Views, Values and Contexts Essay on "Jane Eyre"

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Pages: 5

Jane Eyre is primarily a critique of social elitism. Discuss.

Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre was produced in the Victorian era, when social elitism was in its prime and there was great segregation between the upper and lower estates. The former was composed of the clergy and nobility and was defined by wealth, privileges and lavish lifestyles. The middle class, conversely, were the most frustrated by the exclusiveness of the upper estate. Possessing skill, intelligence and assertiveness, they believed that rank and power should derive from talent and merit, rather than from noble birth. Through the demonisation and infliction of a tragic downfall upon “Master Reed”, Brontë condemns the life of pleasure and honour, the lifelong
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Jane’s father’s “visit[s] … among the poor” foreshadow Jane’s love of “servitude”, her disregard for idleness and her steadfast morality. Further into the narrative of Jane Eyre, the pharisaic Mr Brocklehurst reprimands a young student for having “naturally” “curled hair”, demanding that it be of “close”, “modest”, “plain” arrangement. Subsequently, when “Mrs and the Misses Brocklehurst” intervene, not only is the former adorned in a “false front of French curls”, but an “ermine” “trimmed” “velvet shawl”. The two “Misses” are likewise garmented in “velvet, silk and furs”. The incongruence between Mr Brocklehurst’s doctrine of “shamefacedness and sobriety” and the “splendid … attire” of his wife and two daughters communicate the upper clergyman’s inclination to masquerade as a great nobleman, spending scandalous sums on trivial, self-indulgent luxuries in all actuality.

On the contrary, Brontë’s endearing characterisation of Jane, from her love of “servitude” and “action” to her ambiguous social role as a governess, conveys the Victorian middle class’ philosophy that skill and intelligence constitute worthiness of rank and privilege. Jane declares early on in the narrative that “all [she] want[s] is to serve” and that “[l]iberty”, “[e]xcitement” and “[e]njoyment” are “hollow and fleeting” pleasures. She asserts that “action” is a need of the soul, thus Brontë communicates that virtuous activity is a chief end for all “human beings”, the clergy and nobility