Society Comparison – Jane Eyre
Authors are able to express their opinions and perspectives on society as a whole through their works, generally providing their own perspective and insight on society at the time. This might be indicative of perhaps the author’s own struggle with some aspects of the society, which subsequently reveals to the reader how the author resolves and overcomes this struggle.
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As a result, the reader is able to pick up upon whatever are issues raised, or criticisms that the author might have regarding society in that era, and at the same time is challenged to draw parallels between how the author portrays his/her own society, and the reader’s own perspective of contemporary society. This is evident in the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte where at many points within the novel, Bronte, through the character of Jane Eyre voices her then radical opinions on society common to that era, through which contemporary readers can then draw parallels to with aspects of their own society.
It is rather obvious to the reader that Bronte, through the character of Jane Eyre, is somewhat critical of Victorian England’s strict social structure and hierarchy, a primary vehicle for delivering this criticism being Bronte’s exploration of Jane’s complicated social position as a Victorian governess. Jane is of ambiguous class standing, and as a result is a source of tension among the other characters around her.
As a Victorian governess, who tutored children in not only social etiquette, but also in academics, it was a prerequisite that Jane possessed not only the ability to teach but also the ‘culture’ of the aristocracy. Yet, as a paid employee, Jane remains penniless and powerless, comparable in status to the other servants at Thornfield. Jane’s understanding of this double standard is further substantiated when she becomes aware of her feelings for Rochester, aware that she is his intellectual, but not his social equal.
Even before the crisis surrounding Bertha Mason, Jane is hesitant to marry Rochester, not wanting to feel indebted to him for ‘condescending’ to marry her. Jane herself also speaks out against this perceived social injustice, berating Rochester in Chapter 23, ‘Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart! ’ Eyre’s distress, most apparent to the reader around Chapter 17 parallels Bronte’s own critique of the strict social hierarchy firmly established within Victorian society at the time.
As time progressed, this so called ‘social injustice’ vividly etched within society was slowly eroded away, and the gap between social classes bridged. From this novel, readers can perhaps gain new insight into the social structure of the Victorian Era, and subsequently are able to see a rather stark contrast between the social norms of the Victorian Era, and those of our own society. We as part of a modern society take for granted the general equality among all members of society, and that the concept of equality is enforced by a government that serves to preserve the rights of its people.
We as members of a contemporary society also seem to take for granted the absence of any great social divide between groups or races. However, that being said, a different kind of social divide arises, that of a financial nature. Instead of being born into a specific level of society, one’s position on the social pyramid is based primarily on the financial status of the individual, as opposed to the individual’s name or birthright being the deciding factor.
As a result, from reading this novel, the reader is inevitably challenged to draw comparisons and make contrasts between the manner in which society is portrayed in the novel Jane Eyre, and the way the reader perceives contemporary society to be. One can perhaps ascertain that society has advanced progressively since the Victorian Era, in the way that issues such as social divide and equality have been addressed and are continuously being resolved.