Jane Eyre’s Manifestation of Feminism

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?


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3 Responses to Jane Eyre’s Manifestation of Feminism

  1. Neil Goetzman says:

    In her desire for “Servitude,” I wonder if Jane could be construed as expressing doubts about the early nineteenth century idea of the self-sufficient individual, an idea rooted in the concept of property ownership, as Armstrong argues in “Thinking Aloud.” Jane can’t afford property and lacks the means to become wholly self-sufficient, so she recognizes the limits of the concept of full “Liberty,” the word she contrasts with “Servitude.” I guess it’s an open question whether this desire for “Servitude” is merely a concession to the social realities of the time and of her life — the subordinate position of women, and Jane’s own lack of money — or whether she is pointing toward a different conception of human relations: the later idea of “biopower,” more focused on the interdependence of humans than on their individualism.

  2. Karissa Teer says:

    Jacob, I think that the questions you have raised are extremely astute, speaking to the way that, though we see Jane as championing her own equality, we are left confused as she also wishes for further servitude – two perspectives which “potentially contradict each other,” as you have phrased it. Reflecting upon Nancy Armstrong’s comments in her “Thinking Aloud” interview, I wonder if this potential contradiction stems from the way in which Jane fails to fit snugly inside the binary gender structure presented before her. While she aims to stay within the realm of traditional femininity with respect to her career aspirations, working subservient positions within the household of a man, she also asserts herself as being an equal to Mr. Rochester, as if she has the same right to what has traditionally been a brand of superiority afforded solely to privileged men. Perhaps this is what Armstrong wanted to draw attention to – the necessity of feminist groups in particular recognizing that Jane’s nonconformity transcends traditional gender groupings, and thus she is not merely an advocate for women, but for those who cannot fit within the traditional set of standards to begin with. With this nonconformity in mind, I wonder what parallels can be drawn between Jane’s non-binary position on the spectrum of gender roles and her similar disassociation with the British class system under which she lives, and into which she cannot fit. Does Jane bring about conceptions of the middle-class in the same way that she questions the validity of binary gender roles?

  3. Olivia Brooks says:

    This is an interesting take on Jane’s understanding of her role in society as a woman. There are tow points here which are distinct, in my opinion. First, Jane sees herself as potentially equal with men like Rochester insofar as her past experiences render them equal. Second, Jane struggles with breaking out of the historically female-role of “servitude,” and finds solace/empowerment through her ability to choose whom she serves.

    I think Armstrong would underscore in both of these points the focus on the internalization of character and thoughts and also Jane’s blurring of binary gender roles. Both of these points are just thought narrated on a page, and can be seen manifested in Jane’s actions, but they are not Jane’s spoken dogma. Does Jane fully grasp the effect that these two points have in blurring gender roles and in internalizing her own character?

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