as well and he does not just exert his power over Jane, but he “twisted the necks of the pigeons, [and] killed the little pea-chicks.” It is clear that Bronte is extremely disgusted with his manner of indulging in animal cruelty as a means to show his masculinity. John is also disagreeable towards his mother and acts without respect towards her, emphasising his belief that he is of a higher status than all women, not just Jane. He “called...
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