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Victorians loved comparing women to birds. To the typical Victorian sentimentality, a woman was like a bird. She was beautiful and delicate. She needed to be taken care of, because on her own she was vulnerable. Her life’s purpose was to protect the nest and the nestlings, or children.
The story begins with a book on the history of British birds. The reader is oriented immediately to bird imagery. Notice that the images Jane focuses on are not pictures of pretty birds, but bleak shorelines. Already we have a contradiction. Jane is like a bird, but she is bleak.
Rochester, being in some ways the typical Victorian man, compares Jane to a bird.
“I see at intervals the glance of a curious sort of bird through the close-set bars of a cage: a vivid, restless, resolute captive is there; were it once free, it would soar cloud-high.” (Chapter 14).
Rochester’s bird is a friendly, singing bird. Jane pictures a different sort of bird:
What creature was it, that, masked in an ordinary woman's face and shape, uttered the voice, now of a mocking demon, and anon of a carrion-seeking bird of prey? (Chapter 20)
Again we see that Jane returns to the grim images of birds rather than the pretty one, turning the Victorian bird imagery on its head and revealing that Jane is not a traditional Victorian woman.
Yet Jane compares herself to a bird in Chapter 20:
“[There] was ever in Mr. Rochester (so at least I thought) such a wealth of the power of communicating happiness, that to taste but of the crumbs he scattered to stray and stranger birds like me, was to feast genially. His last words were balm: they seemed to imply that it imported something to him whether I forgot him or not. And he had spoken of Thornfield as my home—would that it were my home!"
Rochester continues the bird image in Chapter 23. The exchange between Jane and Rochester settles it for good.:
“Jane, be still; don't struggle so like a wild, frantic bird, that is rending its own plumage in its desperation.”
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being, with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.”
Another effort set me at liberty, and I stood erect before him.
“And your will shall decide your destiny,” he said: “I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions.”
She is not the typical Victorian bird, indeed! They can marry and live happily ever after, another Victorian trend!
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