Emancipation and Suppression in "Jane Eyre". An Emancipated Heroine or the Slave within a Relationship?

Hausarbeit, 2016

16 Seiten, Note: 1,7



1. Introduction

2. Jane Eyre's Adaption to Victorian Standards and Rochester's Suppression
2.1 First conversations and claiming superiority
2.2 Age difference and male authority

3. Equality and Challenging Gender Roles
3.1 Equality Within the Relationship
3.2 Challenging Gender Roles of the Protagonists
3.2.1 Jane

4. Ferndean: Jane, the Angel, or Jane, the pants-wearer?
4.1 Jane, the Angel
4.2. Jane, the Pants-Wearer

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Ever since women have been struggling for their rights. Especially concerning the issue of equality. It does not matter how tiny and 'cute' some women might appear, they still have (or nevertheless should have), as well as any other woman on this planet, the right to be taken seriously and to be treated as humans, equally to men. Also, today the expectations of the society towards women are broader defined and not as strict, as they used to be. Nevertheless the relationship to be discussed in this essay tells a story, which is set in the Victorian Age and therefore the circumstances for female emancipation to develop have been probably more challenging than nowadays. Still, a Bildungsroman with a female protagonist was probably as unusual as the protagonist (Jane Eyre herself) during that era. Throughout Jane Eyre it is quite outstanding that Jane is different from the other female characters in the novel and the female stereotype of the Victorian Age does not actually fit her. She can not be exactly defined as the Angel in the House, which does of course not mean that there are not characteristics of that stereotype to be found in Jane's character. Despite the fact that Jane Eyre is such a unique and specific character, her Relationship to Rochester evokes some ambivalence in her. Also, the relationship between those two characters leads to the discussion of equality of the sexes and gender and relationship constructions. Nevertheless, even though Jane Eyre's character tends to be more emancipated than the other female characters in the novel, Jane behaves reluctant regarding her relationship to Rochester.

Therefore I assume that even though Jane Eyre is not exactly the stereotype of a conventional Victorian woman, or the Angel in the House, her strong and emancipated character is suppressed by her relationship with Rochester. Due to this the aim of this paper is to critically examine how Jane Eyre adapts to the conventions of the Victorian Age in order to oblige Rochester. As mentioned, this essay will examine in how far Jane Eyre is or is not an emancipated woman regarding her relationship with Rochester. In order to achieve this aim topics as equality and gender within the relationship will be discussed, but also the (subtle) suppression Rochester exercises over Jane will be a central theme. Additionally it will be also discussed in how far Jane can be considered the Angel in the House at the end of the novel.

2. Jane Eyre's Adaption to Victorian Standards and Rochester's Suppression

2.1 First conversations and claiming superiority

The first official conversation between Jane and Rochester already illustrates how Rochester exercises his Power over Jane, while she obeys him. It is also striking how Jane has to change her clothes before she has even met Rochester officially as her employer (Bronte 140). This indicates that Jane is already adapting to certain norms in order to be 'suitable' for the situation. Also, the meeting itself is taking place because of Rochester's mandate that Jane should be seated (Zubair 177). Nevertheless, the conversation itself gives more exposure to the beginning relationship between Rochester and Jane, even if it officially begins as a relationship between employer and governess.

During their talk Rochester quite dominates the conversation, as he is the part that asks all the questions, which leads to turning the conversation into an interrogation concerning Jane and her life she has lead already (Zubair 177). For instance:

“ 'Miss Eyre, have you ever lived in a town?' 'No, sir.' 'Have you seen much society?' 'None but the pupils and teachers of Lowood, and now the inmates of Thornfield.' 'Have you read much?' 'Only such books ad came n my way; and they have not been numerous, or very learned” (Bronte 144).

Most parts of the conversation is held in this style. By taking the control over the conversation “Rochester asserts his authority” (Zubair 177). Also, due to Rochester's questioning it appears as if he is a master Jane must obey. He demands her to answer his questions (Bronte 146), while Jane does as told (Zubair 179). And indeed, Jane already calls him her master, before they could get involved with each other more deeply: “ 'Come to the fire', said the master” (Bronte 143). So even before Jane could embrace her new acquaintance, she already puts herself into a position, which stands below Rochester, through making him her master.

