A Look At Jane Eyre And Rebecca English Literature Essay

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The novels Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, are both riveting gothic novels that reveal the unconventional views of their authors. Each of these stories has a protagonist from a lower social ranking that falls in love with a wealthy, high ranking man. In developing the characters in these novels, both protagonists, Jane and Mrs. de Winter, gain an increased amount of power by the end of each work. In addition, the development of the novel's main characters reveals each author's diverse views on feminism; Bronte stresses equality, while Du Maurier addresses dangers of a subservient woman in a marriage. These opinions are expressed through the thoughts of the main characters. There are several gothic elements in each novel including the crazed wife in Jane Eyre, and the ghost of the dead wife in Rebecca. In both novels, the previous wife of the wealthy man negatively affects the relationship. Eventually, the previous wife causes the main character in each novel to become emotionally stronger than her husband. The plots in both Jane Eyre and Rebecca reveal each author's irregular views on social ranking, feminism, and relationship stability.

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As both of the plots of Jane Eyre and Rebecca develop, the main characters evolve from low-class young girls to higher-class women. As their rankings in society increase they also begin to have more power. In Jane Eyre, Jane starts off as an orphan living with her aunt. She then spends years at the Lowood School until makes a decision of her own to take on a new path and get a job at the Thornfield Manor. Here, she falls in love with Mr. Rochester. During their relationship, she makes decisions and makes it a priority that she does not become his mistress. Eventually, Jane acquires money of her own so she is not dependent on the care of her aunt, the Lowood School, or Mr. Rochester. In Rebecca, the narrator starts off as an assistant to Mrs. Van Hopper. When she falls in love with Mr. de Winter, they get married and move to his mansion called Manderley. She struggles to gain the respect and appreciation of the people at Manderley. Because she starts off as a servant-like lower class individual, it is difficult for her to gain power and lead the mansion like she should. Eventually, Maxim confesses about his true feelings about Rebecca so Mrs. de Winter becomes confident and can properly run Manderley. The two novels exemplify the concepts of empowering lower-class individuals in society.

Throughout Jane Eyre, the reader is able to see Jane's growth from the beginning to the end of the novel. By the end of the novel, Jane has acquired wealth, high social standing, and power. When she speaks to Mr. Rochester at the end of the novel she says, "[I am] Quite rich, sir. If you won't let me live with you, I can build a house of my own close up to your door, and you may come sit in my parlour when you want company in an evening… I told you I am independent, sir, as well as rich: I am my own mistress" (Bronte 416). This quote shows Jane's growth in wealth and independence. Her saying, "I can build a house of my own," sheds light on her economic standing. When she says, " you may come visit my parlour", it shows that the tables have turned. Rather than her dwelling in his mansion as she did in the past, he can come visit in her own home. When Jane says that she is her own mistress, it shows that she is now able to depend on herself financially, unlike her lifestyle during her upbringing. This quote proves that Jane has enough money and power to build a house and she does not need to be dependent on the resources of Mr. Rochester or anyone else. The money that she inherits from her uncle empowers her to be independent and provide for herself. Her growth from a low class orphan to an independent woman that can provide for herself shows that her power has surely increased. Charlotte Bronte's empowerment of Jane Eyre, a lower class individual, reveals her personal feelings towards societal ranking. Comparably, the main Character in Rebecca, Mrs. de Winter, develops into a more powerful individual throughout the novel. As she becomes more knowledgeable about her husband's life, she gains more power. After a long time of not being respected in Manderley, Mrs. de Winter is finally able to exert her authority: "This room has not been taken care of this morning. Even the windows were shut. And the flowers are dead. Will you please take them away?... Don't let it happen again" (Du Maurier 289). Mrs. de Winter speaks harshly to the housemaid a day after learning the truth about Rebecca. After Maxim confesses about Rebecca's death and his true feelings for her, the couple becomes closer. Mrs. de Winter now knows that he does truly love her, and her new confidence makes it easier for her to be demanding in Manderley for the first time. When Mrs. de Winter finally speaks to the housemaid in this manner, it is one of the first times that she is able to voice her opinions in a domineering way. Because she has gained confidence from her talk with Maxim, she is able to enforce her power. Prior to her talk with Maxim, Mrs. de Winter had difficulty using her power in the mansion due to her feeling inadequate because of her poor background and her feeling inferior to Rebecca. Her behaving out of her original character shows that she is finally gaining power in the mansion. Daphne du Maurier expresses her feelings about social ranking by showing the main character's growth from a powerless young girl to a woman that is actually making demands. The authors of both Jane Eyre and Rebecca both develop the main character in each novel from a low ranking girl to a high ranking woman.

