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The Relationship Between Social Class and Gender in Jane Eyre

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Jane is conscious of her social ambiguity and disadvantage in terms of femininity and its charms: “ A Victorian woman's value resides chiefly in her femaleness” (Archibald, 8), and she seeks to overcome both through mental discipline in Lowood, where she does gain an education, only to become another socially ambiguous figure in Victorian England, a governess. This was the only respectable option open to a single woman without a family, or even money or connections enough to get suitably married: In Victorian England, single women who were not particularly eligible for marriage (especially due to lack of fortune and suitable family ties) were considered redundant, unnecessary, superfluous.

The redundant woman had few choices. If her father and/or brothers were able to provide for her, she usually lived at home and assisted with the care of the household and any children or elderly people who might live there. For most middle- and upper-class women who could not be (or chose not to be) provided for by family members, the only clear reputable option was to teach, either in a school or as a governess. Gender thus becomes a limiting factor and forces her to adopt an uncertain social station; she cannot become a lawyer or head a parish and at Thornfield she gets into an uneasy, complicated equation, where she does not fit into the established roles of either the gentry or the servants. On her arrival at the station, she is not accorded the courtesies due to a lady by the servant who comes to receive her.

Jane initially confuses Mrs. Fairfax, the woman with the "most housewifely bunch of keys" (Chapter 11 ), as the mistress of Thornfield and puzzles over the actions which Mrs.

Fairfax does not seem to feel are “ out of her place” . Bronte uses this confusion to highlight the differences, between a lady who would have been more stiff and formal and the friendly old woman Jane actually encounters, and emphasise the “ ambiguities of status” (Gilbert and Gubar, 349) implicit in the patriarchal containment of the manor.

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preview essay on The Relationship Between Social Class and Gender in Jane Eyre
  • Pages: 8 (2000 words)
  • Document Type: Essay
  • Subject: Literature
  • Level: Undergraduate
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