Jane Eyre’s excursion throughout Charlotte Bronte’s novel encompasses of a sequence of exploits in which Jane is challenged with variations of entrapment followed by escape which serves as an act of overcoming. In the course of the novel, Jane finds herself imprisoned in Victorian England’s strict and complicated social hierarchy, one of Bronte’s most important themes, and her struggle against prejudice prevails throughout. Jane’s quest to be loved, too, embodies deviations of entrapment and escape as Jane searches continually in order to gain love without surrendering herself in the process. In addition, Jane’s brushes with different models of religion lead her to form her own morals and philosophies, unlike those of society.
The first variation of entrapment and escape is signified by Jane’s experience in the red room of the Gateshead mansion, as this is where Jane’s position of exile and incarceration initially become clear. The red room symbolizes the entrapment of social class and unpleasant life experience due to her ambiguous social standing, which Jane struggles to escape throughout the novel. “I could not answer the ceaseless inward question—why I thus suffered; now, at the distance of—I will not say how many years, I see it clearly” (17).
Jane is stripped of the innocence and childhood while in the red room, and is forced to meet the bitter emotions due to her unpleasant experience, realizing that she is financially strapped and excluded from society. Although Jane is eventually freed from the red room, she still suffers societal degradation from the Reed family, until she departs for Lowood, avoiding the maltreatment of her adopted family but unconsciously allowing the abuse of other authority while doing so. It seems as though Jane can never truthfully escape the affliction placed upon her by civilization, and she refers to her memory of the first feeling of ridicule as a connection to her current situation.
Jane faces Bronte’s second version of entrapment during her years spent at Lowood. She is faced with two extremes of religion: Mr. Brocklehurst, the religious hypocrite, and Helen Burns, the passive and faithful Christian. Mr. Brocklehurst’s proscriptions are difficult to make sense of as he selfishly lavishes his own family at the expense of his students.
Helen Burns, however, is meek and forgiving in her religious ways, although loved and admired by Jane, proves to be too submissive for Jane to adopt when Jane claims, “If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse” (60). Jane struggles to understand both versions of Christianity, but eventually rejects both and forms her own principles. Her spirit is not discriminative like Brocklehurst’s, nor passive like Helen’s. As Jane puts it, “it is natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved” (60).
Because of her fear of losing her independence due to love, Jane in a way deceives herself. Jane believes that marrying Rochester would mean that she reduce herself to a mere mistress of Rochester’s, giving up her dignity for emotional satisfaction, an unacceptable act in her eye. As Rochester makes an effort to show his love for her by embellishing her in feminine finery, Jane grows more and more fearful of whether Rochester will view her as equal or inferior (261). Although she believes she is an intellectual equal to Rochester, Jane is aware of the disparities of their financial and social standings. The marriage to Rochester symbolizes entrapment, and it is assumed thus far in the novel, that their marriage will not last long; Jane will discover a way to escape inferiority and refusal to adhere to passion rather than reason.
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