Explore the role of social class in ‘Jane Eyre’.
Social class plays an important role throughout the novel for Jane's ambiguous class status becomes evident from the opening chapter. Bronte refers to Jane as a poor orphan living with her cruel relatives, she feels alienated from the rest of the Reed family. Jane’s callous cousin John Reed tells Jane she has "no business to take our books; you are a dependent . . . you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentleman's children like us." In this quote, John claims the rights of the gentleman, implying that Jane's family was from a lower class, and, therefore, she has no right to associate on equal footing with her wealthy cousins. Jane's lack of money leaves her dependent upon the Reeds for sustenance. At this particular stage in the novel we become aware of Jane’s ambiguous class position within the household; she is neither equal to her relatives or even the servants. This emphasizes Jane’s isolation within society. Jane also receives constant reminders that she is deprived and dependant as a child “You ought to be aware, Miss, that you are under obligations to Mrs. Reed: she keeps you: if she were to turn you off, you would have to go to the poor-house." This precise quotation delivered by Bessie is significant because Jane is once again reminded that she is pitiable and alone and that even her aunt and cousins consider her lower-class than they are because she won’t inherit any money. Thinking of herself as beneath others, even those in the same household with her, is a habit that she learns from the very beginning. Social class plays an important role when Jane contradicts herself to the importance of wealth and hierarchy; “Poverty looks grim to grown people; still more so to children: they have not much idea of industrious, working, respectable poverty; they think of the world only as connected with ragged clothes, scanty food, fireless grates, rude manners, and debasing vices: poverty for me was...
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