The Theme of Class in Jane Eyre

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The overriding theme of class and social status in the Victorian era is forgrounded in the opening chapter of Jane Eyre and explored in the entirety of the novel through Gothic genre literary technique of a double, between Jane’s wealthy cousins the Reeds contrasting with her lower class relatives, the Rivers. In the 19th century, class divisions were far more fixed and pronounced than they are today, and the predetermined class you were born into based on wealth, dictated the sort of life you would lead and the relationships you could retain.2 However, the 19th century began to see a small amount of change in society’s attitudes and values towards this trend with the lower class beginning to rebel against the social order and marginalization imposed upon them by the upper class, exemplified in the French revolution in 1848, occurring a year after Jane Eyre was published3. Bronte has managed to effectively reflect these relevant themes and issues of ‘higher social status doesn’t necessarily reflect goodness’ through the utilization of stock characters where certain characters are symbolic or representative of whole classes of people, such as John Reed as one of the Reed cousins in the opening chapter of the novel. In this case John Reed representing the ‘upper class’ of ‘inherited wealth’ is introduced to readers as a cruel and inconsiderate little boy, demanding automatic authority over orphan and thus ‘lower class’ Jane by being addressed as “Master Reed”(p. 8). Due to his assumed power of higher ‘social status’ he verbally abuses Jane through belittling and disempowering dialogue and denunciations such as “You ought to beg, and not live here with gentlemen’s children like us”(p.9) and “Bad animal” as well as physically abusing Jane displayed through her reaction; “It hit me... striking my head against the door and cutting it” (p.10). The impact of Johns derogatory dialogue and abusive behavior are relayed to readers via Jane’s opinions such as “murderer, you...
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