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Throughout Jane Eyre, the reader as able to see the gradual empowerment of Jane throughout her life journey. Deborah Dooley speaks about the many societal aspects in Jane Eyre, including Jane's development in her social standing. Dooley comments on Jane's rise to power:

… creating in Jane a vulgar social climber… successfully negotiated the limits of her orphaning, her femaleness, and of her limbo between an impoverished if genteel middle class existence and the inheritance of real wealth, to gain a personally and socially successful outcome. Jane earned for herself independence and marriage, a spiritually virtuous and a passionately satisfying relationship that could be both dutiful and self-fulfilling; hers is a Cinderella story with a twist. (Dooley)

Despite Jane's limits, being an orphan and being a female, she is able to climb to the top by acquiring wealth and marriage. Her story is a "Cinderella story with a twist" because she is not only able to have a happy ending, but she achieves it by personal means. The novel focuses on Jane evolving from a poor orphan to her acquiring wealth and having a good marriage. Not only does she gain wealth and power, but also she does it without depending on anyone else. Charlotte Bronte uses the empowerment of Jane to exemplify her opinion that a female heroine can climb to the top of the social ladder by herself. Rebecca similarly exemplifies the empowerment of the lower class main character, although Du Maurier does it in a different way. In her article, Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman discusses Du Maurier's views on women and classes in society. She explains the main character's rise to power:

As she finally realizes, the narrator is of little use either to herself or to Max until she has developed an identity of her own. It is not the shy and helpless girl, but a woman-strong, self-confident, and independent-who chooses to support her husband in his ordeal and, in their exile, to make his life worth living. (Reisman)

After Mrs. de Winter overcomes the burden of feeling inferior to Rebecca, she gains power in her household. Her development from a shy companion to a confident woman causes her to be able to enjoy her life. Du Maurier empowers Mrs. de Winter to be a successful women by providing her with a new self-confidence. Her growth from a young inexperienced girl to a powerful woman reveals Du Maurier's feelings towards roles in society. Both Bronte and Du Maurier provide their main character with an obvious rise to power by the end of each work, which reveals that they feel that low ranking members of society should be empowered.

Charlotte Bronte and Daphne Du Maurier's opinions about feminism are revealed through the outcomes of the situations between the characters in their novels. In Jane Eyre, Jane's decisions in relationships and actions constantly revolve around the condition that she is equal. Throughout her life, she expresses that she longs for equality and independence. Rebecca instead offers the reader with idea that it is bad for a woman to be subservient in a marriage. In this novel, Rebecca, the dead and unfaithful former wife is a dominant figure in each character's life. Meanwhile, Mrs. de Winter, who is young and inexperienced, has trouble gaining the respect and appreciation of the characters including her husband. The differentiations between the roles of the women in both of these novels reveal the diversity between the authors' perspectives on feminism. 