Furthermore, Jane lets Rochester scrutinize and judge her drawings (Bronte 146 – 148) and does not even stand up for herself when Rochester calls her art “not at all brilliant” (Bronte 148). She lets him judge a part of her, which has nothing to do with her work as a governess, but is rather personal. Doing so, Jane allows Rochester to go beyond the boundaries of a regular employer – employee relationship.

By allowing Rochester to treat her so harsh and even ruthless, while he is exercising a tone of command, Jane also allows Rochester to become the “master to Jane's puppet” (Zubair 181). Jane's obeying, but also precise and plain answers during her first conversation with Rochester reflect her wish to live up to the the norms the Victorian Society expects from her (Zubair 184). Although working as a governess is the first venture in order to become and independent woman (Zubair 184). Nevertheless, she lets this attempt be suppressed by her employer. She lets him prevent her to be at eye level with him, since she lets him take over the conversation, because of her will to be polite and respectful towards him (Zubair 185).

During the second conversation between the protagonists Rochester claims that he is superior to Jane and that his superiority has to do with the age difference between him and Jane. He even states this explicitly: “I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty years' difference in age and a century's advance in experience. This is legitimate” (Bronte 156). While it is already outspoken that Rochester claims superiority over Jane, she shows no sign of rebellion or desire to be on equal terms with her employer. Rochester lets her come to him, because he is in the mood to communicate (Bronte 156) and again it seems as if Jane is willing to obey and please him. It is rather the contrary since she responds him that she is “willing to amuse” (Bronte 156) him. An answer which completely contradicts the principle of emancipation.

Nevertheless, the conversation between the protagonists subtly shows how there is a part of Jane, which wishes to resist the dominance. Which, on the other hand shows how Rochester evokes a certain ambivalence in Jane, in spite of him suppressing her. This becomes quite evident, by taking a closer look at Jane's reactions to Rochester during the second conversation between the protagonists. Due to Jane's rather short answers (for instance: “Do as you please, sir” (Bronte 157)) the situation turns into a “conversational duel” (Zubair 187), which leads to a change of Rochester's tone. Jane confronts Rochester's claim of superiority (Pell 411) and defends herself by telling him exactly what she thinks of him and his behavior: “ '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' “ (Bronte 157). This statement of Jane lets Rochester rethink his behavior, which make him even ask her if she will receive his commands in the future (Bronte 157). The fact that Rochester searches for Jane's agreement, indicates a going-beyond-conventions, although he holds a superior status in terms of a employer-employee relationship (Zubair 187). Also, Jane calls herself a “paid-subordinate” (Bronte 157). By calling herself 'subordinate', she admits that she considers herself to be on a lower level than Rochester. Not as a human being in general, but at least concerning the terms of work relations.

2.2 Age difference and male authority

Disregarding the facts that Rochester exercises his authority because of his position as employer and his experience of life which Jane could not acquire yet, due to the age difference, Rochester additionally claims his superiority by sharing former (sexual) relationships he has led with Jane (Godfrey 865). Adele's existence contributes to the rising of the question where she comes from and why she lives at Thornfield Hall. Because of this, Rochester tells Jane about Céline Varens, the Opera singer, the “grande passion“(Bronte 165). The next following pages Rochester goes on and tells Jane more about his relationship with Céline and even lines out how inexperienced Jane is: “if it were the most usual thing in the world for a man like me to tell you stories of his opera-mistresses to a quaint, inexperienced girl like you!” (Bronte 168).

By calling Jane a girl, the age difference comes again into the center, which ”allows […] an exaggerated performance of masculine knowledge of sex, while preserving […] Jane's angelic and ignorant status.” (Godfrey 865). Giving Jane the label of being inexperienced, is at the same time also an act of adapting her to Victorian standards, since women were expected to be innocent and ignorant. Again, the age difference enables Rochester to claim his superiority. Since he is more experienced than Jane, he acts as if she has no knowledge about the world and is just a immature girl, to which he can show-off his masculine power and authority.

Taking a look at Jane while she is suppressed by Rochester's personality, she mostly acts passive and adapts to the conventions. She acts as expected. She is the listener Rochester can tell his secrets to (Bronte 168). Also, Jane does not defend herself actively when she is judged by Rochester, when he accuses her to have let the life of a nun (Bronte 144). Jane does not affront Rochester like she did Mrs. Reed, who has been an instance of authority too, when Jane was actually a girl. Her fighting spirit from when she was locked in the Red Room (Bronte 15-16) is hardly to be found during the conversations she has with Rochester. According to Nancy Pell Rochester's “demand for mastery […] upon […] a woman recalls Hegel's description of the relationship between master and slave” (414). Throughout the Relationship between Jane and Rochester it is evident how Rochester likes to be in charge and Jane often does as told. According to Pell Jane has to embody a certain role and she needs to change, because of Rochester's claim of the master's role (cf. 414). Rochester's role as a master demands a suiting counterpart, which is in this case embodied by Jane.

