Academic | Essay Contest
Neilee Marie Wood
Jane Eyre is an appropriate heroine for the feminist movement in that she represents objectives such as feminist independence and equality. Throughout the novel, she establishes her emotional independence, although she is often financially dependent on others. As a governess, Jane has a precarious position in society. She is expected to be educated, but she is also expected to be subservient to her employer. However, Jane's passionate personality drives her to establish her own independence and equality, pushing the boundaries of her expected place in society. In this way, Jane breaks the rules decreed for nineteenth-century women because her ideas of feminine independence are unconventional for the times.
Even when she first enters Thornfield Manor as a governess, Jane speaks her own mind. For example, one of the first things Mr. Rochester asks her is whether or not she finds him handsome. Instead of compromising herself and saying what he wants to hear, she tells the truth and answers, "No, sir" (133). In Chapter 23, she declares, "I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you" (257-58). Jane faces an internal conflict because she desires both to be loved and to be independent. Despite her desire to be loved by Mr. Rochester, her strong sense of morality prevents her from becoming his mistress. Jane simultaneously maintains her role within society and exerts her independence from Mr. Rochester. To fulfill her declarations, she actually does leave him and live on her own.
Similarly, Jane also emphasizes her equality. She believes that ". . . women feel just as men feel . . . 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" (111-12). Although she often thinks of Mr. Rochester as her "master" because she is financially dependent on him, she still considers herself his intellectual and emotional equal. She declares, ". . . I have as much soul as you,and full as much heart! . . . I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, or even of mortal flesh:it is my spirit that addresses your spirit: just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal,as we are!" (257). In fact, Jane's strong Christian morality makes her the spiritual superior in her relationship with Mr. Rochester. Even though Mr. Rochester declares that he is her superior because of his age and experience, Jane replies that "I don't think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience" (136). In this arena, Jane far surpasses Mr. Rochester; she has made much better use of her experiences than he has. Her declarations and actions raise her status so that she converses with him as a friend and equal.
However, although Jane expresses her equality, her actions do sometimes contradict her declarations. Despite her independent spirit, she always acts within the parameters of society, and her strong sense of morality prevents her from rebelling against the social structure. But Jane also falls short when she becomes submissive to St. John Rivers. She says, "As for me, I daily wished more to please him: but to do so, I felt daily more and more that I must disown half my nature, stifle half my faculties, wrest my tastes from their original bent, force myself to the adoption of pursuits for which I had no natural vocation" (405). Because she does deny herself for a time and tries to please St. John, Jane contradicts her former claims of independence and equality. St. John's cold and demanding personality smothers her passionate nature. Nevertheless, Jane once again asserts her strength by refusing to marry him. She knows that if she were ". . . forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vitalthis would be unendurable" (414-15). Although she temporarily loses her sense of feminism, she regains it and refuses to marry St. John. Furthermore, Jane only returns to Mr. Rochester when they are truly equals. Jane inherits a large sum of money from her uncle, making her financially independent. On the other hand, Mr. Rochester has been blinded in the fire that destroyed Thornfield, and he has likewise lost his pride and arrogance. Jane rises on the social scale, and Mr. Rochester descends until they become equal to each other in terms of finances and emotions. To prove her equality, Jane says to Mr. Rochester, "I told you I am ndependent, sir, as well as rich: I am my own mistress" (442).
Jane Eyre is an appropriate heroine for the feminist movement in almost every aspect of her life. She has a strong moral compass and a strong sense of self-worth, both of which prevent her from selling herself short. She speaks honestly and converses like an equal with Mr. Rochester. Although she is often financially dependent on others, she maintains her own belief in feminist independence. However, Jane does have a moment of weakness in which she denies herself to please St. John Rivers. Yet Jane overcomes this weakness, and by doing so she becomes a stronger model for feminist independence and equality. Her strength and self-worth carry her to safety: a life with the man she loves in which both she and Mr. Rochester are equal and independent.