The later stages of the Victorian Era in England were times of great change. There was a shift from the big estates to a more modern urban economy. Work, such as industry and mining were two areas that saw major development. These two industries brought an opportunity for individuals to acquire new wealth and seek new job opportunities. Even with these new opportunities present for the taking, the Victorian era was not one of equality and more so when it came to gender equality.
Tola Odubajo and Dayo Odubajo argue, ‘the Victorian society was that women bore the brunt of the society’s inequality, injustice, and unfairness’ (9224). In Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, we are given examples of this society’s inequality and unfairness throughout the journey of Jane Eyre. In any life, there are always going to be setbacks, but it is how one reacts to the setbacks life hands them that will determine their success. From Janes time at Gateshead Hall, Lowood, Thornfield, and then finally Morton there are all sorts of setbacks she faces.
It is through her resiliency, courage, and friendship that allows her to find happiness in life.
Given the era Jane is living in she is born into a world with a major setback in place which is the inequality and unfair treatment of women. Jane, unfortunately, has encounters with John Reed, Brocklehurst, and St. John all of whom are prime examples of males who uphold the norms to treat women unequally and unfairly. It is Janes resiliency that keeps her from allowing these males to dictate who she is.
It is not fair that when she takes a book from the library where she is living that John yells at her, throws it at her, and then she is the one sent to the red as punishment. This punishment is because 14-year-old John who is technically the head of the household does not like her living with them. She could very easily avoid a lot of this punishment if she followed the social norms of the time such as the doctrine of submission. However, the level Jane would have to submit to John is one no one should ever have to because John Reed treats her less than human even calling her ‘bad animal’ (Bronte 11). At a young age Jane shows resilience and fights back, Bronte writes, ‘What shocking conduct, Miss Eyre, to strike a young gentleman· Your young master’ (15). By hitting John, Jane shows us that she is not going to back down from unfair treatment even if that means breaking the expectation of women being obedient to men. She realizes she does not deserve that and proves to the reader she will not stand for it. What life would she have had at Gateshead if she decided to give in to John? Not one of much promise given the way he treats her calling her an animal, telling her she does not deserve to live with them and to beg (13). Developing this toughness to withstand John Reed’s torment and fight for herself prepares her for the encounters with future controlling and unjust male Brocklehurst.
Lowood is the next stage of her life and a place that does not get any easier. Suffering and injustice surround this school in almost every scene. Gulustur and Bolat argue that Lowood is ‘a place in which Jane must endeavor to stay alive and to make headway for an unmistakable moral and mental assessment out of the Lowood’s black and gloomy environment’ (89). From poorly feeding to receiving harsh punishments because the girls were not washed correctly, or their hair was too curly are just a few examples. Brocklehurst the worst of all instructors, holding the girls to unfair standards and punishing them in unfair ways makes attempts to assert his power over Jane as well. Bronte writes, ‘I was well received by my fellow pupils; treated as an equal by those of my own age, and not molested by any; now, here I lay again crushed and trodden on; and could I ever rise more?’ (81). Being called a liar is a crushing blow to her pursuit of being liked at the school and making friends. Once again Jane does not shy away or fall into the trap of thinking it is okay for a man to control her life and become the obedient woman society expects of her. Not long after her punishment, we read of yet another resilient act. As stated by Bronte ‘I ran to Helen, tore it off, and thrust it into the fire’ (88). This shows Jane sticking up to the injustice of Lowood and how they treat the girls. Jane throws it into the fire showing she is not going to back down from this unfairness. She does not let being punished by Brocklehurst scare her from fighting for her beliefs in fair and equal treatment. Without Janes display of resiliency to the unjust accusation of Brocklehurst and the unfair punishment of Helen, there is no enduring for her. Jane would have become a victim of the black and gloomy environment.
Jane lives a life full of risk-taking whether it be to stand up to John Reed or Mr. Brocklehurst she displays a great deal of courage during her time at Gateshead and Lowood. When she finds herself at Thornfield she takes maybe the biggest risk on her journey. Finding out the day of her wedding that Mr. Rochester was married was tragic and forced her to be faced with a huge decision. Gao writes, ‘she wouldn’t give up her independence and self-respect. So, she chose to leave her beloved one and wanted to make a new life’ (929). Even though she had a decent living situation and was working as a governess she had little to no fortune, no family, and no friends to turn to. Those conditions would make it difficult for any individual to start a new life but given the culture of the Victorian era, Janes difficulty increases even more because she is female. Leaving Rochester, she experienced a treacherous road to a new start. Bronte writes, ‘it will be very dreadful, with this feeling of hunger, faintness, chill, and sense of desolation·In all likelihood, though, I should die before morning’ (379). She left the comfort and safety of Thornfield for a quest to start new and found herself filtering with death. It was a risk she had to take, however, because, she knew she deserved better than the life of a mistress governess and the risk paid off. Once she fought her way into the Morton house Jane eventually found new family and fortune. Receiving this fortune was a huge benefit for Jane because wealth meant power and new opportunities in Victorian England. It also offered her a safety net as she would never have to worry about starving to death or traveling the country homeless. However, had Jane not been willing to take that risk in her life she very well could have ended up the laughing stock of Thornfield, claiming the unwanted title of mistress governess to Rochester.
No happiness or success has ever been accomplished without the help of others by one’s side. In the journey of Jane that is no different. She may not have nearly as many options, but she finds a great individual whom she learns a lot from, Miss Temple. Miss Temple may not have shared the exact same fighting mindset against the norms of their time, but she offered incredible support and point of view that helps Jane to continue her quest for happiness. When Jane is called a liar, it is Miss Temple who helps clear that acquisition by writing to Mr. Lloyd and getting confirmation of her story proving Jane is not a liar. Gulustur and Bolat write, ‘Through the assistance of Miss Temple, Jane is fueled to accomplish in class and to improve in her studies’ (86). We see this is true because Bronte tells us, ‘I rose to be first girl of the class; then I was invested with the office of teacher’ (100). Miss Temple being there for Jane allowed Jane to acquire an education something that would give her the opportunity to find work and not have to rely on solely on others. For instance, she gets the governess job at Thornfield, and then the teaching job for St. John. According to Bronte, ‘From the days she left I was no longer the same: with her was gone every settled feeling, every association that made Lowood in some degree a home to me’ (100). Clearly, Miss Temple made an incredibly positive impact on Janes life and that is why friendships are so important. Friends are individuals who are there for others during hard times and look for ways to better one’s life just as Miss Temple did with Jane.
No matter the era there are always groups and individuals who are not going to settle for the expectations of society, they want to make something of their own life. Jane Eyre is an example of one of those individuals or groups who is fighting to make a life of their own choosing. Jane is not going to let obstacles such as gender or class keep her from finding happiness. Jane gives us a blueprint for how to bounce back from all the setbacks life hands us and that blueprint can be broken into the three topics discussed above. First resiliency. Jane is tasked with overcoming the inequalities of gender in the Victorian era, she faces the abuse of John Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst but no matter how unfair they treated her Jane continued to bounce back. The second is risk taking. Jane was not able to see the future, but she was smart enough to realize what was in front of her and how she did not want a life as the typical obedient girl, continuing to suffer the norms of the Victorian era. The third key is friendship. Miss Temple was there to pick Jane up when she was down and was a role model for Jane to look up to. Given all the setbacks, the inequality, the unfairness, and the injustices Jane faced, she demonstrates that these three keys do work. According to Bronte Jane found happiness, ‘I hold myself supremely blest – blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully he is mine’ (519). For anyone struggling in life, they should seek to acquire these three keys into their life and eventually they too can find happiness just as Jane did.