In many works, gender relationships play a significant role. In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the main character has, to state it meekly, an interesting relationship with males. The novel is considered a bildungsroman. A bildungsroman is a novel that tells the story of a child’s coming of age, so to speak. It is the narration of the maturation including all childhood experiences, situations, and the emotions that follow with them. Knowing this, the audience can ascertain that Charlotte Bronte’s life involved many disheartening situations and relationships with men. In the novel there is no significant completely positive male characters.
Having viewed some biographies on the author, I fell it is safe to say that this is consistent with Bronte’s real life. Being a male, I must state that the novel is upsetting in the fact that it appears at first glance to be quite feminist. However, if that is how her life truly transpired, who am I to judge her novels intention. A motif is a recurring theme, structure, or literary device used in a given work. The goal of this essay is to observe the motif of gender relationships in the early part of this novel through the male characters.
I will specifically analyze Jane’s relationships early in the novel with John Reed, Mr. Brocklehurst, and Mr. Rochester. The aim is to show the male influence to deny Jane’s desire for equity and dignity. The first relationship the audience views Jane have with someone from the opposite gender is with her cousin, John Reed. Jane’s relationship with John can be described in one word: intimidations. Early in Jane’s life it is evident that she can be intimidated rather easily. Let she had enough intestinal fortitude to lash out from time to time when she felt the line had been crossed. For example, on page 22 Jane states, “John had mot much affection for his mother and sisters and an antipathy to me.
He bullied and pushed me; not two or three times in the week, nor once or twice in the day, but continually: every nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh on my bones shrank when he came near. ” Here Bronte shows John’s complete and total disrespect for people, specifically women. His constant hitting and abusive attitude toward Jane brought her to conclude on page 22, “I was bewildered by the terror he inspired. ” Obviously John is not a good soul. This is even noticeable at an early age. As we find out later in the novel. According to Mrs. Reed, he does not turn his life for the better.
On page 232 she states, “John gambles dreadfully and always loses – poor boy! John is sank and degraded, I feel ashamed for him when I see him,” he is even suicidal. The lack of strong positive male influence early in life is blatantly obvious to the reader. Which is brought Jane to become, as seen on page 23, “habitually obedient to John” as what becomes common with men in general throughout much of the novel. This, coupled with Mrs. Reed’s negative influence, “investigated some strange expedient to achieve escape from insupportable oppression” (pg 27).
This, the reader goes on the novel as Jane moves on to the next stage in life: The Lowood School. And with that experience with the Reeds, the audience can observe foreshadowing in her future relationships with men. To be more specific, she moves onto the next oppressive male while at Lowood: Mr. Brocklehurst. Mr. Brocklehurst’s relationship to Jane and the novel in general can also be described in merely one word: authority. Excited to be out of her oppression at the Reed’s, Jane comes to encounter a new male figure impeding her life.
He is everything one can imagine to be corrupt in an institution of education. He makes the students eat, and dress, when and how he permits. He is a dictator promoting a life of moderate, mundane, and limited access to material things. On page 72 he states, “my plan in bringing up these girls is, not to accustom them to habits of luxury and indulgence, but to render them hardy, patient, and self-denying. ” These can be considered by some pious ideals, however he is hypocritical giving his family luxuries innumerable. His daughters wear dress of excessive extravagance and he dines in wonderful meals.
He dislikes Jane from the start based on what he ahs been told by Mrs. Reed and Jane’s tendency to speak her mind. He punishes her labeling her a liar. On page 76, he punishes her as so, “let her stand half an hour longer on that stool and let no one speak to her during the remainder of the day. ” Jane is chastised by Brocklehurst leaving her believing she is not accepted or trusted by anyone in Lowood. She accepts these things, as Brocklehurst is her superior authority. The fact that men always seem to be Jane’s superior is a common theme throughout Jane Eyre.
She is always obeying them or answering to their requests without as much as the tiniest gripe. When speaking to Helen Burns, Jane gets the true description of Brocklehurst as seen by most. Helen states on page 78, “Mr. Brocklehurst is not a god; nor is he even a great and admired man; he is little liked here; he never took steps to make himself liked. Had he treated you as an especial favourite, you would have found enemies. ” Mr. Brocklehurst is not a good man; he is simply another obstacle Jane has to overcome to gain equality, which is one of Jane’s aims in her life.
After being at Lowood for eight years, Jane decides it is better to branch out. She finds herself a governess position at Thornfield estate, the proprietor being a man named Rochester. Upon first glance, Mr. Rochester appears similar to the other males that have been involved in Jane’s life: condescending and sometimes insulting. Jane states on page 126, “Let Miss Eyre be seated, said he; and there was something in the forced stiff bow, in the impatient, yet formal tone, which seemed further to express, “What the deuce is it to me whether Miss Eyre be there or not? At this moment, I am not disposed to accost her. He does not appear impressed with her presence or anything Jane has to offer.
For instance, her piano playing, as he states on page 130, “You play a little I see; like any other English School girl: perhaps rather better than some, but not well. ” His condescending insights on her piano playing (as well as her sketches) are somewhat insulting but he appears interested enough to string her along, so to speak. Jane finds Rochester, “changeful and abrupt” (133). Once finishing the book, this kind of interaction that Jane and Rochester have can be seen as a type of courting. But Jane’s tendencies remain the same.
For instance, when Rochester says ‘come’ she obeys without argument, as is the case with the other men in the novel. Eventually, Jane falls in love with Rochester, but does not express it to him. She acts as she normally would around him. She is complacent in the fact that she accepts his superiority complex. It is not until after Rochester unexpectedly asks her to marry, that the audience can see a change in Jane. Once learning of Rochester’s original wife Bertha, Jane comes to her senses. She stops living her life according to men and leaves Thornfield; the reader can see that this was ‘the last straw. She will not settle for second any longer and will do no such thing in something as special as marriage.
She leaves, but eventually comes back to marry Rochester only when she is considered and equal. Throughout this novel, Jane battles with dominating men. The characters analyzed above are examples of men who believe women are inferior and treat them as they see according. All Jane wants in life is to be treated as an equal; she struggles with this throughout her life because she has to conform to male superiority at some points just to get things accomplished.
But that is exactly where Jane’s internal struggle lies. It is as though the audience can visualize Jane question herself throughout the novel, ‘Why am I listening to him? Is it because he is a man? ‘ Finally, she comes to grips with what she wants in life and gains it; albeit half her life is over trying to gain this dignity and equality she so dearly wants. Jane overcomes this when she goes back to Rochester as an equal not only in regards to love and respect, but also financially. I shall end with a quote from page 116 that summarizes Jane’s feelings:
Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex. “