Jane Eyre Is A Story Of Feminism
The story of Jane Eyre is famously regarded as a work of feminism and a highly renowned piece of social commentary surrounding the treatment of the Victorian woman within a greatly patriarchal society. The lead female character of which the novel is obviously named after, Jane, is thought to be a symbol of the independent feminist and yet there are still some doubts of Jane’s independence that can arise from some of her actions throughout the novel, particularly her decision to return to Mr. Rochester after discovering his indiscretions. Upon further inspection, however, Bronte’s decision in having Jane return to Rochester is more so a strategy in establishing a testament to not only Rochester’s part in the attitudes of the patriarchal society through his attempts to dehumanize and feminize Jane but the shifting power dynamics throughout the novel as well in the two’s power struggle and Jane’s subsequent rise to dominance.
Though Mr. Rochester is in some ways regarded, and in some ways portrayed, as the gentleman within the “Beast” facade, we can better understand his role in the story as simply a beast created by the patriarchal attitudes which surround him. A great deal of Jane Eyre’s readership would hold on to the belief that Mr. Edward Rochester is an abrupt, somewhat rude character but nonetheless a loving man who simply did what he thought best for his mentally-ill wife Bertha in locking her way. We can easily equate Rochester as being similar to the Beast character in Beauty and the Beast, beginning a rude and lonesome being whose better character is revealed by the beautiful woman he falls in love with. Unfortunately, however, Rochester can more appropriately be described as simply remaining as such beast. Throughout the story, Rochester proves the ways in which he has adopted the attitudes toward women of the Victorian era through his attempts to demean Jane through objectification and attempts to feminize her.
Since the very beginning of Rochester’s introduction to Jane, it is obvious in his rude disposition that he feels superior to her, and a key component he utilizes in establishing this superiority is objectification and means of feminization. Rochester primarily tries to objectify Jane by dehumanizing her and establishing her as an almost otherworldly being. There are several repeat offences in which Rochester equates Jane to a fantasy, fairy tale being. In several instances, he not only accuses Jane of being a “sprite” or “fairy” but accuses her of being a fantasy being with the wicked intention of manipulation, trickery, or seduction. For instance, we can see these instances when he accuses her of “bewitching his horse” and causing his fall upon their first ever meeting (143). Ultimately, he presents these comparisons as a form of blaming, condemning, and embarrassing her or when attempting to establish that Jane is there to serve him. In always describing her as such a being, we see how much he wants to make her like the fairy he describes in his story to Adele- the fairy “come from Elf-land, it said;…[whose] errand was to make me happy” (308). In addition to the fantasy references, however, Rochester also heavily relies on his attempts to feminize Jane in order to gain his desired control of the relationship.
The most obvious of instances we see this in the entire novel is upon the scenes following their engagement. After his proposal, Rochester makes attempts to control Jane and morph her into a form that he visualizes more with femininity and assert his dominance, and her subsequent role to be dominated and serve. Following the proposal and despite Jane’s reservations, Rochester declares:
“‘I will myself put the diamond chain around your neck…I will clasp the bracelets on these fine wrists, and load these fairy-like fingers with rings…You are a beauty…I will make the world acknowledge you as a beauty too,’” (259).
This declaration goes beyond a reassuring message of love and appreciation of a loved one’s beauty. In this moment, Rochester works to “improve” Jane not for her sake but for the sake of his reputation. Being a wealthy, affluent man marrying below his station, he works to change Jane into his vision of what would be forgivable for him in terms of who he decided to marry. Additionally, he uses this moment to assert his control and establish his dominant role in the relationship, establishing that he will exercise his right to improve her and mold her into his perfect vision of what a woman and wife should whether or not she yet agrees with what he wants. This is because, for him, upon marrying her Jane “becomes his property” (Mulvey 368) and he feels he must control the power dynamics within their relationship, in a typical way that Mulvey describes as “…building up the physical beauty of the object, transforming it into something satisfying in itself” (Mulvey 368) in order to destroy the threats that her atypical, independent feminist ways pose. Ultimately, the most important understanding to take away from this is that the reasons behind Rochester’s interactions with Jane are to dehumanize her and mold her into the perfect woman in order to assert his control of the power dynamics in the developing relationship.
The shifting power dynamics is an important focal point within Jane Eyre as Jane realizes not only the disadvantage her social and financial status places her in compared to Rochester but Rochester’s own efforts to establish further dominance over her. In the same scene that was mentioned earlier, with Rochester’s attempts to feminize Jane after his proposal, we can see Jane beginning to not only realize the existing power dynamics of the relationship but begin attempts to establish her own control. In the previously mentioned scene, Jane continuously rejects Rochester’s attempts to feminize her and actually becomes angry, so much so that she actually exclaims:
“‘Don’t address me as if I were a beauty: I am your plain, Quakerish governess…then you won’t know me, sir; and I shall not be your Jane Eyre any longer, but an ape in a harlequin’s jacket,’” (259).
Despite his persistence, Jane refuses to accept to become what is considered classically feminine and allow Rochester to mold her into his and the time period’s typical vision of what and how a woman should be.
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