social class in jane eyre essay

Charlotte Brontë

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Life in 19th-century Britain was governed by social class, and people typically stayed in the class into which they were born. Both as an orphan at Gateshead and as a governess at Thornfield, Jane holds a position that is between classes, and interacts with people of every level, from working-class servants to aristocrats. Jane's social mobility lets Brontë create a vast social landscape in her novel in which she examines the sources and consequences of class boundaries. For instance, class differences cause many problems in the love between Jane and Rochester . Jane must break through class prejudices about her standing, and make people recognize and respect her personal qualities. Brontë tries to illustrate how personal virtues are better indicators of character than class.

Yet the novel doesn't entirely endorse breaking every social rule. Jane refuses, for instance, to become Rochester's mistress despite the fact that he was tricked into a loveless marriage. Jane recognizes that how she sees herself arises at least partly out of how society sees her, and is unwilling to make herself a powerless outcast for love.

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Social Inequality in “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte Essay

Introduction, social classes, women in society, best of both worlds, works cited.

Jane Eyre is a fictional character created by Charlotte Bronte. The character is the protagonist in a novel that gained commercial and critical acclaim 170 years ago. Jane Eyre’s character explored the challenges faced by a girl in a journey from childhood to adulthood. At the same time Jane Eyre symbolizes the struggle of the social classes in 19 th century England.

It is more than a coming-of-age novel. Jane Eyre wanted to explore the world on her own. The story traced the development of the ten year old child as a hapless prey in an oppressive household, to someone who returned with the power to change her fortune. A child went out of the door and a full-grown woman came back many years later to claim what was rightfully hers.

It is both a dramatic and romantic tale that follows a familiar pattern. But Bronte was not content with a simple storyline because she interspersed it with the struggle of the social classes (Shuttleworth 148). At the same time it is a story about “upward female mobility and flagrant female rebellion (Shuttleworth 148). These are ideas not yet accepted in 19 th century England.

It is also a novel that reflects the significant changes that had been occurring in 19 th century England. A modern world is about to emerge from centuries of traditions. This was remarkably illustrated in Jane Eyre through the evolution of a poor girl into a woman of influence. Her success was made possible only through dogged determination and hard work as described in the following commentary: “As with the productive working-class body, the reproductive energies of the female boyd had to be fully utilized, without transgressing the fine line of regulatory social control” (Shuttleworth 160). Hence, Jane Eyre kept on pushing but at the same time she is mindful of her limitations. But this did not bother her to destroy the hurdles set before her.

Jane Eyre mirrors the changes that occur during that period in English history. Through the rapid changes in technology there emerged a new class. The middle class reared its head in the 19 th century and Bronte simply wrote about its impact to society (Bell & Offen 271). The middle class are not slaves and servants. At the same time they are not part of the aristocrats. They are not rich but they have the means to improve themselves and made their existence indispensable to the wealthier members of society (Bell & Offen 271). This newfound power was the result of greater access to education. Jane Eyre’s character displayed the need not only of social mobility but to reach the ultimate goal of being a confirmed member of the gentry (Shuttleworth 150).

Jane Eyre highlighted the tension between the middle class and the upper class. In the beginning of the novel the author introduced the Reed family as part of the gentry (Peters 5). However, Bronte did not only focus on the tension between the rich and poor. She also highlighted the fact that women were treated disgracefully during her time. John Reed, his cousin, made her understand through the pain of numerous beatings that everything in the house belonged to him (Bronte 29).

Her years spent with the Reed family as well as his dealings with men also highlighted another social issue of that era. Women can never expect equal treatment in relation to members of the opposite sex. In the confrontation between Jane Eyre and her cousin the following insights can be gleaned “even at an early age, the dominance of the male heir as head of the family is never questioned” (Peters 5). This explains the reluctance of the Jane’s Aunt to discipline her son.

Jane Eyre provided a blueprint that inspired women in her time. By giving into a life of dedicated learning, she was able to change her status. She depended on no one but herself. She was an orphan and she was maltreated by those around her. She was knocked down but she refused to give up. Those who treated her kindly were few and they did not last long in the struggle towards self-independence (Shuttleworth 155).

Although she has found this new ability to take care of herself in a dignified manner, there is still one area of her life that has to be confronted before she can truly find happiness. This part of the novel is the most critical portion of Jane Eyre’s story. It seems that the servitude in the Reed’s home, the struggle to be accepted and succeed in school and the testing that comes along with being a governess pales in comparison to her final challenge (Bell & Offen 274). Her final test concerns her ability to find happiness and contentment without marriage.

She cherished her independence. She rejoiced in her newfound power to chart her own destiny because she can create wealth through hard work and self-determination. But the invisible forces of love and romance are uncharted waters for a young woman who is isolated in a society that does not know how to treat an orphan who ascended to the ranks of the middle-class. Jane Eyre was a mere reflection of the personal struggle that rages in the heart of the author. According to one biographer, Bronte desperately wanted to prove to the world that an unmarried woman can triumph in a world dominated by men “that there was no more respectable character on this earth than an unmarried woman who maker her own way through life” (Nestor 11). In the novel, Jane Eyre’s character has the strength to say no to marriage.

She was in the perfect position to marry and it was a tempting proposition because her struggle with life’s worries and unpredictability is supposed to have only one remedy. It is to marry someone with the ability to take care of her until the day she dies. But when she found out that it was dishonourable to marry the man she loves she is courageous enough to say no and left with a heavy heart. This setback is temporary because one day she is going to be reunited with the man she loves.

In the present time there is no denying the fact that this is a man’s world. This assertion can be supported by evidence coming from the entertainment industry up to the highest levels of political power. There are only a few women rulers and CEO’s. Women occupy different spheres but they are few and far in between. Most of the time women are seen in the bottom tier leadership roles and many are servants rather than serving in the position of influence. This is a male dominated world and more so in non-Western societies.

