Charlotte Brontë’s Social Revolution
In the novel Jane Eyre, author Charlotte Brontë emphasizes the religious aspect of life during the Victorian Era. Near the beginning of the preface Brontë states, “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness in not religion”(Brontë, 1). With this statement, Brontë criticizes pseudo-religious manner in which many members of Victorian society live. She chastises her contemporaries for leading a life where empty words of justice and virtue are preceded by inconsistent behavior. Through the actions of the Reed family and Mr. Brocklehurst, Charlotte Brontë denounces the Victorian aristocracy for their self-righteous attitudes and their paltry treatment of members of lower social classes.
Charlotte Brontë first displays the hypocrisy of the upper class, during Jane’s stay at Gateshead hall. In the opening chapters, the reader learns that the heroine of the novel, Jane Eyre, was orphaned as a child and entrusted to her Aunt Reed. At Gateshead, Jane is treated as an inferior because she comes from poverty. While the Reeds feign a morally acceptable lifestyle, the family’s treatment of Jane indicates the opposite. During the first scene of the novel Jane sits alone reading a novel behind a curtain, when her cousin John Reed bursts into the room and demands to know what Jane is doing. When she informs John that she has been reading John responds, “You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mamma says; you have no money; your father left you
none; you ought to beg and not live with a gentleman’s children like us”(Brontë 8). Through John’s degrading response, Brontë exemplifies the two-faced nature of the Reed family. She shows that while the Reeds feel Jane is not grateful of their charity, the Reeds treat Jane like an animal. After Jane is struck by her older male cousin John, her aunt has the audacity to say, “God will punish her: He might strike her down in the middle of one...
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