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Female Restraint Displayed In 'Jane Eyre'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3300 words Published: 10th May 2017

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The subject of female restraint is displayed in Jane Eyre both symbolically and physically by society and is important to understand the sequence of events that happen throughout the story. Throughout Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte discovers and breaks down the barriers and limits of her society on the emotional, religious, and intellectual lives of adolescent women, from their childhood to when they reached adulthood, and the effects that these limitations have in molding their character. The inelastic and restraining Victorian chain of commands of social class and sexual category, serves to defy the freedom and personal development of adolescent women, and limit their abilities to identify their goals and aspirations for themselves.

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The young passionate protagonist of the story named Jane, rebels against the confining customs of her society continuously throughout the novel. The hunger that is enclosed within her motivates her to respond to the actions around with an impulse that proposes that she is well aware of the wrong committed against her. However, the desire within her is regarded by those that surround her as a treacherous force, and it is only when this desire is controlled at the end of the novel can she grip society’s image of what it is to be a proper woman. Eyre is fixed in a society where females are constrained by principles of the female role, and it is this control that is the foundation of Jane’s struggle. She is well aware of this continuous struggle within her, which is illustrative not only of herself individually, but all women in her society who show disregard to the class they belong to.

Throughout the novel, Bronte uses other supporting characters like Bertha, Blanche and Helen Burn who all offer a mirror to compare and contrast the limits that are set on Jane. The extremes embodied by each of these people from the sincere, coy Helen Burns with her angel-like character, to the crazy, uncontrollable emotions embodied by Bertha works to create a sense of Jane as the middle ground. The presence of these characters also helps the reader to gain a sense of perspective of Jane’s thoughts and actions, and the inner conflict that she experiences in reacting to each. Bronte doesn’t try to depict either Bertha or Helen Burns as an exemplary of the female conduct for Jane; rather she shows the defects of each character as contributory in pointing to their end. However, Charlotte Bronte appears to slightly insinuate at the indication that instead of completely confining the passion that motivates young woman, it should be instead controlled to be a less harmful force. This is displayed in Bronte’s idea that the only way that Jane will not have the same fortune as Bertha, is if she is able to learn to control her untamed hunger, rather than confining it all together.

Charlotte Bronte touches on the nature of these restraints placed upon Jane in many different ways. As mentioned Bronte presents these restraints as physical and figurative, and examines the effects each one has on Jane. The physical facet of the limitations forced on Jane is social. As a parentless child, Jane is dependent on the assistance of others around her for her continued existence, which puts her in a class lower than people whose lives are based on working. Because of this, she is deemed and shown contempt by the Reeds, her family relatives, at Gateshead, and forced to believe that she owes them an excessive amount for looking after her. “I had nothing to say to these words: they were not new to me…This reproach of my dependence had become a vague sing-song in my ear; very painful and crushing, but only half intelligible” (Bronte pg. 10).

Bronte faintly touches on figurative limitations that are set on Jane, in the usage of the social limits of class and sex that occurred during the Victorian era. For instance Gateshead, where Jane was shown disrespect from the Reeds family, her status as governess at Thornfield yet again puts her in an odd borderline between Mr. Rochester and the servants. She thus feels that she doesn’t belong to either group, once again adding to the feeling of her exile. A good example of this is when Blanche Ingram’s refers to Jane Eye as Adele’s governess “Why, I suppose you have a governess for her; I saw a person with her just now. Is she gone? Oh, no there she is still behind the window-curtain” (Bronte pg. 155). Here Blanche Ingram and others are dismissively talking about Jane and governesses overall. In the time period that Jane lived in where governesses were said to have no social status worthy of attention, at most where only mention by superior social classes to state that governesses in general where a problem that was expected to have an effect on donors personally because they are the subjects of charitable accomplishments. This is exactly what Blanche and others where doing when they touched on this topic which was said to have no social status in society.

This focuses light on another vital aspect of Eyre’s social restraint: Blanche Ingram. Ingram in the novel is portrayed to serve as a foil as the ideal Victorian women. She is the complete opposite of young Jane Eyre, because of her social status and physical appearance, and this allows her to belittle Jane once again contributing to the limits that Jane undergoes because of her social class. Jane is very aware of her inferior status among Blanche and others at Thornfield, and as a result reacts to it by hiding behind the window curtain, as mentioned in the quote above. Her effort to be invisible when around the well-known company of Mr. Rochester is a social constraint, and though she even hopes that Mr. Rochester will look in her direction when her existence is noted by Ingram, he doesn’t.