There are numerous horror stories coming from places like China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Middle East and Africa wherein women are treated a little higher than beasts of burden. They are treated as if they are possessions of men. In some societies their value are closely linked to their relationship to the head of the household, a male relative that is responsible for her protection and upkeep.

Although much has changed in the Western world there was a time when women are not treated with the same respect as they are treated now. The idea of gender equality was a foreign concept. However, since time immemorial, women tried to find their place seeking not only equal opportunities but also respect. Women fought for their right to work and the right to vote. In the Western world changes were accomplished but the process was very slow.

There were many contributors. The work has to be done not only by one person but the cumulative effect of a group of women linked by the desire to reach their full potential. One of the most influential voices came from women writers. They have the ability to influence society in a profound way. The pen has always been mightier than a sword. However, putting ink to paper is easier said than done. It has to be pointed out that most women were not given access to education.

Education has always been considered as a source of political and commercial power. Therefore, access to this power source has to be carefully regulated. At the same time education is an expensive endeavour and in a typical family wherein the number of children exceeded the capacity of the parents to nurture them, the wise move has always been to educate the boys and the girls are supposed to stay home.

The longing of women to break free from the stereotype accorded them was beautifully rendered in the scene where John Reed bullies Jane Eyre. John Reed is depicted as a fat boy and it contrasted heavily with the poor sad state of the young Jane Eyre. The image of a fat boy with access to expensive and tasty meal symbolizes the privilege of class and the superiority of men. They have everything that they needed and more.

The fat face means the hoarding of resources. There are so many things that can be shared but their greed drove them to overconsumption. At the same time the fat boy is overly conscious of his status. When Jane Eyre casually asked him why she was called into his presence, John Reed harshly retorted: “Say, ‘What do you want, Master Reed?’” (Bronte 8). Arrogance is part of the privileged class and they wear it as if they expected people to cheer them for doing so. Aside from the haughty behaviour of his cousin, another important feature of the character is his indifference towards education.

John Reed is supposed to be in school but instead he is home eating, playing and bullying his poor cousin. It is a powerful imagery used by the author to clarify that the degree of women’s longing to study is matched by the carefree attitude of men. They have the privilege, and instead of using it to improve themselves, men waste their potential in their indulgence of the flesh.

It is therefore important to value the work of trailblazers like Bronte who help pave the way for the expression of women’s sentiments. However, they were conscious to tone down the voice of dissent. Bronte’s talent allowed her to develop a story that concealed a powerful statement; nevertheless, it was done with utmost care.

In other words, writers like Charlotte Bronte knew that although they have the ability to challenge the status quo they can only rock the boat in such a way that people are jolted awake but not to throw them overboard. Feminists in the 21 st century can point to Bronte as an early example of a woman’s courageous stand to challenge the status quo. But it is more accurate to say that she was an early pioneer and a reluctant fighter of women’s rights.

In real life Charlotte Bronte wanted to show the world that women need not suffer in a male-dominated world. She expressed her desire for independence and judging on her writing skills and the words that flowed from her pen it is easy to say that she burns with this desire to be free. She understood women’s rights in a time when it was not popular to talk about it. Her novel challenged the age old tradition that women can only find their value in marriage. Therefore, it is the most important thing in life. She also challenged the idea that women are supposed to live a life of servitude from the day they were born until the day they die.

In the beginning and middle part of the novel the same sentiment can be seen in the life of Jane Eyre. Readers empathise with her character and they understood that she longed to be free. Her decision to leave the oppressive household of the Reeds and her decision to transform her life by using every opportunity that came her way is a true reflection of the author’s life. Her readers cheer her every move.

The most critical part is when Jane Eyre stood in a place familiar to many women in the 19 th century. A man has proposed and this man is the answer to her prayers. A marriage means eternal bliss. But when she finds out that it is a dishonourable thing to do she shunned marriage earning the praise of feminists all over the world. But all of a sudden, the story goes back to an expected ending. Jane Eyre is back in the arms of her lover.

There are certain social forces that Bronte respected. She said everything in her heart but at the end she knew that the best way to proceed is to tone down her message. It can be argued that Bronte was worried about the success of her novel. It can be argued that her success as a writer depended on a novel that is widely received. However, it can also be said that she simply wanted to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Bronte’s skill is remarkable in the development of a complex character like Jane Eyre. But her characterization was downplayed by the social issues that she incorporated to her novel. A woman seeking to live independently in a male-dominated society certainly raised some eyebrows. But she was determined to prove her point. Nevertheless, Bronte realized that she has to tone down her rhetoric.

Nestor, Pauline. Charlotte Bronte . UK: Barnes & Noble, 1987. Print.

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Charlotte Brontë

  • Literature Notes
  • A Marxist Approach to the Novel
  • Jane Eyre at a Glance
  • Book Summary
  • About Jane Eyre
  • Character List
  • Summary and Analysis
  • Chapters 2-3
  • Chapters 6-7
  • Chapters 14-15
  • Chapters 18-19
  • Chapters 24-25
  • Chapters 28-29
  • Chapter 38-Conclusion
  • Character Analysis
  • Edward Fairfax Rochester
  • St. John Rivers
  • Character Map
  • Charlotte Brontë Biography
  • Critical Essays
  • A Jungian Approach to the Novel
  • A Postcolonial Approach to the Novel
  • Full Glossary
  • Essay Questions
  • Practice Projects
  • Cite this Literature Note

Critical Essays A Marxist Approach to the Novel

Based on the ideas of Karl Marx, this theoretical approach asks us to consider how a literary work reflects the socioeconomic conditions of the time in which it was written. What does the text tell us about contemporary social classes and how does it reflect classism? Jane Eyre depicts the strict, hierarchical class system in England that required everyone to maintain carefully circumscribed class positions. Primarily through the character of Jane, it also accents the cracks in this system, the places where class differences were melding in Victorian England. For example, the novel questions the role of the governess: Should she be considered upper class, based on her superior education, or lower class, because of her servant-status within the family? What happens when relationships develop between people of different classes, such as Rochester and Jane?