When reading Jane's thoughts and expressions one recognizes that gender equality is important to her. It becomes evident that she needs equality in a relationship in order for her to be satisfied. When Mr. Rochester buys Jane silk and jewelry she begins to feel annoyed and degraded: " I will not be your English Céline Varens. I shall continue as Adele's governess; by that I shall earn my board and lodging, and thirty pounds a year… you shall give me nothing but… your regard" (Bronte 256). The fact that Jane is being treated and pampered as if she is Mr. Rochester's mistress offends her. She compares his treatment towards her to the way he treated his former mistress, Céline Varens -whom he pampered with diamonds and cashmeres. She decides to voice her feelings by saying that she will provide for herself and she does not desire any changes in her treatment. Although Mr. Rochester feels that Jane becoming his bride includes her stopping her job and being pampered, Jane would like him to know that he she will not be inferior to him in the relationship. As he questions their equality, Jane ensures that he understands that she needs to be treated equally in order for her to remain in the relationship. Just as Bronte stresses her views that women should be equal in a relationship, Du Maurier stresses that a woman's subservience in a relationship can be dangerous. The main character's subservience causes her to be in danger. The narrator in Rebecca contemplates ending her life:  "I was beginning to forget about being unhappy, and about loving Maxim. I was beginning to forget Rebecca. Soon I would not have to think about Rebecca anymore…" (Du Maurier 247). As the narrator thinks about Rebecca's legacy and neglect from Maxim and the townspeople, she goes into a state of vulnerability. At this point she allows Mrs. Danvers to coax her into wanting to kill herself by jumping out of the window. During the course of the novel, Mrs. de Winter and other characters are constantly comparing her to Rebecca. This constant comparison shows the effect that such a strong-willed, experienced woman as Rebecca can have on people's lives even after her death. Meanwhile, the narrator is still alive but her innocence and subservience causes her to lack authority and respect in Manderley and her marriage. The narrator's lack of power becomes so dangerous and almost results in her death. Du Maurier also exemplifies the lack of the narrator's prominence by making her remain nameless throughout the novel whereas, Rebecca is referred to several times and is the novel's title. The thoughts and actions of both the main characters in these novels reflect each author's distinct views on feminism.

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Dale Kramer speaks about the many themes throughout Jane Eyre. One of the main themes that he focuses on is the concept of feminism. Jane Eyre contains ideas of equality in Jane's relationships. Kramer assesses the relationship between Jane's regard for equality and her desires to submit or rebel:

… deeply concerned with her absolute equality; the relationships in which she is dominated by a masculine figure or is either exerting her superiority over or accepting her inferiority to a woman are all in a final sense recognizably incomplete, and unacceptable to her. Only with the chastened and blinded but still virile Rochester, who has suffered remorse for his guilty intentions toward Jane, does she establish a position of equality and of co-identity, in which relative powers are irrelevant… Bronte emphasizes balance rather than forced adjustment. (Kramer)

Kramer discusses that Jane is not satisfied with relationships in which the male dominates her. She ensures that she is not inferior in the relationship. When Rochester is finally disabled and remorseful, Jane allows herself to be with him again. She is finally able to establish a good relationship with Rochester when she feels equal to him. Bronte emphasizes Jane's need for equality in a relationship throughout the novel. She is finally able to live a happy life and have a good marriage when she has an equal balance of power in her relationship. Jane being able to achieve happiness and success by being equal to a male counterpart reveals Bronte's strong views on feminism. Sally Bauman evaluates Rebecca from a different perspective than most previous critics. This critic looks at the characters of the novel from the perspective of the author. She examines Rebecca and the new Mrs. de Winter and speaks about how their last name and status is derived from their husband. Beuman discusses the true irony of the dead, rebellious Rebecca in comparison to the essence of the submissive Mrs. de Winter:

…she becomes again what she was when she met him--a paid companion to a tyrant. For humoring his whims and obeying his dictates, her recompense this time is love, not money, and the cost is her identity. This is the final irony of the novel, and the last of its many reversals. A story that attempts to bury Rebecca, the "unwomanly" woman, in fact resurrects her, while the voice that narrates this story is that of a ghost, a true dead woman. (Beauman)

