“Jane Eyre” is definitely considered as the most famous novel ever written by Charlotte Bronte. The novel concerns a great number of themes and conflicts. The author touches upon the problems of family and religion, social position and gender inequality. Most critics claim that the central dispute of the novel is the conflict, which takes place inside the main heroine, not with other people, but with herself and her culture. The protagonist describes social rules and traditions of English Victorian era.
During the reign of Queen Victoria, a woman's place was in the home, as domesticity and motherhood were considered by society at large to be a sufficient emotional fulfillment for females. These constructs kept women far away from the public sphere in most ways (“Ideals of Womanhood in Victorian Britain”).
Analyzing this novel, I would like to pay attention to the images of Jane and Bertha, their gender and race constructs, taken separately and compared. Let us take a closer look at Jane. At the very beginning of the novel we see Jane as an angry and rebellious 10-year-old girl. “Returning to my seat, I passed by the mirror. I glanced at it, and the strange little girl gazing back at me, with a white face and arms and glittering eyes of fear, had the effect of a real ghost” (Bronte and Josephson 13). Gradually, she turns into a maternal and sensitive independent young lady. She represents an ideal of a woman in the Victorian era, though being not very pretty. The gender expectations of the period are what Jane has to challenge with when she becomes an educator. By becoming an educator, Jane also breaks definite rules of the Victorian society. However, she gains success. Jane behaves absolutely unlikely for the time when she finds out about Mr. Rochester’s wife, Bertha Mason. She leaves her husband immediately and breaks gender rules again. Finally, Jane returns to her husband and, at the same time, to the gender role expected from her in the society of the period. In other words, she overcomes the social gender constraints of her position and remains happy, which is very important for any woman. “I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest—blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh” (Bronte and Josephson 318).
Unlike Jane, Bertha Mason was a beautiful woman from a prominent family. “Miss Mason was the pride of Jamaica for her beauty – and this was no lie. I found her a fine woman, in the style of Branche Ingram – tall, dark, and majestic… All the men in her circle seemed to admire her and envy me” (Bronte and Josephson 216). As mentioned above, she was from a rich family. It was decided to consolidate two wealthy families. As it is seen, Bertha got married in strict accordance with social rules and traditions of the time. Shortly after the marriage, she started to show signs of violence and madness. Thus, she appeared to be locked at the attic. Gender expectations of Bertha were ruined. The narrator’s critique of gender inequality and Victorian marriage are absolutely supported by the image of Bertha, who is both terrifying and pitiable.
In the beginning of the novel, Jane and Bertha were ideal women of the Victorian period. But in the course of time, both women started to fight with race and gender rules, as well as the expectations of the Victorian period. Yet, only Jane managed to break the rules and remain happy. Unfortunately, Bertha Mason lost the fight.
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