Blanche Ingram can be seen as a central figure that produces a foil through which we can perceive the extent of Jane’s restraint. When we are first introduced to Blanche Ingram we find Jane impatiently waiting to see her because as she was told by Mrs. Fairfax, Mr. Rochester might possibly have feelings for her, which in turn unsettles Jane. We are informed that not only does Blanche obtain a beautiful physical appearance but that she is held with high esteem because of her accomplishments, as with Jane who is seen to be plain and has a social status which is inferior to that of Blanche’s. Her physical appearance threatens the chances of a relationship ever happening between Jane and Mr. Rochester, and thus works to add the tension that is found in romantic literature. The differences between Jane Eyre and Blanche Ingram become really important when it seems as if Mr. Rochester is going to choose Ingram over Jane. People who are knowledgeable about the Victorian era would traditionally be more likely to candidate Blanche to be Mr. Rochester’s lover because of her class in society which stands closer to Mr. Rochester than Jane’s own. With all this taken into consideration, Jane is kept back by elements that are beyond her control, such as money and physical beauty; nevertheless in the end, Jane finds herself rising above these barriers and Mr. Rochester choose her as his wife instead of Blanche Ingram whose favored. At this point of the novel, many parallels are found with Bertha Mason, the crazy woman contained in the attic at Thornfield as a symbolic figure for Jane’s societal restraint. Though Bertha is a woman, she is not portrayed as one. Bertha Mason is illustrated in animal-like terms, and awarded the traits of someone who is not defined to be human. After the failed wedding Jane goes on to describe Bertha as “What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it groveled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face” (Bronte p. 250).

Thus, Bertha Mason’s insanity is seen as the fate that will conquer Jane if she doesn’t hold back the passion bestowed inside her. Bertha’s passion has made her insane, and made her the example of the restraint put on women in Victorian society. Bronte goes on touch on the restraint that animal-like Bertha symbolizes by setting her as the symbol of young Jane Eyre’s illegitimate union with Mr. Rochester as long as he is still married Bertha. Therefore it’s only through Bertha’s death can Jane Eyre form a relationship with Mr. Rochester, perhaps suggesting that Mrs. Mason is a symbol of what Jane’s fate would be if she marries Mr. Rochester? Bertha’s existence in Jane Eyre seems to represent the restraining aspect of wifehood during the Victorian era, also proposing that the lack of independence in a marriage jeopardizes the emotional and mental health of women.

The monumental moment at which Charlotte Bronte unveils these limitations placed on women through Jane arises in Chapter 11 of the novel when Jane looks back and talks about her ten years spent at Thornfield as Adele’s governess. “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 restraint, too absolute a stagnation…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” (Bronte, pg. 93). Jane’s contemplation clearly defies the separation of virtues belief that dons contrasting moral and mental capacities in women and men and attains the outlook of women principally beings of emotional response, not reason, and thus essentially subject to the order and leadership of men. This calmness that all women are anticipated to carry themselves with is the foundation of much of Jane’s interior anger at the way her society distinguishes her. The rejection of those standards mark the establishment of her progression of higher reason which Charlotte Bronte uses to uncover her struggle against the male anticipations that follow in the novel, for example St. John’s proposal of marriage to Jane which she consequently declines.

The cultural, social and physical limitations that are set on Jane Eyre by the Victorian society that she’s in helps her to be well aware of the negative effects of these barriers on women, and in turn helps her determination not to let herself be subject to them. Victorian society’s perspective of the passion that lives within Jane is that of a negative force that she is told will dominate her if she is not controlled. However, it is specifically this force that pushes her to see the class and sex limitations in her society.

As shown, the barriers contained within the novel Jane Eyre are not solely limited to Jane but others. Besides Helen Burns and Bertha Mason, we notice that Blanche Ingram and to some extent Adele Varens are being subjected to the same barriers. Since Blanche isn’t married because her father’s property was confiscated and her sister and she don’t have property under their name, Blanche is forced to find a wealthy husband who can support her in order for her to maintain her existence in society. As a result of being dependent on financial support from a male, her independence is compromised and thus limits her from events she might otherwise be capable of partaking in if she obtained her father’s wealth. Young Adele also is setback in almost the same way that Jane was when she was an adolescent. Nevertheless in Adele’s situation she has Mr. Rochester who’s willingly providing for her. The family barrier is a creation of Mr. Rochester’s attitude to Adele, which is not harsh like that of the Reeds toward Jane Eyre, is detached. This encourages Adele to cling onto Jane and Jane is a willing friend to the adolescent Adele as she views herself at Adele’s age, the young French girl.

Female restraint, the unavoidable theme found in Jane Eyre helps to put into perspective many key events of the story and structures Jane’s response to these events. Bronte’s choice of portraying her female protagonist focuses the difficulties, which are essential in the cultural, intellectual, sex and social restraints set on women during the Victorian era. It’s only when these restraints are discovered and touched upon can Jane completely understand that her life is much more than the position she is currently in.

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In Jane Eyre we found a woman that is quiet restrained by the Victorian patriarchal society. Virginia Woolf female writer was also restrained by the male-controlled society where women’s individuality and intellectuality were stooped without any question. Through Virginia Woolf’s essay “Professions for Women”, she shows how women struggled in Victorian society. As a result of these struggles, women are restrained from expressing their individuality and true character. Woolf, herself, refuses these struggles because she strongly feels that in order for a person to be whole, she or he must explore who they are as an individual.

