Jane Eyre Character Analysis Essay

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Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre (1847) is a classic text which has been studied and interpreted by many scholars since the time of its publication. This essay considers the proposition suggested by the feminist writers Gilbert and Gubar (1984, p. 46) that the book is part of a wider literary tradition that offers polarised images of women, such as “angel and monster, sweet dumb Snow White and fierce mad Queen”. It briefly considers the theory of patriarchy and its effect on literary activity in the nineteenth century. It follows with a discussion of the sweet, dumb characters of Helen Burns, Adele Varens and Blanche Ingram and the fierce mad characters of Mrs. Reed, Grace Poole and Bertha Mason. The main Jane Eyre, is also examined, with a view to analysis and determining whether either of these descriptive categories might apply to her. The conclusion explains how this novel both reflects and subverts the polarised characterisation of women as angels and monsters that was typical of novels in this period.
Society in the nineteenth century was hierarchically organised in favour of men, and both women and children were relegated to lower positions. The legal system
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Jane’s childhood friend, Helen Burns, is a good example of a highly idealised, angelic view of women. She is kind and gentle, but importantly for the story, she dies before she leaves the school, and this tragedy preserves her in a state of unrealistic goodness for ever. She is often described in terms that make her literally dumb, since she does not speak: “she [Helen] kept silence” (Bronte, 1847, p. 102); “but she [Helen] said nothing” (Bronte, 1847, p. 106); “Helen … obeyed the monitor without reply” (Bronte, 1847, p. 108). This submissiveness befits the role of a lower-class woman who must work to earn her living, and accept without complaint, all the limitations placed upon
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