Jane Eyre - 1 Sujana Gottumukkala Bronte's Criticism of...

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Sujana Gottumukkala Bronte’s Criticism of Class Discrimination in Jane Eyre In her novel Jane Eyre , Charlotte Brontë focuses extensively on the issue of class in Victorian England. Through her mostly negative portrayal of wealthy characters and her descriptions of the poor treatment of servants and governesses, Brontë appears to oppose the popular idea that class was inherently synonymous with superiority. In the novel, Brontë establishes that those belonging to the lower classes or lacking in wealth were expected to completely subject themselves to the wishes of the wealthy. She also provides numerous examples of her affluent characters demonstrating cruelty toward those less fortunate than themselves, whereas her poor characters display kindness. By revealing the callous nature of many of its upper class characters, Jane Eyre serves as a criticism of the class discrimination that was pervasive throughout Victorian England. The early events in Jane’s life provide ample evidence of societal emphasis on distinctions based on wealth and birth. One example occurs early in the work when Jane is told that she is inferior to Eliza, Georgiana, and John Reed, despite the fact that she is their cousin. When Miss Abbot rebukes Jane and states, “It is your place to be humble, and to try to make yourself agreeable to them,” 1 it is clear that Jane is expected to be obedient to her cousins and comply with their wishes. Similarly, when Jane defends herself against John Reed, she is reprimanded with, “What shocking conduct, Miss Eyre, to strike a young gentleman…your master.” 2 It does not appear that Jane is being scolded for retaliating with violence, but for displaying resistance to John, who is assumed to be her superior. After having established distinctions between Jane and the more wealthy 1
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characters, Brontë then devotes the rest of the novel to disproving Jane’s supposed inferiority. By portraying affluent characters such the Reeds, Mr. Brocklehurst, and Blanche and Lady Ingram as callous, Brontë makes it clear that Jane is in fact morally superior to characters with wealth and rank. The first affluent characters introduced in the novel are the Reeds, who are uniformly depicted as cruel and unfeeling. Although she is Jane’ aunt, Mrs. Reed repeatedly attempts to destroy Jane’s chances of happiness and is portrayed as having a malicious and vindictive nature. The first of Mrs. Reed’s attempts to ruin Jane’s prospects occurs when she deceives Mr. Brocklehurst and tells him that Jane is a liar. 3 Later in the novel, Mrs. Reed also admits that she lied to Jane’s wealthy uncle and told him that Jane was dead. In her confession to Jane, Mrs. Reed explains that her actions were motivated by the desire for revenge when she says, “I disliked you too fixedly and thoroughly ever to lend a hand in lifting you to prosperity…I took my revenge: for you to
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This note was uploaded on 05/04/2008 for the course ENG 038 taught by Professor Mckee during the Spring '08 term at Dartmouth.

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Jane Eyre - 1 Sujana Gottumukkala Bronte's Criticism of...

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