September 14, 2012 by Vicki
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre has always been a personal favorite of mine. I identify strongly with Jane Eyre because I suffer from light social anxiety. I, like Jane Eyre, prefer to watch how others behave and listen to other’s discourse. If asked, or among close friends, I will relate my own opinions and observations but I am also happy to remain in the shadows.
At first, I had difficulty seeing Jane Eyre in a feminist light. My own delight in reading the story made it difficult for me to look at Jane Eyre from a critical perspective. However, Jane’s quiet yet concrete strength and resolve in herself speaks loudly against the presumed weakness and flightiness of females. Her strong belief that every person, whether male or female, had the God-given right to active and worthwhile employment was in direct opposition to the beliefs of the time.
I think Jane Eyre teaches us that you do not have to shout to be heard. To live quietly and rightly, without allowing anyone to force you to behave against your beliefs, gives a more forceful impression than throwing a screaming tantrum for those same rights. It comes down to that old expression “Actions speak louder than words.” Jane never acted against her own belief in her self-worth. Her self-worth would forbid her to work in any situation she found degrading, as she tells Mr. Rochester himself. ” I should never mistake informality for insolence: one I rather like, the other nothing free-born would submit to, even for a salary.” (Bronte, p. 153) Mr. Rochester discovers that she would act on this belief when she leaves him upon discovering that he is already married. Her own self-worth will not allow her to degrade herself even for her love.
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre also demonstrates how living life by your beliefs can require living on the edge and great sacrifice. Jane leaves behind the love of her life to adhere to her own self-worth. She leaves behind a life of relative comfort to penniless destitution until rescued by the kindness of strangers. We may well have to sacrifice things that we hold dear in order to live by our principles and beliefs. Yet, even in her extremity, Jane does not cry out her situation but struggles onward even to accepting her own death. When she reaches the end of her strength, she says “I can but die. . . and I believe in God. Let me try to wait His will in silence.” (p.376) She does not wail and gnash her teeth, but calls on herself to be silent and await her destiny. After refusing to degrade herself and fleeing, she accepts her new situation and waits for the full details to be given to her. How often have we reached the same plateau? How often have we decided that we will not endure a situation, gathered courage and left waiting to discover where we would find ourselves next?
I believe that Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre teaches women the importance of self-worth and a means to uphold that self-worth. The difficulty arises in that many women are not aware of their own self-worth. We tell them but when difficulties arise, they do not have the strength of belief to rise about it. I don’t think silence is always the proper response, sometimes, we have to rage. However, I do think that a quiet but passionate life also has merit, worth, and can teach us something about ourselves.