What has been found odd about the novel is the way that it ends. In the end, even though the novel should have ended with Jane’s words, they instead end with Sir John’s words. She quotes St. John’s words from a letter that he has written to her, which she presumes to be his last, in which he has quoted the bible. She chose the words of God himself to conclude this book.
However, St. John’s use of God’s words instead of his own. This seems arrogant as he refuses to give his own opinion on the matter. It is arrogant as he fails to see distinction between his own words and that of the Lords. The earlier feminist critiques of Jane Eyre faced criticism. ‘Postcolonial critics such as Gayatri Spivak pointed out that the narrative result that white feminists celebrated, the triumph of Jane as an autonomous individual, was achieved through the oppression and death of the racially inferior colonial subject, Bertha’1.
The ownership of Eyre inheritance is not a model example of female self-determination. The inheritance was not hard earned and therefore did not seem to be a triumph over patriarchy, as this inheritance is wholly based of exploitation and racism. Marxist critiques question how even though Jane had been liberated what was the fate of Bessie and Hannah, the servants. If Jane is shown to really be dedicated to the feminist cause then she should have stayed back in the rural school at Morton, and should have given education to the working-class girls.
There seems to be constant struggle in defining whether or not Jane Eyre is a feminist novel. Most see a struggle between greater freedom for women and limitations within which women are to conduct their lives.
In Jane Eyre, there seems to be the importance of female presence in the form of a mother or a guide. Whenever throughout the novel Jane at whichever point goes through female temptation, she finds herself with an alternative image of a nurturing and principled women, on whom she can rely. The first such figure that enters Jane’s life is Bessie, she is the only source of affection and support that Jane receives as a child. Even though Bessie is not the most reliable she occasionally gives Jane the emotional support she needs. She would help Jane, ‘now and then a word of unwonted kindness’2.
The next important motherly figure that Jane came across was at Lowood, where she met Miss Temple. Jane seems to have idealised her, ‘to her instructions I owed the best part of my acquirements; her friendship and society had been my continual solace; she had stood me in the stead of mother, governess and latterly companion’3. Miss Temple does all that is in her power to protect Jane from the injustice that she suffers at the hands of Mr. Brocklehurst. She also helps Jane gain education and knowledge that will help her in being self-sufficient.
The other female companion that Jane finds herself attached to is Helen Burns, she provides Jane with companionship, moral guidance and affection. ‘Helen at all times and under all circumstances, evinced for me a quiet and faithful friendship, which ill humour never soured, nor irritation never troubled.4’ Helen is the one who comes to console Jane after her being humiliated by Mr. Brocklehurst, she offers her comfort. She provides her physical intimacy and comfort, ‘resting my head on Helen’s shoulder, I put my arms around her waist; she drew me to her, and we reposed in silence’5.
As Jane grows up she finds herself in the comfort and warmth of Mrs. Fairfax at Thornfield Hall. She then finds shelter from the freezing cold and from St. John’s charity by the River’s sisters, names Diana and Mary. Diana feeds Jane and supports her in her resistance against St. John. She finds herself comfortable with Diana, ‘I was fain to sit on a stool at Diana’s feet, to rest my head on her knee, and listen alternately to her and Mary…. Diana offered to teach me German. I liked to learn from her’6.
Therefore, it would be safe to say that ‘Jane Eyre explores a craving within the heroine which is met by a nourishing, supportive maternal capacity in a series of female figures who populate her pilgrimage and, more broadly, in a prevailing female presence in the natural world’7. Therefore, this novel sees a lot of female presence and there are predominantly females throughout the novel that come to Jane’s rescue during her hour of need.
We can notice a number of restrictions Jane is subjected to throughout the novel. The novel begins with Jane seated at the breakfast room window in an attempt to hide from her brother. Her crime here seems to be reading John Reed’s book, as he asserts that she has no business with the book. Therefore, she is forbidden access to knowledge from books that might help her think beyond and lead her to draw parallels and hence contextualise from her experience.
As an orphan and a girl child, both these factors stood against her. Jane is at the receiving end of the bullying by John Reed, since he is the favourite son he can get away with anything. When Jane is punished after the confrontation and send to the ‘red room’ where she was threatened to be tied down by garters.
She escapes this bondage only when she agrees to obey and sit still. ‘Invisibility, ignorance, passivity, restraint, submission and stillness are the strictures that Jane, like so many of her sisters, faces in the home.8’ Those seem to be the terms Mrs. Reed holds for Jane’s release. ‘It is only on condition of perfect submission and stillness that I shall liberate you’9. This is the prime reason why Jane Eyre caused a sensation at that time.
Jane Eyre was critically acclaimed by earlier feminists as it is considered a ground-breaking text. Unlike the denial of women’s sexual identity that was prevalent at that time, this piece of literature suggested that women not only had sexual passion, but that they also had the right to expect to be sexually fulfilled.
Charlotte Bronte challenged the notion that sexual desires are alien to women. The time that Mr. Rochester tries to torment Jane by speaking about the possibility of marriage with Blanche Ingram. Jane confronts this disregard for her passion. She states ‘Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings?’10.
Similarly, when St. John offers to marry Jane, her refusal to the marry him stems from sexual loathing.
‘My sense such as it was, directed me only to the fact that we did not love each other as man and wife should: and therefore, it inferred we ought not to marry.11’ She refers how they must not marry one another as they do not love each other romantically and she sees him as a brother rather than a lover.
Throughout the novel Jane asserts that there is equality in masculine and feminine desire. Charlotte Bronte portrays an equality of power amongst heterosexual relationships. Even though throughout the novel Mr. Rochester seems to have a hold over Jane, yet he seems to claim that there is some sort of control that Jane has over him. ‘I never met your likeness. Jane, you please me, and you master me’12. Throughout the novel Charlotte Bronte creates a constant struggle for power. ‘She makes a constant play of a shifting dynamic of mystery and submission’13.
At the end of the novel as Jane ultimately finds out about her inheritance, there seems to be a display of economic equality. On the other hand, Mr. Rochester’s physical superiority that is evident throughout the novel verbally and physically which is nullified as he loses his sight in the fire at Thornfield.
When Jane meets Mr. Rochester earlier in the novel, she must lend him a helping hand as he temporarily handicapped due to the sprain in his ankle. She helps him without any prior knowledge of his identity as her employer and the master of Thornfield Hall. There is a repeated trend throughout the novel where Mr. Rochester finds himself at the rescue of Jane. The time that Jane saved him from the fire set to his bed by Bertha, is one of many such examples.