Is Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre a feminist novel?
Feminism advocates that social, political, and all other rights should be equal between men and women. Bronte's Jane Eyre discusses many of the struggles and prejudices that nineteenth century middle-class women faced. All rights were not equal between men and women at that time, and Jane's greatest desire is to have a family and to feel accepted and loved. This does not necessarily mean that the novel is not feminist, but the main character's goal is not to change the legal and political world in order to gain equal rights for women. However, by the end of the story, she does...
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If the word ‘feminism’ is being used as equating rights of both women and men, then there could be a chance that it is. There are many female characters within Jane’s life that impact her more than men, despite their power. For example, Helen Burns is more of a Christ-like figure during Jane’s adolescence, teaching Jane more about how to properly walk in faith than the clergyman/treasurer of their school: Mr. Brocklehurst.
Also, unlike many women in the Victorian era, Jane does find herself with an inheritance that gives her independence for life, so even though she does choose to return to Mr. Rochester’s side in the end, she has the freedom to decide whether she wants to be with him or not instead of depending on him to survive. Some may argue that her only inheriting this money in order to be independent is not feminist, but in an era that harbors the first ‘new women’ who pave the way towards independence physically and mentally, this is a larger step for that time than what we would have today.
Therefore, for its time, it does seem to be more forward-thinking than the traditional happily-ever-after novel endings, especially knowing that Charlotte herself, even though she did marry, never prioritized her need for love over her need to write, travel, survive, and take care of her own family.