Jane's ambiguous class status becomes evident from the novel's opening chapter. A poor orphan living with relatives, Jane feels alienated from the rest of the Reed family. John Reed tells Jane she has "no business to take our books; you are a dependent . . . you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentleman's children like us." In this quote, John claims the rights of the gentleman, implying that Jane's family was from a lower class, and, therefore, she has no right to associate on equal footing with her wealthy cousins. Jane's lack of money leaves her dependent upon the Reeds for sustenance. She appears to exist in a no-man's land between the upper- and servant classes. By calling her cousin John a "murderer," "slave-driver," and "Roman emperor," Jane emphasizes her recognition of the corruption inherent in the ruling classes. As she's dragged away to the red-room following her fight with John Reed, Jane resists her captors like a "rebel slave," emphasizing the oppression she suffers because of her class status. When Miss Abbot admonishes Jane for striking John Reed, Jane's "young master," Jane immediately questions her terminology. Is John really her "master"; is she his servant? Emphasizing the corruption, even despotism of the upper classes, Jane's narrative makes her audience aware that the middle classes were becoming the repositories of both moral and intellectual superiority.

Jane's experiences at Thornfield reinforce this message. When Jane first arrives, she is happy to learn that Mrs. Fairfax is a housekeeper, and not Jane's employer, because this means they're both dependents and can, therefore, interact as equals. Mrs. Fairfax discusses the difference between herself, as an upper-servant, and the other servants in the house; for example, she says Leah and John are "only servants, and one can't converse with them on terms of equality; one must keep them at due distance for fear of losing one's authority." As a governess, Jane is in the same category as Mrs. Fairfax: neither a member of the family nor a member of the serving classes. The ambiguity of the governess is especially pronounced, as we see with the example of Diana and Mary Rivers: the well-educated daughters of upper-class parents who've fallen on hard financial times, the Rivers are better educated than their employers, though treated with as little respect as the family cook. Victorian society brutally maintained the boundaries between governesses and the upper-class families, practically prohibiting marriages between the two groups and attempting to desexualize governesses, who were often accused of bringing a dangerous sexuality into the family. Blanche, for example, calls governesses "incubi," and Lady Ingram believes that liaisons should never be allowed between governesses and tutors, because such relationships would introduce a moral infection into the household.

The relationship between Jane and Rochester also emphasizes class issues. In a conversation preceding their betrothal, Rochester treats Jane like a good servant: Because she's been a "dependent" who has done "her duty," he, as her employer, wants to offer her assistance in finding a new job. Jane confirms her secondary status by referring to Rochester as "master," and believing "wealth, caste, custom," separate her from him. She fears he will treat her like an "automaton" because she is "poor, obscure, plain and little," mistakenly believing the lower classes to be heartless and soulless. Claiming the aristocratic privilege of creating his own rules, Rochester redefines Jane's class status, by defining her as his "equal" and "likeness."

Before she can become Rochester's wife, Jane must prove her acceptability based on class. Does she have an upper-class sensibility, despite her inferior position at Thornfield? For example, when Bessie sees Jane at Lowood, she is impressed because Jane has become "quite a lady"; in fact, her accomplishments surpass that of her cousins, yet they are still considered her social superiors based solely on wealth. The conversation emphasizes the ambiguities of Jane's family's class status and of the class system in general: Should a lady be judged based on academic accomplishments, money, or family name? The novel critiques the behavior of most of the upper-class characters Jane meets: Blanche Ingram is haughty and superficial, John Reed is debauched, and Eliza Reed is inhumanely cold. Rochester is a primary example of upper-class debauchery, with his series of mistresses and his attempt to make Jane a member of the harem. In her final view of Thornfield, after Bertha has burned it down, Jane emphasizes the stark contrast between her comforting, flowering, breathtaking dream of Thornfield, and the reality of its trodden and wasted grounds. The discrepancy emphasizes that the world's vision of the upper classes doesn't always capture the hidden passions that boil under the veneer of genteel tranquility.

One of Jane's tasks in the novel is to revitalize the upper classes, which have become mired in debauchery and haughtiness. Just as Rochester sought Jane for her freshness and purity, the novel suggests that the upper classes in general need the pure moral values and stringent work ethic of the middle classes. At novel's end, Rochester recognizes the error in his lifestyle, and his excessive passions have been quenched; he is reborn as a proper, mild-mannered husband, happily dependent on his wife's moral and intellectual guidance.

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What Did Jane Eyre Do? Ideology, Agency, Class and the Novel

  • Chris Vanden Bossche
  • The Ohio State University Press
  • Volume 13, Number 1, January 2005
  • 10.1353/nar.2005.0001
  • View Citation

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Role of Social Class in Jane Eyre (Essay Sample)

One Italian Proverb writes, “Once the game is over, the king and the pawn go back in the same box.” The significance behind this quote is that social class and status do not matter at the end of the day. Social status has played roles in thousands of countries, for thousands of years, and it continues to do so. Social class even today still exists, though not as severe as it once was. It helped create cities, and destroy them as well as doing the same to relationships. In the Victorian Era, social status dictated one's life and people were taught to accept their fate in their     class. In Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, she portrays social class as a restricting and pointless ideal through Jane defying her status and waiting to be equal before marriage, St. John Rivers and how he does not marry his love because she would not make a good wife, and lastly Mr. Rochester, for he married a governess and turned away for Miss Ingram.

