“No Net Ensnares Me”: Rebellion Against Conformity In Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre is a novel by Charlotte Bronte that seems to promote tameness. This is illustrated by Jane’s transformation into a woman with logic and passion. Jane’s inner world is quite the opposite. Jane is a child who longs to be free, but is too scared to take it. Although it may seem like she’s expressing her passion through bold outbursts, all of Jane’s actions are actually rooted in her deep-rooted desire for freedom. Her wild side is the only one that can triumph over her fears. This feminist reformist movement, Jane’s radical, unconventional attitude is what I define as “wild.” Jane flies free from class and sex-oriented boundaries like a bird flying out of its cage. Although she appears more mature and sensible from the outside, her inner wildness is still a source of freedom and defiance.
Jane the young woman at the beginning says that freedom isn’t worth the sacrifice. While there are certain germs that will lead to future contumacy in her mind, the passion for liberty at any cost is not fully developed and dormant. Jane refuses to live in poverty with Mr. Lloyd, an apothecary who called Gateshead following Jane’s traumatizing night at the Red Room. Jane, a more experienced Jane, says that she wasn’t courageous enough to buy liberty at cost of caste (20). Jane has a deep respect for the luxury and comforts of upper society so the thought of living in poverty is terrifying. Jane’s passionate outburst may be a partial defiance. Jane does not condemn John (and all his class) as “Romanemperors” (5), but she is concerned about the risk. If “wild” can be equated to defying convention, then the other, “tameness,” could be described as tractability. Jane faints in Red Room. This is Jane’s weakness. She is vulnerable to Aunt Reed’s fear. Aunt Reed’s influence makes Jane vulnerable to the caste system. Jane feels the need for change once Miss Temple has left Lowood. Jane says she prayed for freedom and gasped for it. She is clearly more passionate about freedom than she was as a child. But she’s still too passive and hesitant to take control of her freedom. She believes that freedom belongs to the upper classes. She “frame[s]” a humbler request. For change, stimulus” (88). However, even “stimulus”, is too much. She eventually settles on “servitude” (88). She believes she is not worthy to have “Liberty. Excitement. Enjoyment” (88). Jane, still the timid, quiescent child of the Red Room resists to remove the barriers to freedom that are created by her preconceived notions.
Jane also longs for equality between the genders. Jane feels restless one day at Thornfield. Jane walks along the battlement at the top of the third-story attic and says that although women are supposed not to be as calm as men, they still feel trapped by too rigid a restraint. Jane’s thoughts, imbued in the spirit of Bronte, advocate the symboloclastic overthrow and tyranny of male dominance. Jane is not afraid to put herself in danger for equality. Jane does not attempt to minimize or justify her need to be free.
Jane is the vocal expression Bronte’s views on the rigid social hierarchy of England. Jane and her friends are constantly in tension because of the ambiguous role of the governess. Jane is an aristocrat’s kind and educated, but Jane is more treated as a servant than a man. She is also a paid subordinate. Jane comes to realize that Rochester is her equal intellectually and socially. This sad reality is often enforced by the upper-class, as Blanche and Dowager Ingram discover when they discuss their tragic history with governesses. Blanche said that half of them were “detestable and some were ridiculous and all incubi .]]. Lady Ingram describes Jane as “I noticed her” (188). Jane learns that she loves Rochester very much, but she won’t take Blanche the place of Rochester’s spouse because she is from her class. Jane eventually takes over Bertha’s place as Blanche’s wife. Jane sees that the class walls she believed to be inviolable exist only in her mind. Therefore, Rochester’s marriage gives Jane freedom. It is only a matter that she has overcome her fear of breaking class barriers.
Rochester disguised as a gypsy, challenges Jane’s fear and urges her to act against the society. Jane has been passively pondering her fate until now. She doesn’t cross Rochester’s threshold because she thinks the classes are incomprehensible. Rochester, however, informs her that she is wrong. In an enigmatical way, he tells her that “you are silly” (209). It is clear that Rochester is asking Jane to take over society in love. Although “the materials have been prepared,” it is still necessary to move them together. Chance divided them, but let’s not forget to approach them one by one and joy will result (210). Jane’s timidity in “daring to be heard” (234) is clearly the biggest hindrance. While there are bounds in real life, Jane is better off overcoming them in her own psyche.
Jane breaks down all social barriers by claiming her equality at Rochester’s proposal. Birds dominate the scene. Although birds are symbolic symbols of freedom of soul, they are prominently featured in this chapter. Jane finally gets out of her own head. Jane is greeted by a “nightingale singing in a wood half-a mile away” (266). This coincides with Jane’s first outburst of emotion. Rochester calls Jane “Jane,” (271), and Jane starts to sob. (271). Finally, Jane allows the “vehemence… to overcome, be free, to live and rise, and rule at last: Yes — and to talk” (271). Jane finally defies social and sex boundaries and declares, “I’m as full of soul as yours — and as much heart!” (272). She is not speaking “through custom” (272), rather she is speaking for herself. Jane sees Blanche as superior in social and financial matters, but Jane is still a “inferior” (272). She now realizes that none these qualities should make her want to marry Blanche. Rochester attempts to calm Jane. (272) Jane replies, “Jane. Be still. Jane replies, “I’m not a bird; and I don’t have a net to entrap me. I’m a free human being with innate will.” (272). Birds are symbolic of freedom, but birds also represent transcendence because they connect to the sky. Jane is no longer content to accept the life she was given. Jane’s mutiny against destiny was sung by “the nightingale song” (273).
The newfound freedom she enjoys is only temporary. Rochester’s living wife forces her to use the power against her. Jane, who is “inwardly feeling power” (326), defends her feminist mentality to avoid being subjugated by Rochester. Her freedom doesn’t work for her. Jane dreams that she was transported back to Red Room. In a dream, Jane states, “The Night was Dark, and My Mind Impressed with Strange Fears” (345). These fears echo the fears she experienced as a child for daring to be different from her family. It appears that Jane is being resisted by the upper class. Bertha’s wealth and rank are the catalysts that brought her to Rochester. Jane escapes this prison sentence, standing up for her integrity as an individual woman and refusing the dictates of her classes.
Jane returns home to Rochester not as a dreamer, but as an embodiment of freedom. Because she has learned that freedom is only possible in her mind, she has shown her strength by constantly escaping confinement. Rochester tells her at his wooded home, “My skylark!” … I heard your kind an hour back, high above the forest; but it’s song didn’t have any music for my ears… all the melodies on earth are concentrated in my Jane’s lips” (478). Jane’s Song, the song that embodies freedom, liberty, and transcendence is the song about victory.
According to Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Walking,” it is only the wild which attracts us. Dullness can be described as a synonym for tameness. Jane seems more mature than in her youth. However, her psyche appears freer than ever before. Bronte is able to speak her mind through the bold voice of this courageous heroine. A critic asked her to clarify that she was neither man nor woman. I am only an author when I appear before you. It is your sole standard for judging me. I will accept your judgment on it.” Jane is a rebel by marrying a man in her rank. Bronte succeeds in publishing this novel under the tutelage of men who hate women contributing to literature. Jane Eyre’s “uncivilized-free and wild thinking,” is what makes her a symbol of rebellion against conformity. Bronte ends her remarks with a caveat: “Conventionality doesn’t equal morality” (xxiii).