Sexism Exposed in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre Essay

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Sexism Exposed in Brontë's Jane Eyre

The Victorian era in England marked a period of unprecedented technological, scientific, political, and economic advancement. By the 1840s, the English had witnessed remarkable industrial achievements including the advent of the railways and the photographic negative. They had witnessed the expansion of the Empire, and, as a result, were living in a time of great economic stability. Yet they had also seen thousands of people starving-and dying-due to the Irish potato famine and poor conditions and benefits in British factories and witnessed the entire order of society questioned as the working classes began to demand representation in Parliament. The English also experienced biological
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Women in the Victorian era were supposed to be passive, pure, and idle; were not to be well educated; and were expected to marry. Throughout Brontë's novel, Jane Eyre learns the realities of these social expectations and directly and indirectly speaks against them.

Readers learn early in the story that Jane Eyre does not fit contemporary society's idea of a proper woman. As a child, Jane stands up to her aunt, Mrs. Reed, on more than one recorded occasion when Jane feels she has been treated unjustly (Brontë 28, 37). At one point, Jane bluntly tells her aunt, "I declare, I do not love you: I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed [Jane's cousin]" (37). This was at best improper behavior for a child in Victorian society, and it was most definitely seen as improper by Mrs. Reed who grows to hate Jane, calling her "tiresome, ill-conditioned" and "scheming" (26). But her aunt's reprimands and hatred do not deter Jane from speaking up in the face of injustice.

During the scenes at Lowood Academy, Brontë compares Jane's strong personality to the reserved and submissive Helen Burns. The teachers often punish Helen excessively, yet she never once objects or even questions their discipline. When Jane asks her about this self-discipline, Helen simply explains that it is her "duty" to bear the punishment submissively (58). Although Helen's "proper" female behavior does not entirely