Bronte uses Jane Eyre to portray her ideals because she thoroughly breaks social stereotypes and demonstrates them as a useless ideal all throughout the novel. Jane, being an orphan with no more than five shillings to her name, grows confident as the novel continues. Jane declares herself equal to Mr. Rochester when she says, "I tell you I must go!" I retorted, roused to something like passion. "Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you, — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; — it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal, — as we are!"(Bronte 238) Here, Rochester was telling Jane she was to move to Ireland as he was getting married to Blanch Ingram, to which Jane snapped and declared her love and equality to Rochester. Jane defied the odds of her social class by doing so, as she called herself his equal regardless of the fact she was an orphan with no money. Another example of when Jane breaks the chains that status is holding on her is when she is arguing with St.John Rivers. She thinks,  “Having felt in him the presence of these qualities, I felt his imperfection and took courage. I was with an equal — one with whom I might argue — one whom, if I saw good, I might resist.”(Bronte 379)St.John Rivers is an extremely religious man, and wants to marry Jane just because she would make a good wife, even though he does not love her. Jane proposes that she will only move to India with him if she was his equal, or as she puts it “brother and sister”. Bronte uses Jane to break the stereotype that just because you are poor, you are desperate. Jane defied her odds and learnt to expect equality, as well as holding her ground by demanding equality regardless of gender and social status.

St. John Rivers strongly believes that social status played an important role in society, but because of this Jane was incapable of marrying him, and he was left lonesome. He was also extremely demanding. For example he tells Jane, “God and nature intended you for a missionary’s wife. It is not personal but mental endowments they have given you; you are formed for labor, not love. A missionary’s wife you must—shall be. You shall be mine; I claim you—not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service.”(375) St. John proposes to Jane, not because he loves her, but because she would make a good wife to him, forgetting she is a human with her own life. He did not take into consideration that Jane was a person as well. He refused to go to India with her as brother and sister as he feared it would bring down his status among the others and because he wanted to have kids. After Jane refuses, he says, “Refuse to be my wife, and you limit yourself forever to a track of selfish ease and barren obscurity.”(Bronte 381) This is basically a threat, trying to force Jane into doing what he wants. St. John illustrates that social class was not important to the author because his actions prove to get him nowhere and leave him lonely. 

The author conveys that social roles and statuses were merely words and titles through Mr Rochester as he becomes lovers with Jane besides the fact she is poor and an orphan. Mr. Rochester tells Jane she is to move to Ireland because he is getting married to Blanche eIngram. After Jane spills out her true feelings towards him he reacts by saying,  “'My bride is here,’ he said, again drawing me to him, ‘ because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?”(239) Mr. Rochester considers Jane his equal despite their differences in class, proving how class will and does not affect love. He also proposes to her and does not care that her social status may cause discrepancies in his name. At the altar when they were to be married, Jane finds out about his crazy wife Bertha Mason. Mr. Rochester tells Jane, “To tell me that I had already a wife is empty mockery; you know now that I had but a hideous demon. I was wrong to attempt to deceive you; but I feared a stubbornness that exists in your character…This was cowardly; I should have appealed to your nobleness and magnanimity at first…shown to you, not my resolution (that word is weak), but my resistless bent to love faithfully and well, where I am faithfully and well loved in return.”(295) He admits how he was wrong, despite the fact he is a man with more power, because he truly views Jane as his equal. He does not let social status get in the way of his life. Mr. Rochester demonstrates Brontes feelings perfectly because he does not let social class determine his power, love life, or friendships in general.

In conclusion, in Jane Eyre written Charlotte Bronte used  Jane Eyre, St.John Rivers, and Mr. Rochester uniquely portrays her thoughts on social status as they each demonstrated social class and “defying” it in their own way. The author used Jane to illustrate her thoughts through Jane's feministic attitude. She used St. John Rivers to show how social status was restricting and “harmful” as he lost Jane and Rosamond due to his stubbornness and need for gender roles and to not be equal with women.  Lastly, Bronte used Mr. Edward Rochester to help the reader understand that social status is useless, because he marries Jane despite the fact she is extremely poor and is a governess, and the fact she was below him in social status did not bother him. At the end of the day, people are all equal despite their social rank just like written in the Italian Proverb.

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Class Status in Jane Eyre

Throughout Jane Eyre , the protagonist Jane occupies an ambiguous class position. She travels the entire spectrum of class status from homeless vagabond to upper class married woman. He status does not progressively incline or decline, but rather oscillates between the two ends of the social scale. Even before birth, her class status was somewhat ambiguous. As Susan Fraiman writes, both Jane's mother and father were "socially ambiguous, and this ambiguity is part of their legacy to Jane" (616). Because Jane's father, a poor clergyman, married Jane's mother, a middle-class woman, they were situated somewhere between the two classes as a couple. Her father's education helped him to elevate himself slightly from the masses of poor people and her mother's marrying down lowered her from the class she had been born into. Therefore, when Jane was born she also occupied this socially ambiguous spot. Jane's class status becomes even more indefinable when her parents die and leave her as an orphan to be brought up by her wealthy Aunt Reed. Jane grows up in the Reeds' sizeable estate Gateshead, but not as a fully acknowledged member of the Reed family. She is not one of the working class servants, nor is she one of the spoiled Reed children. Instead, she occupies a social space in between the two. Jane's class status remains low as she travels to study at the boarding school Lowood. She is mixed with a mass of other poor girls and forced to live in a harsh environment. At the time she leaves the school, Jane has experienced nothing but the dreary existence of a working class girl. However, her education is able to propel her up into the lower middle class when she accepts a job as governess at the Thornfield estate. There, she earns her income through by educating another orphan and meets her future husband, Edward Rochester. Complications arising from an engagement to Rochester force Jane to flee Thornfield and live the most destitute portion of her life as a homeless runaway. She is so cold and hungry that she tries to barter her handkerchief and gloves for a roll or cake at one point. "Almost desperate," Jane tells us, "I asked for half a cake" (323) and then she asks, "Would she take my gloves?" (323). She is refused the food by the bakery worker and further humiliated. Her class status in this portion of the novel is very near the bottom of the spectrum. She has become a beggar woman. Again, however, Jane's status changes significantly when she is taken in by St. John River's and given a job as a schoolmistress in a small town. Although she is no longer teaching an aristocratic child, she is still teaching and supporting herself with her education. Finally, in a dramatic turn of events, Jane inherits a large sum of money from a deceased uncle and rockets into the upper middle class. With the money, she goes back to her lover Rochester with a superior class standing, an event that I will discuss in more detail later. As Fraiman describes it, Jane represents, at the same time, "the happy, rich, and conventionally respectable lady and the overworked, always potentially irate nurse" (630). Throughout her entire life, Jane Eyre drifted in and out of different economic classes and remained locked in a state of social ambiguity.

