The opening chapters of Jane Eyre are not an account of childhood but rather the beginning of the discussion of female identity’ The fact that this essay is based on a very small chunk of the novel makes it hard to fully discuss the female identity of Jane. this requires me to thoroughly explore the context in which the novel is written in order to have a complete understanding of the circumstances surrounding Charlotte Bronte in the Victorian era which may have influenced her in the writing of Jane Eyre.
At the time of writing ‘Jane Eyre’ Charlotte was living in Victorian England in the middle of the 19th century. 19th century women living in Britain had a much more submissive role in society than they do today. Women were not allowed to vote and the law completely ignored then as humans. a woman was legally bound to her nearest male relative and any property that she only became her husband as soon as she was married. They were also not allowed to attend university.
We can believe this because it is alleged that Charlotte Bronte published her book under the name of Currer Bell which suggests that she had to sell it under a male identity otherwise her work would have never been published this way Bronte’s work was published and not discredited for written by a irrational woman. The novel opens with Jane’s narrative and we are immediately thrust into the world of a 10-year-old child. Ironically, we discover that this child is very sophisticated and mature for her age. Charlotte uses tricky wording which indicates that the narrator is reflecting as if it a memoirs.
Such a mature and detailed account of the preceding events immediately shows us that Jane is speaking with the benefit hindsight. The emotion which Jane shows when describing the ‘inferiority’ she is shown by the other Reed children, is unrealistic for a child of this age. Mrs Reed and her children are malicious towards Jane for being unhappy which is understandable, and she is banished from any family activities. Her exclusion from the family is a common theme throughout the opening chapters of the novel and portrays the harsh account of childhood. It can also be linked to a deeper feminist meaning.
Jane is considered to be far too serious as she’s unhappy that her family is all dead. As she is excluded from any family activities Jane goes to the window sill to read a book. She is not inside the house she is not outside the house she is in liminal. Hidden from view by the curtain but protected from the storm raging outside. It also has context in the fact that this book is an autobiography about a girl written by women pretending to be a man. And the fact that Jane finds herself in this position of exclusion is made more interesting that the fact that she is a girl.
In this Victorian error had she been a man they would’ve been any more avenues her to explore and she certainly would not have been excluded from the family activities Jane uses the fact that she has an upper-class education to rebel against her family in solice. These opening pages focus on Janes alienation from the rest of the family hence Bronte draws attention to the lack of quality between the two sexes and uses our sympathy for this rebel as a way subtly gaining our support for her opposition to the injustices which Jane experiences.
On page 2 of the noble we see how Jane relates to the images of rocks standing up alone in the sea of billow and spray and then broken out. She feels lost at sea and doesn’t know what to do with her identity of being a woman in this era. Jane becomes very angry when John asked her to address him as his servant. she feels that she is as an equal to John if not superior due to his brutish behaviour and lack of intelligence. bronte cleverly creates a feeling of unjustness when John attacks her with ‘his books’. It shows that even in this era Jane is attacked by her form of escapism.
A book is conventionally used for educational purposes but in this instance it is used as a tool of violence to beat a women. It is clearly Johns fault but Jane is blamed as she is a women and thought to be irrational, mad and out of control. Therefore she is sent to the ‘Red Room’ ironically the direct opposite of her recent escapism from this cruel world. Only a few lines ago she had been sitting isolated from these beasts in her own world where she, a women was free to do anything. On page 10 we once again gain an insight to how women are treated if they do not have the class or money, often they will have both or have nothing.
Bronte delves deeper into her exploration of the female identity. As Bessie simply puts it to Jane, ‘they will have a great deal of money and you will have none it is your place to be humble and to make yourself agreeable to them’. This bluntly shows that difficult situation that girls and young women in the Victorian England found them selves in. The main goal for a woman was to marry a rich man this was because women in Victorian times had no way of being rich they were not inherit it states like the male heir of the family would.
They were not permitted to in enrol in jobs which paid decent salaries and any money that they did make would be their husbands to spend. As Jane has no money she has to be some servant to the Reed family. The use of the ‘red room’ is symbolic in its self The room to which she is sent with the red room symbolises death. Firstly her kind uncle, Mr Reed died in that very room and ,secondly the room is red which creates an atmosphere of blood. This place is the place that ultimately everything started to go wrong for Jane. Bronte tells us that had ‘Mr Reed been alive he would have treated [me] kindly.
once he died, all hope is lost for Jane. Everyone that is related to her is gone, again very symbolic as with out no male relative directly she is then own effectively by John. The second, draws to the fact she has just been beaten and can happen again if she is not careful. A profound moment in this scene is the point in which Jane gets up from the chair which she has been strictly told to stay on, which in itself is a momentous moment for this young girl and as she strolling across to room catches her reflection in the mirror.
she realises that she has the power to change what is happening to her. she can act as a woman. It is ironic thought that Mrs Reed treats Jane so poorly considering her genre. We know that Mr Reeds dying wish was for her to look after Jane, but that is barely what she achieves. Here, I think that Bronte is addressing a bigger issue. She is suggesting that it is unto the Women act against these injustices. While we know that this is an account of Jane’s childhood the terms and ideas that Bronte uses to describe it lays the foundation for what is surely to be the basis for the rest of the novel.
The rebellious character of Jane will emerge. In conclusion it is very clear that Bronte has written a cleverly disguised opening chapter. For her to discuss the identity of women as a man but writing as a child deserves a lot of credit. Finally, by her planting the roots for ideas and conveying then in such a way that it encapptivates the reader and makes you feel sympathy for a women trying to discover her identity in this Victorian Era.