Every period in time has had its own social norms and class systems that people are expected to adhere to. In the time period in which Jane Eyre lives in, women have many expectations, rules, and regulations to live up to. From an early age, Jane learns that she is different; that she has her own morals and standards that she will not sacrifice anything for, even if it means defying the very laws and standards that defined society and even women in her time. Most critics have marked Jane Eyre as a woman who stands for feminism and independence, which can be true. But while most people believe that Jane Eyre is a heroine that depicts feminine stereotypes, a closer reading also contends that Jane is presented as a character who challenges feminine and social norms. One of the main things noticed when reading the novel, Jane Eyre, is how Jane puts men and woman on the same level; she sees them as equals. “Women are supposed to be calm generally: but women feel just as men feel…” (Bronte 111).
Throughout the novel, Jane always strives for equality and was even willing to give up marriage to keep it so. As Jane builds a relationship with Mr. Rochester, she begins to fall for him and vice versa. But even when Mr. Rochester asks for her to become his dearly beloved, Jane refuses until she is certain that \he intends to marry her because his “equal is here, and [his] likeness” (Bronte 241). Another interpretation many make from the novel is Jane’s resistance against those she feels treats her in a way she does not believe she deserves. When the novel first begins, Jane is still a child living with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her cousins. Being treated horribly from day one, Jane had no trouble telling how she really felt and standing up to her aunt after she found out she would be sent to Lowood. “I am glad you are no relation of mine: I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if anyone asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty.” (Bronte 24).
Also when first associating herself with Mr. Rochester, Jane was not afraid to tell him her thoughts on his treatment of her in order to get the treatment she felt she truly deserved. “I don’t think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or have seen more of the world than I have…” (Bronte 136). One of Jane’s main differences when it comes to social normality during her time is her view on love and marriage. During the time period in which she lived in, women weren’t necessarily expected to marry for love, but for rank, status, and wealth. Jane, on the other hand, believed otherwise. An example of this would be when Jane went shopping with Mr. Rochester and she “was ordered to choose half a dozen dresses” (Bronte 254). \Jane then pressured Mr. Rochester into reducing the half a dozen dresses to only two, and persuading to buy less expensive gowns. (“Defiance of a Culture”).“reduced the half-dozen to two” (Bronte 254-255).
Jane was proposed to twice; by a man she did love and a man she did not love. St. John was a missionary and was there for Jane in her time of need. When he proposed to Jane, she not only refused because of her wish for equality but because she realizes that “he will never love me” (Bronte 387), only use her as a good companion on his missions. And when asked by St. John, she again refuses his proposal because she sees him as a brother, despite the fact she will be left without a husband. (“Defiance of a Culture”). Jane also was very hesitant when asked to marry Mr. Rochester not only because of her views on equality but she is forced to weigh her desire to control her own destiny against her desire to be loved. (“Jane Eyre and the Self-Constructed Heroine.”). Last of all, Jane refuses to make any sacrifices for her morals. Jane has her own views of what right and wrong is and even standardizes it to the point of her love life. When in the manor house and about to be wed to Mr. Rochester, the truth comes out that Mr. Rochester is still married to his insane wife, Bertha.
Instead of staying with the man she loved and marrying him as planned, she did what she thought was right and forces herself to leave the manor because “your bride stands between us [addressed to Mr. Rochester]” (Bronte 301). It was not until Bertha finally died that Jane went back and married Mr. Rochester as his equal. Another one of Jane’s morals as stated before is marrying for love not status and wealth. When St. John proposed to Jane, one of the many reasons she turned him down was because she does not love him. “she again refuses his proposal because she sees him as a brother, despite the fact she will be left without a husband.” (“Defiance of a Culture”).
Jane Eyre went against many of the social standards of the time. She strived for equality among both genders and stood up for herself and her morals. She never wavered when it came to upholding her beliefs and she was admired and respected for that, not only by actual characters in the novel, but also by readers in real life. She showed how not only women but all social groups could stand up for their morals, despite what was considered as socially acceptable, and still be respected. (“Defiance of a Culture”). And while most people think of Jane Eyre as a heroine who depicts feminine stereotypes, it is really that Jane is a character who challenges feminine and social norms, while still showing integrity and love, and portraying a personality rarely seen by not only women, but anyone alive during her time.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Bantam Books., 1987. Print. 18 Dec. 2012. Ellis, Lorna. “Jane Eyre and the Self-Constructed Heroine.” Appearing to Diminish: Female Development and the British Bildungsroman, 1750-1850. London: Associated University Presses, 1999. 138-161. Rpt. in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Russel Whitaker. Vol. 152. Detroit: Gale, 2005. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 Dec. 2012 Gerding, Julie. “Defiance of a Culture”. N/A. N/A. Ballwin: Parkway West High School, 2007. N/A.Ballwin