Packed with annoyance of the patriarchal control that outlined her years, Virginia Woolf explains her true thoughts in her essay “Professions for Women.” In her speech, Virginia Woolf precisely builds figure of speech through her choice of words, intended to illustrate the female state in comparison to the male condition in relations of social dissimilarities. She passionately searches to range the possibility of women hunting careers and pursues to contest the unwillingness of men to allow women into the place of work appropriately.

Modest openings and intents produce Virginia Woolf’s introduction, and her preliminary statements are well selected. By admitting that a small number of physical barriers stood in her way, and that the “family peace was not broken by the scratching of a pen,” Woolf exemplifies her doings as inoffensive and amateur. It is significant that she labels her gift “scratching,” (Woolf, pg. 2495) instead of something more magnificent nevertheless exact: for example, writing. By declaring that few measurable difficulties slowed down her direction and wealth, she is capable of removing all physical talents from her work and advancement to the psychological struggles undergone by Women hope to improve. The inelastic cultural values of the period (and as a result absence of feminine individualistic soul) would have functioned as a connection between Virginia Woof and her readers. This saves her distresses close to those of her audience, and additionally to females subjected to the same cultural tyranny. This conveys her dispute to her true objective, and along with that the “Angel,” the supreme being of the subservient and self-oppressed.

The “Angel” Virginia Woolf depicts is “intensely sympathetic…immensely charming… and utterly unselfish,” and is the ideal example of a woman of the era. “Every home had its Angel,” (Woolf p. 2495) said Woolf, repulsed with the remarkable social function of women – to be wholesome and senseless. Unfortunately, the Angel is a part of all women, Virginia Woolf believed, that was bestowed by society. Yet it may be what women want to be in order to be accepted by society, it infects the present socially delayed struggles of women to become

professionals instead of a housewife or person who takes care of the household. She goes on to explain that this wonder, telling how the Angel afflicted a great deal of harm to her in her career, pleading for her not to write a harsh evaluation, but rather an encouraging, positive critique. In order for Woolf, and women overall, to surpass this wicked impact upon feminism, she had to destroy the Angel with an act of defiance against the customary social values. Virginia Woolf chose her desire, “scratching” (Woolf, pg. 2495) to kill her. Prompted by Virginia’s cries for independence, the subsequent battle between society and woman is strenuous, and is only accomplished by the “inkpot,” (Woolf, pg. 2496) the representation of Woof’s passion and freedom. This alleged Angel represents men’s fear of women’s advance on their professional places. It also displays their origins – a social strategy by men to stay in power by building a standard that women must stand by.

A female without the admirable beauty of society’s criteria, that is a woman instead of an “Angel,” was a strange perception for Virginia Woolf’s readers to observe thoughtfully. Woolf was able to eliminate the Angel from her as well as the social constraints in which to behave, by continuing to write what she believed., Woolf became a woman without social restraints through her writing. This is mirrored by her writing patterns. On one occasion using carefully chosen effective use of language, than transforming into writing that is looser, smooth, and overall, more open-minded – representing the exodus of women from lives of limitation to emotion.

Woolf gives us the example of a woman who hungers to explore her abilities as a woman in society but has many barriers holding her back. Through the central character, Woolf relates to the young woman who desires to explore her abilities by telling us of her struggle as a young girl wanting to be a writer. The young girl desired to write and wished to explore her mind by letting it “sweep unchecked round every rock and cranny of the world that lies submerged in the depths of our unconscious being” (Woolf, pg. 2497). Just like a fisherman, the young girl sought after something, which in fact was to write and she had to pursue it, but there were many barriers in her way. Sadly in the young girls soul, she knew she would never get that ” larger fish” (Woolf, pg. 2497) because she would always hit a rock or some wall where her mind was restricted from going. This was often the case for women rather than men during the Victorian age. Caused by way society was built and viewed men as the more intellectual and rather stronger being than women, where taught to go and pursue the bigger fish and get it. Woolf herself understands these struggles and restraints that women had. “Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess you have a mind of your own. Above all be pure” (Woolf, pg. 2495). That inner self connects with the restraints tats society sets on women who wish to explore their abilities and mind. During Woolf’s time period, society’s views on women and men made goals and dreams a lot harder to achieve. On the other hand, men would make attempts at pursuing something and easily achieve it. On the contrary women would consistently try to achieve their highest goal but would soon come to the consensus that it would never be gripped because of the restraints set on women in society during the 19th Century Victorian era.

However since times have changed it has become easier for women to be writers and explore their mind leading them to find liberation, but for any woman like Jane Eyre or Virginia Woolf who wishes to achieve a goal beyond patriarchal means there will always be some sort of obstacle in their way.


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