Jane Eyre An Analytical View Essay, Research Paper
Jane Eyre is one of the most complex novels of the mid-nineteenth century, offering more than progressive political content and trenchant social observation. Modern readings of Jane Eyre, however, tend to focus on these aspects, often to the neglect of the novel’s many other excellent qualities.
Jane Eyre’s most striking feature is its heroine, who narrates the book approximately ten years after the events of the story take place. (In fact, the first edition of Jane Eyre claimed to be an autobiography, which Currer Bell–Charlotte Bront ’s pseudonym–was credited with editing.) Jane’s patient, meticulous eye for detail, her subtle understanding of the psychology of interpersonal relationships, and her strong moral sense all contribute to her role as one of the first feminist heroines, and underscore her critical encounters with many of Victorian England’s most snobbish and oppressive preconceptions about class and gender roles. As an orphan raised by a wealthy family, Jane herself is of ambiguous social standing. Her status continues to lie awkwardly between poles when she becomes the governess at Thornfield: as a woman, she is automatically a second-class citizen of her time; as a governess, she is forced into a social position subordinate to Rochester and the aristocracy even though she is expected to possess the manners and education of a well-bred lady. Jane’s struggle to integrate her love for Rochester with her desire for independence and equality, and to integrate both with the ethical strictures of Christianity, form the principal inner conflict of the novel. That Jane is able to resolve this conflict, marrying Rochester and living happily as his wife, is an important and optimistic conclusion to Bront ’s novel: love, at least in the world of Jane Eyre, is not incompatible with equality.
In addition to its social and political elements, Jane Eyre cultivates a haunting atmosphere that has helped to ensure its place in the hearts and minds of readers. Structurally, Jane Eyre is based on a novelistic form called Bildungsroman, a kind of novel that tells the story of a character’s development from childhood into adulthood based on a set of worldly experiences. Jane’s story takes her through five distinct phases, each associated with a house or a building: her childhood at Gateshead; her education at the Lowood School; her time as Adele’s governess at Thornfield; her time with the Rivers family at Marsh End (also called Moor House); and her reunion and marriage with Rochester at Ferndean. Each of these phases represents a distinct period of psychological development for Jane; together they form the mature and steady-handed woman who narrates the novel.
But the Bildungsroman of Jane Eyre is filtered through another literary tradition–that of the gothic horror story. A form that became popular in England in the late eighteenth century, the gothic horror story features supernatural encounters, remote landscapes, and eerie mysteries designed to create an atmosphere of suspense and fear. Jane encounters ghosts, dark secrets, plots, and mysteries throughout her story, mitigating the moral seriousness of her social observation with the gripping and crowd-pleasing psycho-drama of gothic romance.