Jane Eyre

by: Charlotte Brontë

Social Class

1

I learned, for the first time, from Miss Abbot’s communications to Bessie, that my father had been a poor clergyman; that my mother had married him against the wishes of her friends, who considered the match beneath her; that my grandfather Reed was so irritated at her disobedience, he cut her off without a shilling; that after my mother and father had been married a year, the latter caught the typhus fever…that my mother took the infection from him, and both died within a month of each other.

Jane recalls the story she heard of her parents’ marriage and death. Through this tragic story, Jane highlights the strict social class structure that stood in Victorian England during this time. Jane’s parents clearly went against society’s expectations by marrying from different social classes and as a result, they were disowned by family and friends. The combination of facts that Jane hears about her parents’ scandalous marriage and untimely deaths hints that society may put the blame of their deaths on their poor choice to marry.

2

“I have a Master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world; my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh; to teach them to clothe themselves with shame-facedness and sobriety—not with braided hair and costly apparel...” Mr. Brocklehurst was here interrupted: three other visitors, ladies, now entered the room. They ought to have come a little sooner, to have heard his lecture on dress, for they were splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs.

In Chapter 7, Mr. Brocklehurst lectures Miss Temple and the students of Lowood on wearing their hair and clothes plainly. Jane identifies the contrast of what Mr. Brocklehurst teaches or demands of the girls at Lowood with how he and his family live. Mr. Brocklehurst’s opinions show how his view varies between social classes. He can live extravagantly, but poor orphaned children must live strict, simple, and plain lives. Jane’s reflection highlights this common contradiction between social classes.

3

I have not yet said anything condemnatory of Mr. Rochester’s project of marrying for interest and connections. It surprised me when I first discovered that such was his intention; I had thought him a man unlikely to be influenced by motives so commonplace in his choice of a wife; but the longer I considered the position, education, . . . of the parties, the less I felt justified in judging and blaming either him or Miss Ingram, for acting in conformity to ideas and principles instilled into them, doubtless, from their childhood. All their class held these principles; I supposed, then, they had reasons for holding them such as I could not fathom.

In Chapter 18, Jane considers the potential marriage between Mr. Rochester and Miss Ingram. Jane’s thoughts reveal that she has difficulty coming to terms with this possible union. Not only has she fallen in love with Mr. Rochester, but also she believes he is not the type of person who would conform to social class expectations. Jane’s thoughts also highlight how deeply rooted the strict Victorian England social class rules were, especially in “their class.” She continues to contrast these social expectations with her strong belief in a love-filled marriage that transcends them.