Instead of struggling against a singular antagonist, Jane struggles against societal forces, embodied by several characters, that threaten her search for happiness and belonging. Brocklehurst, Rochester, and St. John represent patriarchal values that attempt to control Jane’s sense of self. Brocklehurst asserts absolute control over the girls of Lowood, dictating how they dress, eat, and even wear their hair. By parroting the accusations of Mrs. Reed, he attempts to keep Jane from creating a new start at the school and finding kinship there. Later, Rochester tries to control Jane with manipulative language to keep her from leaving him. His sexual desire threatens Jane’s moral convictions, which dictate an important part of her psyche. Finally, St. John blocks Jane from her goal of happiness by trying to force her into a loveless marriage. His desire to mold Jane into his ideal vision of a Christian martyr is a manifestation of patriarchy. Mrs. Reed, while a woman, also weaponizes patriarchal values against Jane by punishing her for not being a docile child, despite never giving Jane reason to be happy. Mrs. Reed’s punishment reflects the Victorian belief that women should be passive, and that even justified negative emotions are a sign of indolence, or even madness.
The rigid Victorian class system blocks Jane from forging her path in the world because she must rely on others for shelter. Mrs. Reed resents Jane for being dependent upon her. Brocklehurst’s stingy doctrine of privation punishes vulnerable, dependent girls for their poverty. Like Mrs. Reed, Brocklehurst believes that their low social status means that they inherently must abandon all pride in themselves. However, his version of humility means poor nutrition and deadly living conditions, threatening Jane and her classmates’ safety. Blanche Ingram, with her beauty and social status, further represents the rigid class system and social order that doesn’t favor Jane. Everyone expects Rochester to marry Blanche Ingram because she possesses both wealth and beauty, which emphasizes that Rochester’s choice of poor, plain Jane upends social convention. Blanche Ingram doesn’t directly antagonize Jane herself, aside from commenting on governesses as an inferior group of women, but her existence highlights the social obstacles and privileges of class.