The Key Themes in the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
This section looks at the Key themes in the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
Society and class
Society in nineteenth Century Britain was dictated by social class. Individuals tended to stay in the social class that they were born into their whole lives. Class would also determine who you would marry as marriages would be decided on by social class, with men often choosing their wives by the amount of money (or dowry) the bride’s family would pay them upon marriage.
The issue of class is covered throughout the novel with Bronte using the characters class to impact on the plot.
Throughout the novel Charlotte Bronte shows her own distaste for the class system and hierarchy. Characters who are interested in money such as Mrs Reed and Blanche Ingram are shown as morally lost and hypercritical and the character of St John represents someone who intentionally brings poverty onto himself and is mocked by Bronte for doing so – implying that poverty is respectable if you intend to better yourself.
Jane is never allowed to forget that she has no money and even made to call her cousin ‘Master Reed’ because of his superior financial status and is only elevated up to upper middle class when she inherits money from her uncle. This supports a key middle class Victorian value that people will get the wealth they deserve.
Love and Family
The theme of Love and family are shown through the characters Jane interacts with throughout the novel. Charlotte Bronte shows us the Reed family detesting Jane both physically and emotionally abusing her on several occasions. We also see the platonic love and friendship Jane has with Helen at Lowood school.
The theme is most noticeable in Jane’s relationship with Mr Rochester who gives her the love she desires.
Gender roles strongly influenced people’s behaviour in 19th century Britain and women endured condescending attitudes towards their intelligence. Many women in this era married for social or financial advantage rather than love and married women were often seen as being owned by their husbands. Charlotte Bronte uses marriage in the novel to portray a struggle of power between the sexes, even though Bertha mason is insane she is a symbol of how married women can be controlled.
Throughout the novel Jane rebels against the rules of correct female conduct. During her childhood she used violence to get her way with John Reed, as she gets older she develops more subtle methods of increasingly defending herself verbally instead of physically.
Religion and Spirituality
Religion and Spirituality are key factors in how characters develop in the novel. Charlotte Bronte’s father was a minister so she would have been very aware of conventional Christian religious beliefs. The main representatives of religion in the novel are Mr Brockelhurst and St John Rivers. Both men are dominating and misogynistic characters and thus depict traditional Christianity as a destructive force.
Jane matures partly because she learns to follow Christian lessons and resist temptation. Helen Burns introduces Jane to the New Testament, which becomes a moral guidepost for Jane throughout her life.
Charlotte Brontë depicts different forms of religion in the novel - Helen trusts in salvation; Eliza Reed becomes a Catholic nun; and St John preaches a gloomy Calvinist faith. In Jane’s character, Brontë sketches a virtuous faith that does not consume her individual personality. Jane is self-respecting and religious, but also exercises her freedom to love and feel.