In Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre, why is Jane so rebellious in a world that demands obedient women?
The best way to understand Jane is to recognize her plight. The novel opens with her living with her Aunt Reed who neglects her and her cousins who abuse her. She has no champion but herself upon whom to rely. Because of this abuse, she chooses to fight rather than to flee as the saying goes. She's certainly a feisty one! Jane believes that fighting back is the key to her survival. However, a foil character, named Helen Burns, is introduced to her when she goes off to school. Helen helps Jane understand other options for survival based on Christian beliefs. History shows that during Bronte's time, women were expected to be quiet and obedient because of the social cast in which they were assigned. However, Helen explains to Jane that even though women and children were assigned lower social roles of respect, that she doesn't need to be caught up in that system. Helen is obedient because she believes in the New Testament and tells Jane in Chapter VI to follow that creed rather than getting all riled up about injustices thrown upon her by others.
Jane tells Helen all about the evils that have been inflicted upon her by Mrs. Reed and Helen responds with some of the best advice that shapes Jane's future. Helen says:
"She has been unkind to you, no doubt; because, you see, she dislikes your cast of character, as Miss Scatcherd does mine: but how minutely you remember all she has done and said to you! What a singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart! No ill-usage so brands its record on my feelings. Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs. "(44).
After this, Jane doesn't completely follow Helen's advice on every account, (she's still a bit feisty) but she realizes that she can live with peace inside herself so that she doesn't continue to suffer. The demands and expectations of obedient women during her story remain, so she learns to live in that system; but, she never sacrifices her own free will to choose what's best for herself because of it.