Thursday, 5 September 2013

A School Essay on Jane Eyre

Found among my old A-Level papers this essay I wrote 4 years ago for a class test on Jane Eyre. I've lost the question but you can judge what it was from the answer. Excuse the extremely rigid classifications and immature analysis.

It is true that Bronte presents men as deficient in morality and dependent on women to be their spiritual and moral guide in Jane Eyre. Indeed, this sentiment was felt by Charlotte Brontë as feminist and devout Evangelical, who, in her letters, condemned the shallowness of men.

An important aspect of "Jane Eyre" is its effective representation of the social setting in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the era where the plot of "Jane Eyre" is set. Historically, this era preceded the Victorian era, which brought with it several self-help novels dealing with the fictional autobiographies of those who had risen from poverty to middle-class respectability through diligence and industry. The late 18th and 19th centuries, however, was the Romantic era of profligation. The wealthy landowners were at the top of the social hierarchy and did not work for their own living, often seeking mistresses and wasting their life in social but destructive pleasures. This attribute is present in Mr Rochester, a symbol of the Romantic-era landowner. His father, who was "anxious not to divide the estate" send him to "Jamaica, to espouse a bride already courted for me.  For a man, who, Jane observes, values peersonality, virtue, and conventionality, he holds to "the ideas of their class." namely, property, wealth and status: a shallow act. As "Jane Eyre" is a novel exemplifying true inner virtues and God's judgement, Rochester discovers that his wife has a "pigmy intellect," whose "vices sprang fast and rank," indicating judgement on his selfishness. She is inflicted by "the germs of insanity," due to her "excesses." "Yet I could not live alone," Rochester justifies himself and so "sought the companionship of mistresses," even  determined to marry bigamously, preferably to a "kind," 'caring," "intellectual" woman in order to save his soul.

The characterisation of Rochester indicates his lack of spiritual fulfilment. It is noted that for a man described as "proud," he constantly seeks Jane's advice on morality. Indeed, he asks her several times, where he is "justified in overleaping a custom" to gain access to purity. What his intentions are he initially does not specify, but he proposes to seek "a new acquaintance" who is "a disguised pilgrim - a deity, I verily believe." The fact that he bombards Jane with questions already ,mark her out as his spiritual and moral guide. In fact Rochester's and Jane's ideas on spirituality and morality differ: Rochester seeks it in a "stranger" who will impart to him "reformation" - in Jane, whose virtues he admires; whereas Jane advises him to "look higher than your equals" and 'men and woman may die, philosophers falter in wisdom." The key to this conflict is independence and individuality, tied to spirituality and morality. These virtues are the core themes of the novel. Rochester sins by depending on a "fellow-creature" for reformation, instead of striving alone. Such a reformation would hence be passive, reflecting Helen's view that "There is no merit in such goodness" (that is passive). After the revelation of Rochester's insane wife, Jane tells herself "Laws and principles are for moments like this" where temptation is prevalent.

The setting of "Jane Eyre's" key incidents occur in the "Eden-like garden" which is filled with "apple-trees, pear-trees," and "laden with ripe fruit. Its floral presentation with "jasmine," "sweetbriar" and "daisies" convey a feminine aspect to the surroundings. It is noted that it is outside, in the open, particularly in the garden, that Rochester is most frank and open with Jane; for it is "real, sweet and pure," like the woman he loves - Jane. Hence the garden is a metaphor for feminine truth and fertility. It is here that he asks Jane about his justification committing an act "which neither your conscience sanctifies nor judgement approves." Though still ambiguous, it centres on Rochester's true feelings - love, and the fact of his intended bigamy. In the proposal scene, he declares "For the world's judgement - I wash my hands thereof. For man's opinion - I defy it" in order to be with Jane as his spiritual helpmeet. Jane personifies the attributes if sweetness, fertility (when she later gives birth). life and freshness of the garden, where they spend their time being truly at ease with each other. Hence the setting is a symbol for Rochester's reverence for feminine qualities associated with all that is "real, sweet and pure."

Structurally, it is the men who bring ruin or seek to do so, to the female protagonist. The issue here focuses on morality and spirituality. When Rochester's mad wife is exposed, he insists on Jane's remaining with him: "You are my better self" in contrast to her advice: "Believe in God." It is only after her departure and his wife's death that he acknowledges as "The hand of God in my doom." In other words it is a woman (Jane) who must act by leaving in order to bring him to his senses. No matter how moral Rochester eventually becomes, it is not true, natural morality; it is the work of circumstances initiated by a woman. Similarly St John Rivers depends on Jane to be his spiritual and moral guide, although he refuses to act on her advice. His idea of morality is to marry Jane "to be a helper to Indian women." Despite Jane's persistence in "I will go ...

[The text stops here; either the page is missing, or I ran out of time. Then a new paragraph] ....

In conclusion, "Jane Eyre" depicts Bronte's opinions of men's immoralities and dependence on women for spirituality and morality, as she strove to convey the essence of feminine virtues associated with the Victorian era.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, I think the Rochester portion is quite strong. Liked how you tied it into Helen's condemnation of merely passive morality. I'd argue that he is achieving some spiritual independence in the end, when he puts her off his knee (dethrones her in his affections?) & addresses God without an intermediary for only the second time.

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