Beuman capitalizes on the irony between the dead Rebecca and the "alive" Mrs. de Winter. Because Rebecca was rebellious and refused to follow the "rules of conduct" of Maxim, she was killed. In reality, Rebecca lives on in the memories and thoughts of the townspeople and the narrator. Even being shot in the heart does not kill her presence. Because the narrator submits and obeys, she loses her identity and her true character dies. She becomes just another woman in Maxim's life. Du Maurier, in her novel, allows the unwomanly character of Rebecca to prosper rather than the compliant character of the narrator. This reveals how she feels about gender roles. She believes that woman should be more liberated and assertive in relationships. The parallels between herself and the essence Rebecca reveal that she feels that it is okay to carry on extramarital affairs. The characters in Rebecca show that Du Maurier thinks subservience in a marriage is detrimental. In both novels, the female characters' role in the relationships reveal Charlotte Bronte and Daphne Du Maurier's opinions on gender roles.

A recurring theme of feminist works includes making men become subordinate to women; this can be done physically or psychologically. By the end of both Jane Eyre and Rebecca, the main characters have overcome obstacles resulting in them becoming stronger. Both Charlotte Bronte and Daphne du Maurier make their main characters become stronger than their spouse in different ways. In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester starts off being a wealthy man with an abundance of power. When Jane works for him, he is confident and exults dominance over her. However the gothic aspects of his ex-wife, Bertha Mason, lighting his mansion on fire, causes his loss of eyesight and one of his hands. This causes him to lose his confidence also. Now, Jane is a strong and confident woman that can serve as his helpmeet. The tables have turned, so Jane is emotionally and physically stronger than Mr. Rochester. In Rebecca, the narrator starts off as a young, shy girl who has yet to find her place in the mansion. The gothic aspects include: Rebecca, Mrs. Danvers, and the murder investigation. These aspects affect the narrators' relationship. Preoccupied by thoughts of Rebecca, the narrator is insecure and constantly tries to satisfy her husband. When Rebecca's body is washed ashore, her husband has to go through a trying court case about her death. The narrator gains confidence; furthermore she serves as an emotional support system for Maxim during his time of need. The two books exemplify the female character becoming more stable in the relationship than her spouse, which reveal the opinions of the authors.

By the end of Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester is left injured and poor because of the fire in Thornfield. This causes Jane to be emotionally and physical stronger than he is. When Jane reunites with Rochester she assures him that she can be useful to him: "I will be your companion -to read to you, to walk with you, to sit with you, to wait on you, to be eyes and hands to you… you shall not be left desolate, so long as I live…[I will be] more useful to you than in your state of proud independence" (Bronte 416). After the burning of Thornfield, Mr. Rochester has started to feel insecure. He questions whether Jane is making a sacrifice by choosing to be with him. However, Jane is proud to be with the man she loves because she feels that in his new state, she can be useful to him. She promises him that she will always be there for him because she finds that she can help him now more than ever since he is no longer prideful. During their time apart, Jane has become confident and independent, while Mr. Rochester has become insecure and dependent on others. She is now physically and emotionally stronger than he is, which is why their relationship can succeed. Bronte reveals her feelings about female empowerment in a relationship by making Jane more stable than Mr. Rochester by the end of the novel. A similar shift in strength occurs in Rebecca after Mr. de Winter is accused of murdering his ex-wife. Mrs. de Winter ends up supporting Maxim in his time of need:

We would face this trouble together, he and I. [people] could not break us now… I was not young anymore. I was not shy. I was not afraid. I would fight for Maxim. I would lie and perjure and swear, I would blaspheme and pray. Rebecca had not won. Rebecca had lost. (Du Maurier 285)

When Maxim is faced with the murder case of Rebecca, he confesses his true hateful feelings about her to the narrator. She gains confidence, maturity, and knowledge because of this. Therefore, she proclaims her dedication to her husband. Now that she feels Rebecca has stopped haunting her, she says that she will do anything to stop Rebecca from affecting her husband's life during the investigation. The narrator has announced that she will support her husband by any means necessary. While her husband is suffering from the bad memories of Rebecca and the new accusations, she has developed a newfound confidence. This confidence and maturity causes her to be emotionally stronger than her husband during his trying time. Daphne Du Maurier eventually makes Mrs. de Winter emotionally stronger than Maxim to reveal that she feels that a stronger woman makes a relationship more stable. Both Charlotte Bronte and Daphne Du Maurier make the female heroine become stronger than her male companion, revealing that they feel that women need to be stronger in order for a relationship to prosper.

