Social Comparison: Jane Eyre

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Authors are able to express their opinions and perspectives on society as a whole through their works, generally providing their own perspective and insight on society at the time. This might be indicative of perhaps the author’s own struggle with some aspects of the society, which subsequently reveals to the reader how the author resolves and overcomes this struggle. As a result, the reader is able to pick up upon whatever are issues raised, or criticisms that the author might have regarding society in that era, and at the same time is challenged to draw parallels between how the author portrays his/her own society, and the reader’s own perspective of contemporary society. This is evident in the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë where at many points within the novel, Brontë, through the character of Jane Eyre voices her then radical opinions on society common to that era, through which contemporary readers can then draw parallels to with aspects of their own society.

It is rather obvious to the reader that Brontë, through the character of Jane Eyre, is somewhat critical of Victorian England’s strict social structure and hierarchy, a primary vehicle for delivering this criticism being Brontë’s exploration of Jane’s complicated social position as a Victorian governess. Jane is of ambiguous class standing, and as a result is a source of tension among the other characters around her. As a Victorian governess, who tutored children in not only social etiquette, but also in academics, it was a prerequisite that Jane possessed not only the ability to teach but also the ‘culture’ of the aristocracy. Yet, as a paid employee, Jane remains penniless and powerless, comparable in status to the other servants at Thornfield. Jane’s understanding of this double standard is further substantiated when she becomes aware of her feelings for Rochester, aware that she is his intellectual, but not his social equal. Even before the crisis surrounding Bertha Mason, Jane is...
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