social rejection jane eyre

Table of Contents

Rejection of Social Identity in Jane EyreJane, the protagonist of Jane Eyre, seeks to find her individual sense of identity outside of societal expectations and continuously feels an outcast within her narrative; which follows her journey as a young woman into adulthood, navigating the tumultuous world of middle and upper-class society. In this commentary I will examine how these expectations are portrayed through class and gender, using social identity theory, feminism and psychoanalysis as analytical lenses.To examine the rejection of society in the novel, we must first consider the importance of social identity. According to C. Weedon (Weedon, 2004: 5) “identities may be socially, culturally and institutionally assigned […] where often they solicit active identification on the part of the subject so defined.” Where these identities are successfully internalized, they become part of lived subjectivity (Butler, 1990 in Weedon, 2004: 7) and encourage the conformity to societal identities for those around them. Rejection of social identity occurs when these assumed identities are not internalised and “they may become the basis for dis-identification or counter- identifications which involve a rejection of hegemonic identity norms,” (Butler, 1990 in Weedon, 2004: 7). When Jane Eyre was first published in 1847, it was published under the male pseudonym Currer Bell, in order to force the novel onto male-dominated 19th century bookshelves, indicating Bronte’s recognition of her assigned social identity, and her rejection of such by assuming a male identity to reach a patriarchal audience. Her frustration at a misogynistic country that forces “female” expectations upon women is embodied by protagonist Jane’s passionate character, making the novel almost semi-autobiographical, while she focuses on capturing the views of some of the 19th century women the book encompasses. When the public was unaware of the author’s gender, reviews were positive and it swiftly became a bestseller. However, negative opinions were expressed when it became known a female writer was behind the name. Many critics claimed it was inappropriate for female novelists to write such a zealous novel and be acquainted with sexuality. Whilst Brontë uses the vehical of a novel to express this rejection of social norms, if we were to take this idea of rejection and place it in modern context, women of today are more likely to use platforms such as social media to express the same notions of discontent, such as the recent “me too” movement. Jane casts off the traditional identity of a 19th century woman, one who should be passive and confined in a house to raise children. “Jane Eyre unsettled views as to how women should act and behave, suggesting…almost an overthrowing of social order,” (Shuttleworth, 2014); in her anger and passion, Jane is far removed from the conventional model of the Victorian woman who should be “seen and not heard”. Instead, she is part of an emerging, more powerful type of woman who is the heroine of her own story, “I burnt for the more active life of the world…for the destiny of an artist, author, orator,” (Brontë, 1847: 36) isolating herself from 19th century social order. Elizabeth Rigby (Quarterly review, 2012) stated that if the author was a woman she must have “forfeited the society of her own sex,” in writing Jane Eyre as such an unconventional character. “Forfeiting society” is a strong claim, and yet powerfully reiterates the idea of Jane, and Brontë, making themselves societal outcasts, which leads us to the discussion of outgroups and ingroups. Jane’s own need for freedom keeps her from having the capacity to fit in with the likes of Rochester, a man of upper-class standing, and reiterates her exclusion in the lines, “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.” (Brontë, 1847: 266). This line particularly emphasizes the rejection of ingroups and social identity in the novel, as Jane declares herself “friendless,” and forces herself into the outgroups of society, amongst those who reside outside of traditional rules and expectations. “According to SIT, people tend to classify themselves and others into various social categories, such as organizational membership, religious affiliation, gender, and age cohort,” (Ashforth and Mael, 1989: 20) and by making herself “solitary,” Jane rejects the usual ingroups of society she might have belonged to, such as being a woman or being young.In respect to gender roles, bourgeois women of the 19th century were raised to be submissive and undemanding to fit the “angel in the house” (Avery, 2014) image portrayed by the media, and demanded by men, of the time. A woman had very few rights of her own and she was expected to quietly marry off and be the domestic submissive of her husband. There were severely limited positions other than those traditionally expected to be carried out by women, like being a governess or nurse, available in the 1800s, meaning that ultimately a woman had to rely on the work of her husband or father to bring in an income, rather than working herself. Whilst Jane attends school in the novel, university was considered lost on women because it was “reasoned that males are more evolutionarily advanced than females”” (Kevics