Jane Eyre

by: Charlotte Brontë

Gender Roles

1

I laughed at him as he said this. “I am not an angel,” I asserted; “and I will not be one till I die; I will be myself, Mr. Rochester; you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me, for you will not get it any more than I shall get it of you, which I do not at all anticipate.”

Jane is responding to Mr. Rochester’s many demands regarding their wedding and married life. Jane makes it clear to Mr. Rochester that she plans to be true to herself and hold onto her autonomy despite his attempts to plan world travels and buy expensive gifts for her. Through this dialogue, Jane contrasts the typical female gender roles of Victorian England society by speaking up and holding on to her individuality, even in the face of marriage.

2

“To women who please me only by their faces, I am the very devil when I find out they have neither souls nor hearts—when they open to me a perspective of flatness, triviality, and, perhaps, imbecility, coarseness, and ill-temper; but to the clear eye and eloquent tongue, to the soul made of fire, and the character that bends but does not break…I am every tender and true…I never met your likeness, Jane; you please me, and you master me—you seem to submit, and I like the sense of pliancy you impart…I am influenced—conquered; and the influence is sweeter than I can express; and the conquest I undergo has a witchery beyond any triumph I can win.”

Mr. Rochester is responding to Jane’s declaration of autonomy by insisting that he actually prefers a woman who is independent and strong in character and voice. He continues to describe all the unique character traits that he admires in Jane. In his preferring a woman like Jane, the character of Mr. Rochester is a contrast to male gender role expectations. While men of his social class are expected to desire a women who will allow themselves to be kept or remain insignificant, Mr. Rochester loves Jane for exactly the opposite reason: She is fierce and independent-minded.

3

He had not imagined that a woman would dare to speak so to a man. For me, I felt at home in this sort of discourse. I could never rest in communication with strong, discreet, and refined minds, whether male or female, till I had passed the outworks of conventional reserve, and crossed the threshold of confidence, and won a place by their heart’s very hearth-stone.

Jane is reflecting on a conversation she had with St. John about his future plans and potential relationship with Rosamond Oliver. Jane’s observations reveal that St. John is surprised by her directness when Jane points out that St. John Rivers trembles and is flushed whenever Miss Oliver enters. Through Jane’s reflections the reader learns how St. John Rivers is astonished by her direct approach because it is not expected of a woman in their society. Jane continues to go against female gender role expectations by speaking freely and confidently, often impressing her male counterparts with her courage.