Jane Eyre’s role as a feminine protagonist within a male-dominated society and the distinctly feminist role she plays within that society displays a certain dichotomy which draws in manifestations of feminism from both Jane Eyre as a character as well Charlotte Brontë in her capacity as an author to provide commentary on contemporary society.
In her capacity as a character who represents the female perspective of the 19th century, Jane Eyre presents strong feminist arguments among her male counterparts concerning the role of women in society. In particular, Jane directly confronts and debates the idea that equality is determined by age or on the basis of gender or sex, noting to Mr. Rochester, “your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience” (Brontë 157). What we see in Jane’s audible expression is a manifestation of her beliefs as a female character implying that her own experience and use of time rivals that of Mr. Rochester. Jane promotes an idea radical for the time that claims to superiority are dependent not on the basis of sex or gender but rather on how we make use of our own resources as a part of this greater fabric that is society.
As an author, though, Charlotte Brontë, in her capacity to control Jane Eyre as a character, displays instances in which we see Jane move toward a different manifestation of feminism from the one viewed prior, one which we see not audibly but rather internally. Within her own thoughts, Jane seems to display more nuanced feminism, one which at times takes in the role of servitude as being integral to feminism itself. “But Servitude! That must be matter of fact. Anyone may serve. I have served here eight years now; now all I want is to serve elsewhere. Can I get so much of my will?” (Brontë 102). This inner debate displays another manifestation of Jane’s own feminism, potentially one that is influenced more directly by Charlotte Brontë in her role as both an autobiographer and as the creator of Jane herself. In this sense, Jane expresses feminist sentiment by evoking ideas of freedom and desire to escape a current position but at the same time remain in a position of servitude elsewhere. From there, the question which I want to pose is how do we reconcile this conflict which Jane creates where she creates these two seemingly separate views of feminism that potentially contradict each other? What perhaps does Charlotte Brontë try to convey in creating this tension between Jane’s desire to leave but at the same time remain in a role of servitude?