The Representation of Social Class and Feminism In Jane Eyre

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Introduction

The focus of the investigation is how social class and feminism is presented in both Charlotte Bronte’s novel and the magazine article titled ‘Feminism and Class Consolidation’. Jane Eyre was set in the 1800’s where society was changing slowly and steadily. The setting is a key part of the novel as it is used to express and symbolise what Jane experiences at each stage in her life. The protagonist of the novel is Jane Eyre and the antagonists are many people that she meets along the way such as Bertha Mason, Rochester and Mrs Reed. Jane starts off in the novel as a first-person narrator where she gives her voice to the narrator and further on in the novel, the narrative focus is on her views, actions and feelings.

The different themes presented in the novel are feminism, religion, family and social position. In the novel Jane interacts with many people of a variety of different classes and because of her social agility, she learns to see both the pros and cons of the diverse classes; furthermore, she then learns to see people for their personality and their activities rather than their social class and physical appearances.

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Class difference is also one of the major problems between Rochester and Jane; this is why Jane has to put effort in showing her qualities to the many people that she meets along the way. Throughout the novel, Jane wants people to understand how character and personal qualities are more important than social class. In chapter 10 of Jane Eyre, the emphasis is on the social class clash between Rochester and Jane. During the tenth century, people remained in the class that they were born into; however, Jane moves between classes, starting as an orphan from then moving to a governess at Thornfield. Jane’s parents were of different classes as well; her mother did not care for the money and upper-class authority as she only wanted to find love and happiness. Moreover, this is why Jane wants to follow her mother’s footsteps as she earned self-respect, respect from others and respect for women in general.

In chapter 10 of Jane Eyre, key aspects of social class and feminism are highlighted. In this section of the novel, Jane’s bildungsroman begins. She had posted an ad to become a tutor and her journey of independence starts from this chapter even though she still has to work for other people. Within this chapter, she also learns that Mrs Reeds children, who thought of themselves as well respected and of higher class to her, were not well disciplined whereas Jane was and therefore accomplished a lot such as a respectable job and self-confidence. I have also chosen chapter 18 when Jane meets Blanche Ingram and presumes her and Rochester will be married due to their social class similarities. In chapter 23, Jane speaks out about social class and her thoughts on this topic is one of the key reasons Rochester falls in love with her.

The article ‘feminism and class consolidation’ highlights the issues of feminism and social class in the 1980’s. The genre is non-fiction. It describes how feminism evolved throughout the centuries, starting off with only the income of men to support the family to then in 1960, ‘just over 30 percent of American women working outside the home’. Later on, in the decade, the divorce level was rising and therefore women had to financially stabilise themselves as well as their children, and therefore the number of women working increased. Even in the twentieth centuries women were recommended ‘intellectually “softer” occupations- nursing, social work, and teaching’ whereas men were more in business, law and medicine. There are many statistics within the article that help us by providing data on how social class and feminism has evolved over the years.

Even though women were doctors, they were often controlled by men to focus on paediatrics rather than a high-status area such as surgery. This shows that even by the twentieth century there were still problems within society on feminism. The use of statistics within the article show what the average women in society did in the 1900’s and how the statistics have changed now.

Review

Throughout my analysis I compared my chosen novel, Jane Eyre, alongside my secondary source which was a magazine article that included feminism and social class. The article talked about how feminism was evolving throughout the centuries and the roles of women, how the divorce rate affected woman as they had to depend on themselves and how social class involved within feminism. One of the sources I used to compare a language technique to my chosen novel, Jane Eyre, was James Pennebaker’s The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us. Within this source, it explained how pronouns affected the way people speak depending on their social class.

As an example, Jane tends to use many pronouns within her speech as it is from the narrators point of view however it may also indicate Pennebaker’s argument; this is when Jane repetitively uses ‘I’ to show her lower status; it is also said within the article “status is revealed by function words rather than the content of what is being said”. This shows that what Jane is saying does not have more impact than the words that she is using to get her point across.