Perhaps because she does not belong to a set class herself, Jane tends not to evaluate other people based on their class status. Instead, she evaluates people's superiority or inferiority based on their behavior and forms either deep friendship or animosity based on it. During her childhood at Gateshead, Jane is more emotionally attached to the servant Bessie than to any of her wealthy family members. She bases her adoration on Bessie's personal characteristics rather than her economic status. Fraiman tells us that during Christmastime, "instead of yearning toward the genteel company, [Jane] would rather spend a quiet evening with Bessie" (617) because of the motherly characteristics that Bessie displays towards Jane. Jane longs for the affection of a motherly woman rather than the glamorous company of her rich family. At Lowood, Jane again attaches herself to a poor, humbly, motherly woman and scorns the wealthy, this time in the form of Mr. Brocklehurst. Jane describes Miss Temple with much adoration. She cherishes the time that she spends with her teacher, although she is not a woman that could be considered wealthy by any means. More important to Jane is the affection that Miss Temple shows towards her. On the other hand, Mr. Brocklehurst, who is described by Miss Temple herself as "not a god; nor is he even a great and admired man: he is little liked here" (78) is described by Jane as a cold-hearted, greedy man. Jane is not impressed by his standing in the school or in society, but bases her opinions of him on his actions. She criticizes him for dressing his wife and daughters in such pomp while explaining that he was teaching the schoolgirls to be more Christ-like by nearly starving them and dressing them poorly. Jane sees through his hypocrisy and refuses to judge him on his economic achievements.

Although Jane is able to look past economics to form deep friendships with members of the other classes, she still is acutely aware of class status. Jane tells Mr. Lloyd that she would rather stay with the wealthy, abusive and neglectful Reed family than go to live with her poorer relatives. She says, "I should not like to belong to poor people" (36) and "I should not like to go a-begging" (36). To Jane, at least as a child, it is better to live in a wealthy household as an unwanted outsider than to be part of a poor family. It is interesting to note that Jane does not associate herself with her poor relations. Instead of saying that she would not like to be a poor person, she says that she would not like to 'belong to poor people.' She would retain her outsider status even in a different economic level. It should also be noted that Jane eventually does 'go a-begging' and shortly thereafter lives with her poor relations and enjoys living with them a great deal. Although she says that she would not like to beg or live with poor family, she eventually ends up doing both. Additionally, Jane's descriptions of nearly every character in the book include their economic status near the first mention of them. Just a few of the many examples are when Jane describes Rochester's wealth before she describes his physical features or personality, she displays St. John River's house and belongings before mentioning him, and then continually reminds him of Miss Oliver's wealth. So, although Jane does not judge people by their economic status, she does notice it and use it as a feature to describe them.

Other characters in the novel tend to judge Jane in much the same way as she judges others; at first they notice her external features such as her economic status and her physical appearance but then, after getting to know her, they often judge her by her personality and behavior. Rochester serves as a prime example of this. When he first meets Jane, he quickly inquires into her employment at Thornfield and says, "You are not a servant at the hall, of course" (121). He recognizes that Jane is not a lady but not a servant either. In order to evaluate her, he needs to know exactly what her job and corresponding class status is. Simultaneously, he evaluates her based on her appearance. He takes mental note of her rather unattractive face that St. John later describes as some that "would always be plain. The grace and harmony of beauty are quite wanting in those features" (333). Jane's lower economic status and her unattractive features at first distance Rochester from Jane. Their relationship at first is strictly professional. However, as time goes on, Rochester learns to enjoy the company and quick intellect of Jane. He becomes more and more fond of her and eventually asks her to marry him. The marriage proposal is a significant move on his part. First, it shows that he has evaluated Jane on characteristics other than her economic status and appearance. Second, it puts him in a position where others may criticize him for marrying outside of his class. However, Rochester's attraction to Jane is stronger than his fear of other people's opinions.

Because of Jane's class ambiguity, she does not possess the discrimination towards other classes that many other characters do. For example, Mrs. Fairfax, a servant of Rochester, speaks harshly about members of the upper class, such as Blanche Ingram, simply because they are of another class and she does not understand them. She says of Blanche, "she did not know the sensations of sympathy and pity; tenderness and truth were not in her" (188). To Mrs. Fairfax, Blanche is just a heartless, rich woman who has no concern for anyone else around her. However, Jane describes Blanche as a beautiful woman who would suit Rochester better than Jane herself. She may not like her as a friend, but she still recognizes her achievements and qualities more than Mrs. Fairfax was able to do. Jane's ability to judge Blanche in a more unbiased fashion probably results from the fact that she is able to relate to her more. Whereas Mrs. Fairfax is just a servant serving Rochester, Jane is on a more equal plane with him and admires him as Blanche does. Because she has more in common with the upper class than the servant Mrs. Fairfax, she is able to evaluate them in a more favorable manner. Conversely, Jane is able to evaluate members of the lower classes more favorably than the upper class characters in the novel do. An example of this comes when Rochester is dressed up as a poor gypsy woman. Blanche and the other ladies are all afraid of speaking to the old, poor woman, but Jane "was glad of the unexpected opportunity to gratify [her] much-excited curiosity" (197). The ladies were all skeptical of the gypsy because they evaluated her based on her external appearances, but Jane was able to look past that because she had at times been poor herself. She evaluated the gypsy based on her actions rather than her appearance and, therefore, realized that she was really just Rochester in disguise while none of the superficial ladies did.

