“all the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years”. Discuss the significance of gender in Bronte’s portrayal of the child characters in Jane Eyre. Through my study of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, I was quick to discover that the novel is a product of its time, but also portrays revolutionary ideas about female autonomy and the right to equality for all. Jane Eyre was written in 1847, a time were a women’s social standing and importance was significantly less to that of her male counterpart. A woman’s main objective was to find a husband and settle down. Little was made of a woman’s career choices or opportunities as it was considered daft to think a low born girl could grow up to be anything more than a governess. (Murphy, 2013) Merry E. Weisner states that “People did talk less formally about a woman’s life, however, and when they did it was her sexual status and relationship to a man that mattered most./ A woman was a virgin, wife or widow, or alternately a daughter, wife or mother” (Weisner, 1993, p51-52). Gender is a very important theme throughout Jane Eyre and can be noted particularly well through a study of the novel’s child characters. John Reed is a prime example of how class and gender conformities seep through the very permeable age barrier at a young age. John Reed is not your typical high born Victorian gentleman and this can be noted first through his image, “John Reed was a schoolboy of fourteen years old/ large and stout for his age, with a dingy and unwholesome skin; thick lineaments in a spacious visage, heavy limbs and large extremities. He gorged himself habitually at table, which made him bilious and gave him a dim and bleared eye and flabby cheeks” (Bronte, p4). We see him bully Jane unrelentingly at the start of the novel and this can be deducted to a number of reasons. John is indulged by his mother and thus has a feeling of self-importance and superiority. To some degree he probably takes a lead from her (who also dislikes Jane). As the only ‘man of the house’ John believes he is head and shoulders above a lowly orphan girl. He does not believe that she is worthy of what he, (by way of birth right), provides for her, and thus takes it upon himself to punish her accordingly, “you have no money, your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen's children like us, and eat the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mama's expense”(Bronte, 6) As the only high born male in the house he feels that he has the authority to dish out verbal and physical abuse as he sees appropriate. So strong is his sense of self importance that he never feels as though he is on the losing end of an argument. A young Jane is aware of this and as a female in ‘his’ household, feels like she has to do what he says, even though she knows it will not end well. We see this when she allows him to throw a book at her after she takes one to read behind the curtain, “the volume was flung, it hit me, and I fell, striking my head against the door and cutting it.” (Bronte, 6). Although it is from this incident that Jane first finds her voice against an oppressive male figure, it’s still an insight into the psyche of a young boy in the early 1800’s, and one that certainly portrays how gender could shape a society in the early 19th century. (Hesse, 2013, 1) Helen Burns is a girl who suffers greatly from the wrath of Mr Brocklehurst and Mrs Scatcherd. Brocklehurst believes that all girls are intrinsically born indulgent and that they want the luxuries of life that only men can offer them and thus aims to humble the girls of Lowood through food deprivation and the cutting of their hair, i.e., taking away their femininity. (Capes, 2013, 1) The conflict between Brocklehurst and Helen can on the surface, seem like a religious one, but as you delve deeper into the mind of Bronte at the time of writing, you soon find out that it has a lot more to do with gender than you might have thought. In the...
Bibliography: Crossref-it.info/Jane-Eyre/9/1082 6/11/2013
Jane Eyre, 1847, Penguin Books, England
Kamia Creelman, July 2005, Department of English University of New Brunswick, www.lib.unb.ca/texts/jsv/number27/creelman.htm
Merry E. Wiesner- Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, first published 1993, second edition 2000, Cambridge University Press
Sharon Murphy, Lecture Notes, 2013
Suzanne Hesse- www.victorianweb.org/authors/bronte/cbronte/hesse1.htm
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