The literary device known as ‘anaphora’ is used when individuals are trying to make their point clear, inspire and motivate others or just to make the point come across in a well-defined manner. The article ‘feminism and class consolidation’ by Barbara Ehrenreich explains how females were automatically considered as the inferior sex and the article starts off with the roles of females during the 1800s from starting off as housewives and looking after children to then taking over men’s jobs during the world war and making a change to society.

Analysis

Language techniques used to present social class

Bronte’s unconventional representation of social class could be considered a criticism. In chapter fourteen Jane declares that her mother had married her father “against the wishes of her friends,” reflecting the division that existed within the classes that society constructed. The fact that her mother was of a higher class than her father is significant as it defied these expectations, which also mirrors the nature of the relationship Jane pursues with Rochester.

Another key section in the novel that explores social class is when Mr Brocklehurst imposes his belief that children of a lower-class background should “clothe themselves with shame-facedness and sobriety.” This demonstrates the harsh treatment of the lower-classes. Also, Mr Brocklehurst’s hypocritical nature reflects the juxtaposition between his daughters who were “splendidly attired in velvet, silk and furs” and his distaste towards Julia’s “awful” appearance. Furthermore, Julia’s “red hair” perhaps symbolises the stereotypical belief that individuals with red hair are innately ‘wild.’

In chapter eighteen, Jane’s indifferent attitude towards Rochester and Blanche Ingram’s flirtations suggests that she may be concealing her bitterness towards the prospect of Rochester conforming to the expectations of society. The quote “I thought him a man unlikely to be influenced by motives so commonplace in his choice of a wife” evidences the unjust reality of Victorian society.

“I laughed at him as he said this. “I am not an angel,” I asserted; “and I will not be one till I die; I will be myself, Mr. Rochester; you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me.” Jane is reacting to Mr. Rochester's numerous requests in regards to their wedding and wedded life in chapter 24 Jane makes it clear to Mr. Rochester that she intends to be consistent with herself and hold onto her independence regardless of his plans to take her around the world and purchase expensive gifts for her. Throughout the discussion, Jane contrasts the Victorian era of expectations by speaking up for herself despite her about to get married to Rochester.

Bronte displayed a turn of events in the last chapter of the novel which meant Jane went from middle class to upper class however she remained the same throughout the whole novel, despite her social status. Bronte’s reasoning for this was to show the reader how no matter what the social class of a person is, it all depends on the feelings and actions of the individual.

The use of pathetic fallacy in Jane Eyre to show feminism

In the novel Jane Eyre, Bronte uses pathetic fallacy in the description of Jane’s journey to Lowood institution. The imagery of a “raw and chill” winter morning perhaps foreshadows her bleak future at the school. In addition to this, the verb “chattered” emphasises negative connotations.

She uses the weather to present how Jane’s life in lowood will be like. A quote to illustrate this is: “Raw and chill was the winter morning: my teeth chattered as I hastened down the drive.” The verb “chattered” showed how cold Jane was and is therefore exaggerating the weather. The use of pathetic fallacy shows how Janes journey to Lowood will not be enjoyable and foreshadows her time at the school.

The use of pronouns used to showcase feminism and her own desires

In chapter 35 Jane chooses to leave St. John and go back to Thornfield and makes the reader understand why she’s doing so. Throughout her explanation the frequent use of “I” is the subject of every sentence and shows Jane’s independence as a free woman alongside her independent will which she inherited from her great uncle who was a male. It can be argued that jane inherited from yet another male superior and therefore is not considered as very independent. Ironically, it is one of the factors which allows her to be independent.

An article to compare the use of pronouns to is James Pennebaker’s The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us. Within this article, the writer argues that the use of pronouns can make the person delusional about how much power they think they have and this affects how they speak as people who are in a powerful position tend to use minimal first person pronouns than people that do not have much power.

This argument of James Pennebaker’s portrays Janes perception of having less power as she moves from one inferior position to another which is shown in the scene where she chooses to leave st john to follow her own paths of what she desires to do next. It is described throughout her constant use of pronouns. Jane is seen as an autonomous woman throughout the whole novel however with the ideas of the article put in place, the reader can tell jane sees herself as a lower status then St John and she showcases herself as someone that is a follower rather than a leader, despite her independence and standing up to Rochester.

