Jane Eyre on the Obstacles of Victorian Women in a Binary Society | Teen Ink

Jane Eyre on the Obstacles of Victorian Women in a Binary Society

November 30, 2022
By Mstaiano GOLD, South Setauket, New York
Mstaiano GOLD, South Setauket, New York
12 articles 7 photos 3 comments

Favorite Quote:
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I have ‎ ∫ [f(x)]dx ‎ friends
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Jane Eyre is a strong, dignified individual who wants to experience love and affection as an adult to compensate for her lack of such pleasures as a child. However, due to enforcement of gender roles that catalyzes her time, Jane’s life is plagued by the standard of losing her identity, sense of control and equality to men. She narrates her life as a victim of her time who is failing to live happily against the grain of a traditional patriarchal society. 

Within a few months of settling as a Thornfield governess, Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester, her wealthy boss, and agrees to marry him upon learning of his reciprocated love. However, instead of awaiting the wedding, Jane begins to recognize the inescapable and confining consequences of the decision, thinking, “The month of courtship had wasted: its very last hours were being numbered [...] not I, but one Jane Rochester, a person whom as yet I know not” (Bronte 279). Jane would lose the ability to recognize herself for who she truly is, losing her identity in the process of becoming dependent on and subordinate to a man, which was a quiet yet relevant fear among many English women during the Victorian Era. This could reaffirm the same oppressive societal values that Jane desired to challenge, including male superiority, the treatment of women as possessions, and societal cleavage on the basis of gender. According to historians Dorothy and Carl Schneider, such societal cleavage was, “based on the physical differences between men and women, [and] dominated thinking about gender roles throughout much of the 19th century [...] This concept has historically been used to legitimize gender-based laws” (1). By placing a contemporary and modern audience directly in the shoes of someone being stripped of their rightful identity, Bronte successfully communicates the plight of English women and sheds light on the inequality between sexes in Victorian England, resulting in greater awareness of the harm of a conservative ideology in regard to societal standards.

In Victorian England a noticeable wave of cultural enlightenment in response to social inequality fueled Bronte’s depiction of the female protagonist. What augmented the plight of women of her time is the fact they had little political power, and even attempts to increase this power led them to become trapped in marriages with men they did not actually love. According to historian James Daybell, “One of the main reasons for placing a daughter at court was to enable her to marry well. A life at court brought girls into contact with eligible, wealthy, and well-connected male suitors and offered the chance perhaps to attract the eye of the king” (1). During this period, many women married for business reasons rather than for love, despite men’s ability to do the latter. Women had been treated like servants and accessories with the purpose of belonging to wealthy and powerful men, with their beauty and talents viewed as trophies of their husbands’ success. Coming from a family that treated her like an object, Jane strives to be powerful and confident, becoming the embodiment of the hopes of Victorian women to escape the patriarchy. She calls attention to girls like Adele who are smart yet unrecognized, and cast away for being inferior in some respect, and grows close to Ms. Fairfax for being an older model in her life who is much more humble than Mr Rochester and less capable of trampling on her. Jane Eyre as a narrator distinguishes the variety of female figures in her life as a method of calling out harmful and unrealistic expectations of how women should look and behave, and as a protagonist she revolutionized England’s perception of women and their capabilities.

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Works Cited

Daybell, James. "Influence of Women in Tudor England." World History: The Modern Era, 

ABC-CLIO, 2022, worldhistory-abc-clio-xaaa.orc.scoolaid.net/Search/Display/1263216. 

Accessed 21 Sept. 2022.

Daybell’s historical research explains the roles of women in the context of the politics of 

Tudor England, an era that occurred centuries before the Victorian Era but still has 

timeless relevance in English social norms. It highlights how aristocratic women obtained 

political influence through education, marriages, and family and patronage contacts. Elite 

girls were raised to become elite women who were expected to marry elite men. These 

values and expectations characterized Eyre’s life, revealing the relevance of Tudor social 

norms in Victorian society. Political and social cleavage was determined on the bases of 

gender and caste, both of which were seen as rigid and binding. Therefore, any behavior 

by an individual, particularly poor women, that stepped outside of the norms as defined 

by their societal niche, would result in their rejection of English society and, in Eyre’s 

case, infinite turmoil.

Schneider, Dorothy, and Carl Schneider. "Separate Spheres." World History: The Modern Era, 

ABC-CLIO, 2022, worldhistory-abc-clio-xaaa.orc.scoolaid.net/Search/Display/311069. 

Accessed 21 Sept. 2022. 

Dorothy and Carl Schneider define the concept of separate spheres and reasonably 

believed that the differences between men and women dominated the conversation of 

gender roles throughout the 19th century. Due to this social cleavage, men were expected 

to be the breadwinners of the household while women were expected to remain at home 

and raise girls that would submit to men and boys that would be skilled enough to have 

well-paid jobs. The popular concept of separate spheres, a subcategory of the private 

political sphere, has been used throughout world history to legitimize gender-based laws. Eyre faces discrimination and is looked down upon for most of her life due to such policies that are both written and unwritten.

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