In the end, Jane inherits twenty thousand pounds from her uncle and, as Terry Eagleton writes, "comes to have power over Rochester" (30) because when she agrees to marry him, "she comes to him on her own terms, financially self-sufficient" (30). He claims that the ambiguous nature of class status and relationships that has carried throughout the novel takes a final twist as Jane is suddenly elevated socially above her former master. After reading Brontë's entire novel, we are not surprised to see another blending of the normally distinct class lines. It is understandable, perhaps even expected, that she would change Jane's class status in order to release her from the harsh class confinements. Another reading, which Eagleton provides, sees the ending as Brontë's revenge upon the aristocratic Rochester: "Revenge does not, in fact, seem too strong a word for what happens at the end of Jane Eyre " (31-32). He believes that Brontë intentionally lowered Rochester beneath Jane economically and socially in order to promote the hardworking, proletariat character over the idle bourgeoisie one. By doing so, says Eagleton, "bourgeois initiative and genteel settlement... can be merged into mythical unity" (32). The only way for the unity of marriage to be possible between the working class Jane and the gentleman Rochester is through the extraordinary circumstances that take place, elevating Jane above Rochester.

Jane remains essentially the same character throughout the novel even though her class status changes dramatically. By doing so, Charlotte Brontë shows that economic classes were not as concrete as certain people wanted them to be and that individuals should not be defined solely by their economic class.

Works Cited

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre . Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1996. Buy a copy. »

Eagleton, Terry. Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontës . London: Macmillan Press, 1975. Buy a copy. »

Fraiman, Susan. "Jane Eyre's Fall from Grace." Jane Eyre . Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1996. 614-631.

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A Critique of The Social Hierarchies of Victorian England in Jane Eyre

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social class in jane eyre essay

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Jane Eyre Social Class Quotes

You have no business to take our books; you are a dependant, mama says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen’s children like us, and ear the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mama’s expense. Now, I’ll teach you to rummage my book-shelves: for they are mine; all the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years.

– Charlotte Bronte

“Wicked and cruel boy!” I said. “You are like a murderer – you are like a slave-driver – you are like the Roman emperors!”

Like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths. “Hold her arms, Miss Abbot: she’s like a mad cat.” “For shame! for shame!” cried the lady’s-maid. “What shocking conduct, Miss Eyre, to strike a young gentleman, your benefactress’s son! Your young master.” “Master! How is he my master? Am I a servant?” “No; you are less than a servant, for you do nothing for your keep.”

Bessie answered not; but ere long, addressing me, she said, – “You ought to be aware, Miss, that you are under obligations to Mrs. Reed: she keeps you: if she were to turn you off, you would have to go to the poor-house.” I had nothing to say to these words: they were not new to me: my very first recollections of existence included hints of the same kind. This reproach of my dependence had become a vague sing-song in my ear; very painful and crushing, but only half intelligible.

“And you ought not to think yourself on an equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed, because Missis kindly allows you to be brought up with them. They will have a great deal of money, and you will have none: it is your place to be humble, and to try to make yourself agreeable to them.” “What we tell you is for your good,” added Bessie, in no harsh voice, “you should try to be useful and pleasant, then, perhaps, you would have a home here; but if you become passionate and rude, Missis will send you away, I am sure.”

Poverty looks grim to grown people; still more so to children: they have not much idea of industrious, working, respectable poverty; they think of the world only as connected with ragged clothes, scanty food, fireless grates, rude manners, and debasing vices: poverty for me was synonymous with degradation.

I could not see how poor people had the means of being kind; and then to learn to speak like them, to adopt their manners, to be uneducated, to grow up like one of the poor women I saw sometimes nursing their children or washing their clothes at the cottage doors of the village of Gateshead: no, I was not heroic enough to purchase liberty at the price of caste.

I learned, for the first time, from Miss Abbot’s communications to Bessie, that my father had been a poor clergyman; that my mother had married him against the wishes of her friends, who considered the match beneath her; that my grandfather Reed was so irritated at her disobedience, he cut her off without a shilling; that after my mother and father had been married a year, the latter caught the typhus fever…that my mother took the infection from him, and both died within a month of each other.

“I have a Master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world; my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh; to teach them to clothe themselves with shame-facedness and sobriety – not with braided hair and costly apparel and each of the young persons before us has a string of hair twisted in plaits which vanity itself might have woven; these, I repeat, must be cut off; think of the time wasted, of – ” Mr. Brocklehurst was here interrupted: three other visitors, ladies, now entered the room. They ought to have come a little sooner, to have heard his lecture on dress, for they were splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs. The two younger of the trio (fine girls of sixteen and seventeen) had grey beaver hats, then in fashion, shaded with ostrich plumes, and from under the brim of this graceful head-dress fell a profusion of light tresses, elaborately curled; the elder lady was enveloped in a costly velvet shawl, trimmed with ermine, and she wore a false front of French curls.

“A new servitude! There is something in that,” I soliloquised (mentally, be it understood; I did not talk aloud). “I know there is, because it does not sound too sweet; it is not like such words as Liberty, Excitement, Enjoyment: delightful sounds truly; but no more than sounds for me; and so hollow and fleeting that it is mere waste of time to listen to them. But Servitude! That must be matter of fact. Any one may serve: I have served here eight years; now all I want is to serve elsewhere.”

