Spoiler Alert: Plot elements were used
Victorian England, setting of many popular works of fictional literature, was a complex world with many issues, traditions, assumptions, and moral values. Portraying a fictional character that does not live in accord with this rigid setting intrinsically highlights the culture of this society. In Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre, the protagonist of the same name is such character – one who sharply contrasts with and vividly brings to light information about Victorian England.
From the beginning of the novel, Jane Eyre can be identified as a lass who is ill-treated because of her social class and gender. Jane is an orphan who is completely dependable on the Reed family with which she resides. Although clearly not a servant, Jane Eyre is not treated as family either. In an argument with her cousin, Jane is specifically told that she is at the mercy of the house of the gentlemen. This shows that, in England during this time, prestige was defines by wealth and tradition, and that orphans like Jane, who claimed relations with their kins, were not at all welcomed by the high society. This issue came about not only in her infancy, but also as Jane Eyre grew to be what is called a lady. Contrasting with Ms. Temple at her school, Jane was an agitated and active young woman, which definitely did not fit well with the English definition of “class”. Although Jane did learn how to adapt to the life of the higher class, doing activities such as drawing, playing the piano, and eventually becoming a schoolteacher, she was prompt to leave to seek adventure as soon as Ms. Temple got married. Working as a governess at the Rochester household was no different. Once again, Bronte placed her character in an ambiguous position, one that did not mingle with servants, yet had not enough class to be part of the family. Even as Jane meets Rochester for the first time, without knowing of his status, her role in the house is not recognized by her own master. Along the very fine line between the wealthy and their subordinates, Jane lied as an awkward misfit in the important English society.
One other reason for which Jane Eyre contrasts with her background is the issue of established religion, Jane Eyre, throughout the novel, proves herself to be knowledgeable about Biblical teaching, but she refuses to follow them strictly, Jane is extremely aggravated when accused of being deceitful, because she has her own philosophy and set of moral values. Nonetheless, such zeal for integrity was not sufficient to meet the high standards of the society in which she lived. When asked about the Psalms, Jane replied that she thought them uninteresting, which caused the school’s administrator to be shocked. Furthermore, Jane’s religious beliefs are highly apparent as different than the norm when she converses with her friend Helen Burns, the pious girl Bronte used to foil Eyre. Instead of adopting Helen’s Christ-like mindset of absolute benevolence, Jane takes on the more robust Old Testament approach. Jane herself stated that “[she] must dislike those who […] dislike [her],” an idea too primitive to be well-accepted in her religiously devout society. As the novel progresses, even as Jane is offered to marry her cousin to further the Kingdom of G-d as a missionary in India, she refuses it on the basis that she believed that she would not be loved. Surely, this idea has little biblical foundation and would seemingly be considered rebellious by the English culture during Victorian times. All along, Jane’s ideas were very unique and somewhat heretic, which bade her society truly show through.
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