The suppression drags on into the engagement of the two characters. Since Jane does not give up calling her fiance her “master” (Pell 415, Bronte 315). Rochester on the other hand starts belittling Jane by calling her “his little elf, delicate and aerial, a sylph, an angel, a sprite” (Pell 415). Apart from the fact that these labels do not describe human beings or characteristics, those labels would not be used to describe an emancipated woman. They rather fit the expectations towards the ideal Victorian Woman (cf. Appell), which, as already mentioned, requests innocence as a character trait of the Ideal Victorian Woman. Calling Jane an angel, an elf, etc. comes along with squeezing Jane into a frame of innocence and ignorance, which might as well be degrading, since those titles renounce her identity as a flawed, but authentic woman, but assimilate her more to the expected ideals of the Victorian Society. Jane is even more squeezed into the role of the ideal Victorian Woman, when Rochester wishes to buy her dresses and jewelry shortly after they have become engaged to each other (Bronte 309), which makes Jane feel highly uncomfortable (Pell 415). This extrinsic adjustment of Jane to the society norms makes her stand up for herself and express her opinion of Rochester's shopping plans:

“Mr Rochester obliged me to a certain silk warehouse: I was ordered to choose half a dozen dresses. I hated the business, I begged leave to defer it: no – it should be gone through with now. By dint of entreaties expressed in energetic whispers, I reduced the half-dozen to two: these, however, he vowed he would select himself.” (Bronte 309).

Apparently, even though Jane has spoken her mind, all she can achieve is a compromise. Her request is heard, but still it is Rochester who rules, since he is still the one who chooses what Jane is going to wear. Taking away a chance to make a personal decision puts Jane again under tutelage and assimilates Jane again to the expected ignorant, but ideal Victorian Woman (cf. Appell). Jane even tells the reader that she feels degraded because of Rochester buying her jewelry (Bronte 309). But to be integrated into the middle-class Jane “is forced to perform femininity” (Godfrey 863). In order to be accepted as a full member of the society, Jane has to behave accordingly, which in the end, leads her to be obeying and assimilating the Victorian Standards.

3. Equality and Challenging Gender Roles

3.1 Equality Within the Relationship

Even though a big part of Jane's emancipated side is suppressed by Rochester and his behavior towards her, the two characters are sometimes on equal terms. The probably most striking outburst of Jane concerning equality is when she thinks Rochester is going to marry Blanche Ingram (cf. Bronte 292). When Rochester asks her to not leave him, she is quite indignant and has an outburst of emotions:

“ 'Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings? […] Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? […] I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart ! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have mad it as hard for you to leave me, as it now for me to leave you. […] it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed though the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal – as we are!' “ (Bronte 292).

In the moment when Jane thinks that Rochester is not interested in her as a woman, or potential wife, she frees herself from being subordinate and appearing polite. Now, that there is no need anymore to behave like the ideal Victorian woman, innocent, abject and ignorant (cf. Appell), Jane comes out with what she really thinks. She speaks from the mind of an emancipated young woman that wants to be recognized as a human being, excluding status and age. She wants to be seen as the person she is, a human being. Jane wants to make it clear to Rochester that in the the end each and everyone is equal and just because she has not the same social status as him, she is not inferior to him. It bears no importance if a person is rich, poor, male or female, because in the end all humans are equal. If this quote is seen from this point of view, Jane would have probably been a very emancipated woman for the Victorian Age. A woman, who wants to be at eye level with the man she loves. She even states that she is “a free human being with an independent will” (Bronte 293), which makes it clear that she is not fully bonded by Rochester's orders.


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Emancipation and Suppression in "Jane Eyre". An Emancipated Heroine or the Slave within a Relationship?
Universität Konstanz
ISBN (eBook)
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emancipation, suppression, jane, eyre, emancipated, heroine, slave, relationship
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Elisa-Maria Schneider (Autor), 2016, Emancipation and Suppression in "Jane Eyre". An Emancipated Heroine or the Slave within a Relationship?, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/983724


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