I am so glad you are come; it will quite pleasant living here now with a companion. To be sure it is pleasant at any time; for Thornfield is a fine old hall, rather neglected of late years perhaps, but still it is a respectable place; yet you know in winter time, one feels dreary quite alone, in the best quarters. I say alone – Leah is a nice girl to be sure, and John and his wife are very decent people; but then you see they are only servants, and one can’t converse with them on terms of equality: one must keep them at due distance, for fear of losing one’s authority.

This affable and kind little widow was no great dame, but a dependent like myself. I did not like her the worse for that; on the contrary, I felt better pleased than ever. The equality between her and me was real; not the mere result of condescension on her part: so much the better – my position was all the freer.

This was all the account I got from Mrs. Fairfax of her employer and mine. There are people who seem to have no notion of sketching a character, or observing and describing salient points, either in persons or things: the good lady evidently belonged to this class; my queries puzzled, but did not draw her out. Mr. Rochester was Mr. Rochester in her eyes; a gentleman, a landed proprietor – nothing more: she inquired and searched no further, and evidently wondered at my wish to gain a more definite notion of his identity.

I climbed the three staircases, raised the trap-door of the attic, and having reached the leads, looked out afar over sequestered field and hill, and along dim sky-line – that then I longed for a power of vision which might overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I had heard of but never seen: that I desired more of practical experience than I possessed; more of intercourse with my kind, of acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach. I valued what was good in Mrs. Fairfax, and what was good in Adele; but I believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness, and what I believed in I wished to behold. Who blames me? Many, no doubt; and I shall be called discontented. I could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes.

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth.

“Ah! By my word! There is something singular about you,” said he: “you have the air of a little nonnette; quaint, quiet, grave, and simple, as you sit with your hands before you, and your eyes generally bent on the carpet (except, by-the-bye, when they are directed piercingly to my face; as just now, for instance); and when one asks you a question, or makes a remark to which you are obliged to reply, you rap out a round rejoinder, which, if not blunt, is at least brusque.”

I don’t think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.

When these fine, fashionable people get together, they are so surrounded by elegance and gaiety, so well provided with all that can please and entertain, they are in no hurry to separate. Gentlemen especially are often in request on such occasions; and Mr. Rochester is so talented and so lively in society, that I believe he is a general favourite: the ladies are very fond of him; though you would not think his appearance calculated to recommend him particularly in their eyes: but I suppose his acquirements and abilities, perhaps his wealth and good blood, make amends for any little fault of look.

It does good to no woman to be flattered by her superior who does not intend to marry her; and it is madness in all women to let a secret love kindle within them, which, if unreturned and unknown, must devour the life that feeds it; and, if discovered and responded to, must lead, ignis-fatuus-like, into miry wilds whence there is no extrication.

Listen, then, Jane Eyre, to your sentence: to-morrow, place the glass before you, and draw in chalk your own picture, faithfully, without softening one defect; omit no harsh line, smooth away no displeasing irregularity; write under it, “Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain.” Afterwards, take a piece of smooth ivory – you have one prepared in your drawing-box: take your palette, mix your freshest, finest, clearest tints; choose your most delicate camel-hair pencils; delineate carefully the loveliest face you can imagine; paint it in your softest shades and sweetest lines, according to the description given by Mrs. Fairfax of Blanche Ingram; remember the raven ringlets, the oriental eye; – What! you revert to Mr. Rochester as a model! Order! No snivel! – no sentiment! – no regret! I will endure only sense and resolution. Recall the august yet harmonious lineaments, the Grecian neck and bust; let the round and dazzling arm be visible, and the delicate hand; omit neither diamond ring nor gold bracelet; portray faithfully the attire, aërial lace and glistening satin, graceful scarf and golden rose; call it “Blanche, an accomplished lady of rank.”

You have nothing to do with the master of Thornfield, further than to receive the salary he gives you for teaching his protégée, and to be grateful for such respectful and kind treatment as, if you do your duty, you have a right to expect at his hands. Be sure that is the only tie he seriously acknowledges between you and him: so don’t make him the object of your fine feelings, your raptures, agonies, and so forth. He is not of your order: keep to your caste; and be too self-respecting to lavish the love of the whole heart, soul, and strength, where such a gift is not wanted and would be despised.

“He is not to them what he is to me,” I thought: “he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine; – I am sure he is, – I feel akin to him, – I understand the language of his countenance and movements: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him…I know I must conceal my sentiments: I must smother hope; I must remember that he cannot care much for me. For when I say that I am of his kind, I do not mean that I have his force to influence, and his spell to attract: I mean only that I have certain tastes and feelings in common with him. I must, then, repeat continually that we are forever sundered: – and yet, while I breathe and think, I must love him.”

I must, then, repeat continually that we are forever sundered – and yet, while I breathe and think, I must love him.

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. You pay her, of course: I should think it quite as expensive, – more so; for you have them both to keep in addition…You should hear mama on the chapter of governesses: Mary and I have had, I should think, a dozen at least in our day; half of them detestable and the rest ridiculous, and all incubi – were they not, mama?

Miss Ingram was a mark beneath jealousy; she was too inferior to excite the feeling…She was very showy, but she was not genuine. She had a fine person, many brilliant attainments; but her mind was poor, her heart barren by nature…She was not good, she was not original…Tenderness and truth were not in her…Other eyes besides mine watched these manifestations of character…Yes, the future bride-groom, Mr. Rochester himself, exercised over his intended a ceaseless surveillance; and it was from this sagacity…this obvious absence of passion in his sentiments toward her, that my ever-torturing pain arose.

I saw he was going to marry her, for family, perhaps political reasons, because her rank and connections suited him; I felt he had not given her his love, and that her qualifications were ill adapted to win from him that treasure. This was the point – this was where the nerve was touched and teased – this was where the fever was sustained and fed: she could not charm him.

