Jane Eyre is a revolutionised novel. It focuses on the moral and spiritual development of the main character. Moralism, spiritualism, mystery, dread, fear, gender equality, self-respect, love, religion, and class inequity are significant themes of Jane Eyre. The novelist, Charlotte Bronte also criticises society while showing its follies. She also preaches Christian morality.
Major themes of the novel Jane Eyre are:
Self Respect and Love
The novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is in fact a message that tells the particulars of the occurrence that the novelist presents in writing. In addition to romance, Jane is perceived by a physical sensation, coming directly from her mind. She exists in a world that does not belong to her. Thus, Jane tells Helen Burns that she needs to get a real and positive feeling of liking instead of an artificial one. She also asks for help from Miss Temple for being the one whom she could love in real meaning. In the whole novel, Jane gains experiences and knowledge of getting love without giving up her valued life for the sake of others’ considerations and also without doing any unbeneficial thing to herself.
Her feelings of dread, as well as apprehension, compel her to reject Rochester’s marriage proposal. Jane is confident that if she shares a bond with Rochester at the same time when he is already in relation with Bertha then it would ruin her reputation; therefore, she is not ready to compromise her social integrity. However, she takes into consideration something else when she lives at Moor where she is free to make financial decisions of her free will and without the interference of any other person.
She is happy to help the poor people while raising them as educated individuals whereas she still does not flourish emotionally. Jane Eyre knows that if she accepts St. John as her husband she would have a chance to live a life with purpose but rejects it while thinking that a life without love is pointless. Thus, Self Respect and Love are also major themes of Jane Eyre.
Jane wants to marry Rochester only in case she becomes independent, financially and emotionally. She learns about it when she resides at Moor House. She does not want to be a traditional woman who is always dependent on the male figure in society. She wants equality in marriages.
“I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”Jane Eyre
In this way, Jane gives much importance to love but at the same time, she also knows the importance of autonomy in the life of a woman. She cannot lose it; therefore, she prefers integrity to love. She could accept Rochester’s marriage proposal but she knowingly rejects it as the same was a hurdle in her independent life. Thus, love, self-respect and independence are major themes of Jane Eyre that the novelist Charlotte Bronte portrays.
Importance of Religion
Jane Eyre is one of those complex characters who fight a battle in their minds regarding right and wrong. She wants to do something in life while enjoying it thoroughly yet she also wishes to perform her own commitments in a moral sense. Charlotte Bronte portrays Helen Burns, St. John Rivers and Mr Brocklehurst as main characters for performing religious duties; hence, they are among those who preach morality. None of them is able to convince Jane toward religion; hence, she rejects their dogmas and blows a new soul into the religion that ultimately becomes practical.
Charlotte Bronte creates a pen picture of religious people of her own era in the shape of Mr Brocklehurst’s character. In this way, she is a presenter of evangelicalism; hence, the novel shares attributes of the evangelical movement that was started by the Protestant Christians. It strengthens the necessity of preaching and sharing the gospel. Mr Brocklehurst is worth mentioning in this regard. He has the art of effective and persuasive speaking as well as writing but he never uses this in a positive way. He may use it to preach the teachings of Christ but he never does it. He just wants to show his superiority over others. It is evident from the incident when he forcefully cuts the hair of a student.
The writer shows him as a selfish and greedy person who does not even think to think for the welfare of his students. Instead of doing something good for them, he makes money by hook or by crook to support his lavish lifestyle. Thus, this hypocrisy of Mr Brocklehurst supports the principle of the Evangelical movement that the writer uses in this novel. The writer shows importance of religion and religious class as prominent themes of Jane Eyre.
Charlotte Bronte remained impartial while illustrating religious characters in her novels. She has not favoured anyone. Thus, Helen Burns has been shown as a positive character. Jane Eyre admires the positivity in her soul yet she is not ready to reshare her dogmas as Jane does not consider them practical in real life.
St. John Rivers is the last example to be quoted with respect to religious affiliations. He is the one who tries to convince Jane to prefer morality while disregarding self-dignity in her own eyes. Thus, Jane rejects this religious model too in the novel Jane Eyre.
Jane Eyre seems very much frustrated by all these religious dogmas but she has a strong belief in God. It is evident from the incident when there was a hurdle in her wedding. It is one of the major reasons for rejecting Rochester’s proposal that she does not want to live with a person whose marriage with a woman is still intact. In Christianity, there is no concept of second marriage in case the previous marriage is intact. Thus, Charlotte Bronte also supports this principle.
Jane balances life and religion. Both these two go side by side and she realises that it is the happiest way of spending life. She is not selfish, greedy and hypocritical like Mr Brocklehurst. She does not want impractical solutions to real-life problems like Helen nor does she want to deceit herself while preferring morality in life. Even then she has good faith. She makes efforts to give benefit to society ethically and morally considering religious obligations.
“Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?”Jane Eyre
In this way, religion has much importance, which falls in the category of most vital themes of Jane Eyre.
Snobbish Victorian Class
It seems that Charlotte Bronte was inclined to criticise severely the people during the reign of queen victoria of England; therefore, he paints a rigidly accurate painting of that society. The novelist portrays the human psyche, society and its members. Jane Eyre, the protagonist of the novel discovers intricately combined social norms of that era.
There is a possibility that the novelist gives a great significance to human beings; therefore, she presents people’s attitudes toward others. How poor people see the upper middle class and how the aristocratic class treats the misfortunate people. The novel also has symbolic meanings; hence, every meaning is open to two or more interpretations.
Mrs Reed is a cruel lady, who raises Jane. The novel highlights her snobbery. She promised her husband to look after her just like her own children but often Jane is sent to the red room without even given an opportunity to Jane to hear her. Similarly, the religious class has also been shown morally and ethically corrupt. Thus, everybody, despite belonging to different classes, has been portrayed realistically by the author to show the snobbery of Victorian society, especially belonging to the aristocratic class, which shows that it is among the major themes of Jane Eyre.
In addition, the governess has been criticised. In order to do so, the writer illustrates the attributes of a school’s headmaster named Mr Brocklehurst. He preaches poverty but from school funds, he supports the luxuries of his family. He is a symbol of corruption in governance. Similarly, the employees have been shown to be treated as servants only because they are inferior in position. The administration’s attitude towards Jane is worth mentioning in this regard. She, being the employee, cannot do good for society but when she becomes independent she performs her moral duties very sincerely. Thus, the writer shows an entirely opposite character in this respect to show the good in society; hence, there is hope and the attitude of the poet becomes optimistic.
The writer compares Jane to Mr Brocklehurst to depict snobbery of Victorian class as one of the major themes of Jane Eyre. She teaches children without any greed. Her purpose is to create educated individuals who will be able to contribute to society to increase its potential. On the other hand, Mr Brocklehurst talks about better things but his actions are entirely opposite. In this way, there is expert use of irony in the novel.
I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!–I have as much soul as you,–and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;–it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,–as we are!”Jane Eyre
Apart from that Rochester is a symbol of the double standard in that society whereas Mrs Reed has been sketched as a lady with a materialistic mind and approach. In short, Jane Eyre is a novel that depicts persons with an exaggerated contempt for high social position and wealth, who seek to associate with social superiors and look down on those regarded as socially inferior. Thus, social class is one of the major themes of the novel Jane Eyre.
“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”Jane Eyre
The society presented in the novel is a male dominated society. It is not possible to portray gender equality as gender discrimination is there almost everywhere. Jane tries her best to fight not for women’s rights but for their equality. She is of the view that women seem calm but in actuality they are not; they share the same human nature as men; however, she says that women suffer more and it is a wrong dogma that they are lower-level creatures.
Jane makes strenuous and violent efforts to face difficulties constantly to gain freedom her whole life. She tries her best to make men and women equal in society. She does not do any physical combat to do that but the novel Jane Eyre portrays a theme of gender discrimination. Jane opposes it not physically but mentally. Her psyche shows that she has been continuously fighting these issues. Her fight to remove gender discrimination is evident that it is one of the vital themes of Jane Eyre.
In concise words, the novel captures the snap of a society wherein the male is the family head and the title is traced through the male line; therefore, he is considered superior in every aspect. It is about women of that era who are regarded as inferior creatures; therefore, very less importance is given to them. On the other hand, men have been treated as their masters.
Mr Brocklehurst, Rochester and St. John Rivers are misogynistic; therefore, they form their false and prejudiced opinions against women. Thus, Jane is living among these people in a miserable condition. She does not have the necessary means or skill or know how to represent her sufferings in words; therefore, escapism is her only available option. Charlotte Bronte writes about gender discrimination and women’s inequality in the novel; therefore, both these two are major themes of Jane Eyre.
Dread and Fear as Major Themes of Jane Eyre
The novelist creates scenery in the novel that causes fear in the mind of the protagonist. To some extent, the novel should be considered a horror; rather gothic but it is not the genre of it. This genre of fiction obtained popularity in the 18th to early 19th centuries. Some of the main characteristics of gothic novels were to create an atmosphere of mystery and horror.
The red room in the novel creates a horrific impact on the minds of the readers. The pictures that the writer produces show events that are of major significance. The dead body in the red room grabs the special interest of the readers. Furthermore, Jane’s apprehensive uneasiness and nervousness, as well as uncertain doubts, prove dread and fear as major themes of Jane Eyre.
In addition, Jane’s other fears apart from the supernatural, are also noteworthy. She fears her aunt. She fears society. Moreover, her fear of losing her dignity and doubt to lose her self-respect shows that the writer has chosen dread and fear as one of the main themes and prominent ideas for her novel Jane Eyre.