Academic | Essay Contest
Topic One: Feminism in Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre is a strong feminist figure. She fights to preserve her freedoms and her right to justice with indomitable spirit, consistently choosing to respect and retain her sense of self in the face of numerous attempts to entrap her in the roles society deems suitable for women, particularly those of her background and status. She refuses to be made to live as less than she is: a fully competent adult with rights and passions of her own.
Jane's sense of justice, a driving force in her life throughout the book, manifests early on. Mistreated by Aunt Reed and her cousins, she cannot restrain herself, but instead fights back against John when he attempts to exert power over her. Though she is punished for it, she is not cowed. She refuses to accept treatment as an inferior creature. Again, in Lowood, her sense of justice leads her to reject Helen Burns' passive acceptance of every hardship that falls upon her. The promise of reward and punishment in the next world is not enough for Jane: she feels that justice must be made by humans in the world in which they live. Later, knowing it would degrade her, Jane rejects Rochester's offer of the semblance of marriage. To assume the trappings without the substance would have reduced her to the level of a mistress, and culminated in the loss not only of Jane's self-respect, but also of Rochester's respect for her. Acknowledging this, Jane does the only thing that preserves the dignity of them both; she leaves.
The strength of character Jane demonstrates time and time again is admirable on any terms, but even more so in the context of her society. Women are not equal persons there. They do not, according to common opinion, require self-actualization. But Jane punctures this fallacy. She states, "Women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do." She will not let society limit her to "making puddings and knitting stockings." She seeks intellectual, emotional, and economic satisfaction and independence.
It can be argued that the means by which Jane achieves this satisfactionher eventual marriage with Rochesterundermines her feminist position, causing her to fall short of the feminist ideal. However, she comes to that marriage only when she has achieved parity with him. She has financial independence via her inheritance, so she need no longer fear the prospect of marrying above her status. She has the support of friends who have proven to be familythe Rivers siblingsso that she is also no longer emotionally dependant only on Rochester. She possesses intellectual equality, and as proved by her previous precipitous departure, strong moral standing. Finally, the fact remains that Jane and Rochester love each other. Their marriage is not the ascendance of one over the other, but a partnership: "To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company." Rejecting marriage altogether in the name of feminism would be as limiting as the sexist notion that women must marry to fulfill their purpose in life. The spirit of feminism is equality, and the partnership of a true marriage is no impediment to a woman's independence.
The case of St. John Rivers illustrates Jane's strength as well. He attempts to shape her into a soul that submits as surely as Mrs. Reed, Mr. Brocklehurst, and Rochester attempt to conquer Jane's will. St. John would have Jane deny herself the emotional fulfillment for which she hungers in pursuit of a spiritual ideal. Ultimately, Jane rejects him because she realizes that she would have to destroy a part of herself to fit his mold. She wishes to be a complete human being, and that requires emotional bonds of mutual support and dependence. Jane has fought for her autonomy, and will not be subjugated in the name of the supposed "good" of St. John's mission.
The bildungsroman nature of the novel allows the reader to trace Jane's growth. We are shown from the beginning how her unyielding faith in herself and a just god allows Jane to forge her own path through hardships to a life she finds fulfilling. Her ability to remain true to her ideals and her passions is the power that we seek in our own lives. She stands as an example of a woman who forges her path in the face of nigh on overwhelming opposition. That example is representative of the feminist ideal. If we can be as brave in the trials of life as Jane, then we, too, may find success, even in the darkest of times.