I have not yet said anything condemnatory of Mr. Rochester’s project of marrying for interest and connections. It surprised me when I first discovered that such was his intention; I had thought him a man unlikely to be influenced by motives so commonplace in his choice of a wife; but the longer I considered the position, education, etc., of the parties, the less I felt justified in judging and blaming either him or Miss Ingram, for acting in conformity to ideas and principles instilled into them, doubtless, from their childhood. All their class held these principles; I supposed, then, they had reasons for holding them such as I could not fathom. It seemed to me that, were I a gentleman like him, I would take to my bosom only such a wife as I could love; but the very obviousness of the advantages to the husband’s own happiness, offered by this plan, convinced me that there must be arguments against its general adoption of which I was quite ignorant: otherwise I felt sure all the world would act as I wished to act.

“You are my little friend, are you not?” “I like to serve you, sir, and to obey you in all that is right.”

Everybody knows you are the most selfish, heartless creature in existence: and I know your spiteful hatred towards me.

I knew there would be pleasure in meeting my master again, even though broken by the fear that he was so soon to cease to be my master, and by the knowledge that I was nothing to him; but there was ever in Mr. Rochester (so, at least, I thought) such a wealth of the power of communicating happiness, that to taste but of the crumbs he scattered to stray and stranger birds like me, was to feast genially. His last words were balm. They seemed to imply that it imported something to him whether I forget him or not. And he had spoken of Thornfield as my home – would that it were my home!

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    Social class. Another, less obvious, theme tackles the much broader problem of social class. Though on one level the novel is a love story which covers the experiences of one woman, a representative of her sex, it also deals with the difficulties faced by a particular class of women in Victorian society young middle-class women - especially ...

  11. Themes

    GCSE; Edexcel; Themes - Edexcel Social class in Jane Eyre. A theme is a key idea that runs through the text. In Jane Eyre the main themes are love and hate, social class and personal discovery.

  12. Project MUSE

    The question is not whether the novel supports or subverts class ideology, but rather how it deploys the languages of class in order to confront a series of social situations, each of which threatens to delimit Jane Eyre's social agency. Jane Eyre repeatedly shifts positions within class discourse, not in order to move towards a final class ...

  13. Role of Social Class in Jane Eyre (Essay Sample)

    Role of Social Class in Jane Eyre (Essay Sample) One Italian Proverb writes, "Once the game is over, the king and the pawn go back in the same box.". The significance behind this quote is that social class and status do not matter at the end of the day. Social status has played roles in thousands of countries, for thousands of years, and it ...

  14. How Does Charlotte Bronte Use Social Class In Jane Eyre

    The Ladder of Class. In a life full of mishaps and dilemmas, the social ladder is a hard object to climb, but one person defied it all and rose to the top. Charlotte Bronte composed a Victorian style novel entitled Jane Eyre. Starting off her difficult life as an orphan, Jane begins to grow and excel once she was offered new opportunities.

  15. Class Status in Jane Eyre

    Class Status in. Jane Eyre. Throughout Jane Eyre, the protagonist Jane occupies an ambiguous class position. She travels the entire spectrum of class status from homeless vagabond to upper class married woman. He status does not progressively incline or decline, but rather oscillates between the two ends of the social scale.

  16. Social Class In Jane Eyre

    1131 Words. 5 Pages. Open Document. In the Victorian era women were held at a different standard than the men in the Victorian era. In the novels of Jane Eyre and Tess of the d'Urberville the social class of the women was challenged by both leading ladies in the novels. Exploring both novels I will you examples from both to show how social ...

  17. A Critique Of The Social Hierarchies Of Victorian England In Jane Eyre

    Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre is critical in its exploration of the complicated and strict social hierarchies of Victorian England. Jane Eyre, an unclassifiable person, is suspended between high and low class. She is an estranged orphan, but she is brought up in a high class household.

  18. The Significance of Class Relations in Jane Eyre

    In the novel Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte gives her audience a detailed account of the significance of social class hierarchy and class consciousness during the nineteenth century in Victoria England as well as the impact they played specifically in the life of the main character Jane Eyre a lost soul, searching to find her true identity.

  19. The Representation of Social Class and Feminism In Jane Eyre

    In chapter 10 of Jane Eyre, the emphasis is on the social class clash between Rochester and Jane. During the tenth century, people remained in the class that they were born into; however, Jane moves between classes, starting as an orphan from then moving to a governess at Thornfield. Jane's parents were of different classes as well; her ...

  20. Social Class and Equality in Jane Eyre

    Social Class and Equality in Jane Eyre. This essay sample was donated by a student to help the academic community. Papers provided by EduBirdie writers usually outdo students' samples. Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Brontë, is classified as a "bildungsroman," meaning it is a novel that traces the development of the main character from a ...

  21. Social Class In Jane Eyre Essay

    Social Class In Jane Eyre Essay. Based on Jane Eyre's early life, one's status, class, and position are all determined at birth. During her time under Miss. Reed's care, Bessie continually reminds over again that "if [Miss. Reed was] to turn [Jane] off, [Jane] would have to go to the poor-house" (16). From the society's view, status ...

  22. Jane Eyre Social Class Quotes

    Jane Eyre, Chapter 17. Jane has retreated to a corner to observe Rochester and his party of upper-class houseguests. She believes that he has more in common with her than he has with them. Despite their difference in rank and wealth, she feels a kinship with Rochester. However, she doubts that the social class barriers dividing them can be ...

  23. Jane Eyre Social Class

    Furthermore, Jane fights against the stereotypes of social class during her time at the Moore House. Readers find Jane Eyre in the most vulnerable state after her departure from Thornfield, "...I can scarcely bear to review the times to which I allude: the moral degradation, blent with physical suffering, form too distressing a recollection ever to be willingly dwelt on" (Bronte 324).