Mary Ellen Snodgrass speaks about the feminist qualities in Jane Eyre. She speaks about the way Bronte develops Jane's character and the feminist aspects of her relationships. Snodgrass mentions the increase in Jane's strength: "equalizing the former governess and Edward… she accepts the pared-down fortunes of a sadly depleted man and tends his physical hurts with affection. She declares her willingness to be his helpmeet" (Snodgrass). Jane accepts the flaws of Mr. Rochester and decides to be in a relationship with him again. He is now physically, emotionally, and financially weak. Jane accepts his flaws and willingly chooses to be with him even though she is stronger than him. Jane being stronger is significant because when she first meets Mr. Rochester, she is the one that is insecure and poor. The gothic aspect of Bertha Mason (living in Thornfield and burning the mansion down) results in affects on the relationship. The fire causes Rochester to become disabled. The change in their roles, allow the relationship to succeed. Bronte makes it necessary for Jane to be stronger in order for them to have a happy relationship, which shows that she feels a woman must be stronger for a relationship to be stable. According to Mary Ellen Snodgrass, the development of strength in Jane in Jane Eyre and the narrator in Rebecca cause their relationships to improve:

No longer outclassed by… Rebecca, the heroine is not only able to retrieve herself from the sulks, but also she can begin to support her husband emotionally until he is exonerated of a murder charge. Just as Bronte levels the social and economic differences between Edward Rochester and his governess in Jane Eyre with a conflagration, du Maurier levels Manderley and equalizes power between the de Winters, who draw closer in loyalty and affections Max recedes into a semi-invalid cared for by his competent wife. (Snodgrass 2)

The confession about the evil Rebecca motivates the narrator to become confident and rids her of the worries she has about Maxim's love for her. Making herself confident causes her to be able to help Maxim emotionally as he goes through a murder investigation. The shift in power is similar to that of Jane and Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre. The Gothic elements of Rebecca haunting the relationship and Mrs. Danvers affect the relationship between Maxim and Mrs. de Winter. These mysterious gothic aspects cause Mrs. de Winter to become emotionally stronger than Maxim during the difficult period in his life. Du Maurier uses the gothic aspects to affect Maxim and make Mrs. de Winter become stronger in the relationship. Bronte and Du Maurier, in their novels, are sure to make their heroine become the stronger individual in the relationship; this reveals their unusual beliefs that a woman should be stronger in a relationship in order for it to be successful.

The situations Charlotte Bronte and Daphne du Maurier exemplify in their novels, Jane Eyre and Rebecca, respectively, reveal the authors' unconventional views on social class, feminism, and the stability of relationships. In both Jane Eyre and Rebecca, the main characters start in lower ranking social groups, but as the plots develop, they acquire higher social standing. The improvements of the social class of these initially poor heroines reveal that the authors feel that lower ranked social class members should be empowered. Although Bronte and du Maurier share similar views about society, their views about feminism are slightly different. Bronte's novel stresses the importance of equality in Jane's relationship, while du Maurier's novel depicts that there are dangers of a woman being subservient. Jane Eyre and Rebecca reveal similarities in the authors' views on the stability of a relationship. In both novels, gothic aspects cause the main character to become stronger than their husband -whether by physical or emotional means. This shows that the authors feel that in successful relationships, women are stronger. The authors of these two novels share similar beliefs about relationships and society, possibly because of the effects from their own lives. Both novels promote women and the less fortunate people in society -topics in which one can infer are important to the authors.