Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is a classic piece of literary fiction that exemplifies the magnificent combination that can be wrought when Gothic literature is tinged with romance. It was written in 1847 near London and was published under the pseudonym “Currer Bell” as women were not widely recognized for their literary merit at the time.
Jane is an orphan living with her aunt. She is a sickly child who cannot get along with her cousins and her aunt dislikes her and has her separated from the rest of the children. There is a class struggle visible in Jane Eyre as Aunt Reed makes sure that Jane knows that she is below her cousins in status. Aunt Reed is a widowed woman who treats Jane unfairly because Jane is a little different than the other children. Aunt Reed is a main antagonist to Jane along with her children who torture Jane at their home ‘Gateshead’. Jane rebels against her Aunt and talks back to her in chapter 4 saying, “You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity. I shall remember how you thrust me back-”, which exemplifies how Jane will not forgive her aunt for treating her so badly. As she gets sent to Lowood School, a horrible place to go for poor Jane Eyre, she realizes she is finally away from her aunt and that she has a bit more freedom than she had had before. Deep down, all Jane wants during the course of the novel is to be loved. While many may take this to mean romantic love, I speculate that Jane would take whatever kind of love offered to her. She had little time with her parents and her Uncle’s death left her Aunt bitter. She was not properly loved as a child and when that happens there is a disconnect between craving romantic love and craving platonic or familial love. She wants either or both and the novel is a testament of her quest for the love that had escaped her for so long. At the climax of the novel, when Jane is proposed to by St. John in chapter 34, she mulls over her answer and realizes that she would not make a good wife for him. She thinks, “But as his wife—at his side always, and always restrained, and always checked—forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital—this would be unendurable”. Her fear of restrainment stems from her days at Gateshead, where she was constantly berated and told not to do certain things because she was not worthy of doing them because of her heritage. In chapter 8, Jane boldly declares that, “to gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other whom I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or to let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest.” Over the course of the novel, Jane has to learn how to let love in without hurting herself physically or emotionally. Jane had to struggle against the themes of the novel that included class struggle, love, and loneliness. When Jane realizes how St. John would restrict her from being herself, she sees that Mr. Rochester, the man who had proposed to her first, would have been the better choice, as he would have let her be freer than St. John would have.
The struggles within the pages of Jane Eyre create a backdrop for the bold theme of becoming an individual in a society that looks down upon non-conformity. I found it an enjoyable and intense read that my peers would also like to read because of the twists and turns for the poor orphaned Jane.