Gender inequality has been a perennial and controversial issue since the existence of human race. The debate over this particular subject became especially heated in the 20th century, during which social instability and enlightenment thinking provided women both the supression from the society and the oppourtunities to advocate for feminist rights. Besides marching and forming unions, many educated women pushed for social changes and raised gender issue awarenesses through utilizing literature. In her renowned novel Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte depicts a strong, independent, and resilient character, who holds firmly onto her faith and challenges the conventional patriarchal society of early-19th century England. Jane, who grew up in an abusive environment with her iniquitous Aunt and malicious cousins, not only did not give in to her fate of being a destitute orphan girl but also lived a righteous life without blindly submitting to the social norm of male dominance.
Since she was small, Jane’s unique characteristic was demonstrated. She asserted that “I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved” (57). The strong sentiments and intense self-determination that Jane expresses through the words “must”, “should”, “natural”, “dislike”, and “love” when she was only 10 years old show Jane’s indomitable and resilient innate personality. She never questions her ways of dealing with injustices, hatred, and hardships. Not even when Helen, her best friend, and Miss. Temper, her favorite teacher, told her to change. This unwavering confidence in herself continues to guide Jane’s actions after she left Lowood.
As a governess of Adele, Jane is dependent on Mr. Rochester, who is wealthy, authoritative, and physically more powerful than Jane. Nevertheless, when confronting Mr. Rochester, Jane never felt inferior to him because of her gender and milieu. When they first get to know each other, Mr. Roichester demanded Jane talk to him. Instead of immediately trying to satisfy the master with some interesting topics, Jane “smiled; and not a very complacent or submissive smile either” (140). Also, while Mr. Rochester claims he is superior to Jane for being more experienced, Jane courageously points out many defects of Mr. Rochester’s dispositions without being deterred by his authority. Mutual respect and equality in Jane’s relationship with Mr. Rochester remain consistent even when Jane fell in love. However, this relationship was jeopardized when Mr.Rochester’s attempt at bigamy was exposed and he tried to convince Jane not to leave him and even agree to still marry him. As a faithful and strong woman, Jane knows resolutely that she should not be with Mr. Rochester. Jane’s refusal to accept Mr. Rochester infuriated and provoked him. So afraid of Jane leaving him and so desirous of controlling Jane, Mr. Rochester imposes both moral and physical authority of man to pressure Jane into consent. He threatened to use “violence” (326) and “rose” from the chair in an aggressive manner. At the climax of their confrontation, He “seized [Jane’s] arm and grasped [her] waist” (343). As Jane describes, “he seemed to devour me with his flaming gaze: physically, I felt, at the moment, powerless as stubble exposed to the draught and glow of a furnace” (343). The physical disadvantage of Jane as a young female demonstrated at this encounter is a representation of most females’ inferiority in this patriarchal society. Besides physical authority, Mr. Rochester blames Jane for being wicked of abandoning him and torturing him. This “moral accusation” did make Jane feels pained. However, unlike others who submit to male authority, Jane felt an “inward power” to support her to hold on to her principles and “the law given by God” (326). It is with such inner strength of nature and faith that Jane declared firmly that she will not be Mr. Rochester’s and that it is wicked to obey him when she is both physically and socially disadvantageous. Jane’s abnormal characteristic in this male-dominant and hierarchical society is also emphasized by Mr. Rochester’s comment that “never was anything once so frail and indomitable“ (343).
Jane’s confrontation with Mr. John also shows her faithful and impregnable spirit that supported her to resist the physical and mental authority of man over woman. The social norm of female submission is expressed by Mr. John’s disappointment and surprise of his refused proposal to Jane when he actually “expected submission” (445). He was immediately enraged and only kept his temper because he was a Christian priest. If not, “as a man, he would have coerced [Jane] into obedience (445).” He then goes on to impose “moral accusations” on Jane by saying her words are “violent, unfeminine, and untrue. They betray an unfortunate state of mind: they merit severe reproof: they would seem inexcusable”(449). He also blames Jane for “breaking [her] promise and deserting the band [she] engaged to join when Jane has never made a promise nor entered an agreement (449)”. Jane never agreed to go to India with Mr. John as his wife, yet, Mr. John intentionally distorts the facts to make Jane feel guilt and morally wrong. Both physical and moral authority is present in this confrontation. But Jane did not surrender. Being fully aware of this intended coercion of Mr. John to make her concede, Jane called Mr. John’s remarks as nonsense and defended her choice fiercely. Even when Jane venerates Mr. John as a sublime priest and loves him as an endeavoring brother, she never fails to keep her bottom line and upholds her principles. When accused of sinfully disobeying God and failing to meet God’s expectation of her by Mr. John for not accompanying him to India as his wife, Jane asserted unquestionably that she would never marry Mr. John because it is a “sacrifice made on principle” and is a “martyrdom” that is “monstrous” (440).
With absolute faith, courage, and indomitable spirit of never submitting to male supremacy at the expense of her principles, Jane is a symbol of an unconventional female character who, instead of following social norms of a patriarchal society, resisted, confronted, and challenged the physical and moral authority others imposes on her to get her to comply. Such an indomitable spirit allowed Jane to not only survive but strive to live out a righteous life where she can be her true self and never conceal her nature. Instead of adapting to society passively, Jane actively defends her principles and faith.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc, 1983. Paperback book.