Jane Eyre: The Pursuit For Identity In Victorian Society

1777 words - 8 pages

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, identity is “the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others”. While relatively simple to define, finding one’s identity in a world that seems vast and incomprehensible proves difficult for many, and for some, impossible. The process of self-discovery is a long and arduous journey undertaken only by those of the strongest character. Charlotte Brontë’s, Jane Eyre, is a classic exemplar of a novel, which “traces the personal development of a young woman who must struggle to maintain a separate identity and independence in the suffocating pressures of her culture” (Kelchner). In the nineteenth century, the ...view middle of the document...

The servants at Gateshead also commented on Jane’s dependency, claiming she was “less than a servant, for [she did] nothing for [her] keep" (Brontë 12). When she was sent to Lowood, Jane’s lack of emotional and financial support forced her to become self-sufficient. For example, Jane’s lack of financial support from her Aunt prompted her to seek employment to support herself. Most Victorian women secured employment by applying to friends (Brontë 106); however, with no friends to speak of, Jane did not have the resources necessary to find a job. Nevertheless, this obstacle did not prevent Jane from obtaining employment; Jane devised a plan to advertise for a position in the local newspaper and was soon after hired as a governess at Thornfield Hall. Jane accepted the position because she knew this was an opportunity to advance in society's social order, and to earn a higher salary to support herself. As Jane acquires this position, her sense of independence flourishes as she realizes, despite the preconceptions of society, women are capable of providing for themselves.
As Jane identifies herself as self-sufficient, she begins to “grapple with the societal expectations of her gender, which frequently conflicts with her intuitive sense of self” (Kelchner). Jane’s “self-reliance, and personal ethics allow her to recognize the unfairness of many societal conventions,” (Kelchner) especially that of gender equality. Jane argued with the social hierarchy in Victorian society, in which women are ranked as subordinates to men, obligated to conform to the traditional role of wife or servant. Despite societies gender standards, Jane expressed her belief that “equality [is] based on character, not birth” (Peters):
Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex (Brontë 138).
Jane’s scrutiny of gender equality “is in opposition to others in the novel who act in accordance with social norms rather than truths” (Peters). It is important to note, such defiance was rare in the Victorian era; women were expected to adhere to the constraints opposed upon them without reservation. Jane’s capacity for independent thought distinguishes her from most women of her time. Although some women may have shared her values, few possessed Jane’s confidence and independence to voice these beliefs. For example, Rochester attempts to control Jane when he says, “Jane, be still; don't struggle so like a wild, frantic...

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