The author herself first published Jane Eyre under the name Currer as she did not want to reveal her identity. During the Victorian times women were classed as the lower, inferior class and therefore the idea of a woman publishing a book, especially a feminist novel as it was a debatable subject during those times especially was considered a ‘social outrage’. During that era women were known as housewives and their primary concern should only be about their family, housing and most importantly their husband’s wellbeing. Bronte chose to follow this hierarchy however she made her protagonist in the novel a strong feminist and someone who would be seen as a social outrage.

The use of anaphora to present feminism and equality

Anaphora is constantly being used in the novel Jane Eyre to show the emphasis of how jane values her freedom and liberty above all. The constant use of “liberty” in the sentence “I desired liberty; for liberty I grasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer” shows freedom and rights of women being expressed in this extract. Furthermore, the author also uses anaphora to emphasize Jane standing up for herself and showing strength. “I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to visit you when I am grown up;” This is the first time we see Jane’s sense of moral right overpowering her doubts. This monologue shows janes character building up to be a type of rebel showed to Mrs Reed.

Analysis of the article

In the article ‘Feminism and Class Consolidation’ the use of rhetorical questions impose on the reader two different perspectives. The quote, “Did they want revolution or assimilation?” engages the reader.

Ehrenreich states within the article that “most” American women “including wives and mothers” had gone out to work since most American men no longer earned enough. The use of the dashes to separate the “wives and mothers” is significant as it places emphasis on the fact that their roles in society had changed considerably. According to previous patriarchal laws, women were expected to carry out domestic roles whilst men were required to work. The estimate of “70 percent” for women in the work force represents the gradual progression of women’s rights.

The metaphor of a “glass ceiling” standing between businesswomen and “the boardroom” reflects the division between genders, constructed by reality. The “impenetrably masculine culture” that is described within the article is therefore represented in a negative light.

Bronte takes the approach of presenting the protagonist in an unconventional manner as she defies social expectations of the Victorian era which were for women to stay home and look after children, do housework and look after the household. She is an independent individual and many women in the twentieth century did depend on their husbands.

On the other hand, in the magazine article, the statistics show “the 50 percent of working divorce rate guaranteed that the great majority of women would have to support themselves”. The literary device known as antecedent is used in this sentence; “women” and “themselves”.

Jane does not adhere to the social classes as she believes people should be judged based on their personality traits and themselves instead of status and money. For example, in chapter four, Jane stayed with Bessie instead of joining the others “I should have deemed it a treat to spend the evenings quietly with her, instead of passing them under the formidable eye of Mrs. Reed”. This shows Jane does not care for the social classes as Bessie is a servant at the Gateshead mansion and regardless of her social position, Jane decides to spend the evening with her rather than her higher class aunt and cousins; this is due to the fact that Bessie is more of a motherly figure to Jane than her own aunt.

In the article, the writer makes it clear that If you are a woman in most societies especially all patriarchal societies, you are automatically considered in a lower class than your male equivalent. Even if the women are from the same background as their spouse they are still considered a lower class than them due to the inequality of those times. In relation to the novel ‘Jane Eyre’, the social class barriers are doubled for Jane as she is a woman and is from a lower class than Rochester which results in them not being able to be together when he first admits his love for her in chapter 17 and this element pulls them apart: because there is too much of a gap in the social structure. The social structure has to be in place before they can marry each other as people of different social classes were judged and looked down upon.

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The Representation of Social Class and Feminism In Jane Eyre. (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 17, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-representation-of-social-class-and-feminism-in-jane-eyre/
“The Representation of Social Class and Feminism In Jane Eyre.” Edubirdie, 08 Jul. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-representation-of-social-class-and-feminism-in-jane-eyre/
The Representation of Social Class and Feminism In Jane Eyre. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-representation-of-social-class-and-feminism-in-jane-eyre/> [Accessed 17 Jun. 2024].
The Representation of Social Class and Feminism In Jane Eyre [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 08 [cited 2024 Jun 17]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-representation-of-social-class-and-feminism-in-jane-eyre/
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