Feminism is a very contradictory theme throughout literary history. It does not have to be seen as a complete rebellion against men, but can simply represent intelligence and self-worth in a female. This philosophy is shown in many of the works of Charlotte Bronte. She uses independence as a keynote in her thinking about her own life and the life of all unmarried women (Ewbank 157). One such work is Jane Erye. In this novel Charlotte Bronte personifies her philosophy through the main character of Jane. As Jane matures from child to woman her strength of character is what makes her memorable. Through her endurance, moral convictions, and intense emotional capacity Jane is shown as the epidemy of feminism.
Janes strength to endure harsh circumstances is shown throughout the novel. The novel arrests attention in its opening chapters by disclosing an individual character enmeshed in, yet independent of, unusual circumstances (Tillotson 28). Under the care of her aunt, Jane must endure a loveless childhood. She is always seen as an outsider looking in. Janes strength is shown by her lack of self-pity. Although she is like a terrified cornered animal she fights back with intellectual and imaginative resourcefulness (Tillotson 28-29). There is no emotional indulgence in Janes childhood sufferings (Craik 77). This behavior is continued with her stay at Lowood school. Here she continues to be neglected and ignored. Only through her friendship of Miss Temple and Helen Burns is she shown hope. The school section shows the mind of the child that was going to grow into Jane Erye, the woman. Every incident and every character has a bearing on the growth of Jane into a woman of passion and absolute moral integrity
As Jane enters a new phase of her life, at Thornfield, her endurance is once again tested. Her relationship with Mr. Rochester causes emotional conflict from its beginning. Mr. Rochester persists in making physical and emotional barbs at Jane while awakening all her hidden desires. This contradiction causes Jane great emotional turmoil. The culmination of this conflict is the wedding scene. Upon finding out her loves betrayal, Jane is left in emotional chaos. After the tumult that follows the interrupted wedding, Jane is finally left alone to think and to receive in her consciousness the full impact of the blow (Ewbank 182). She assesses her situation and comes to the conclusion that she must leave.
Another characteristic presented by Jane is her moral conviction. This strength begins to come forth with her relationship with Mr. Rochester. Mr. Rochester awakens all of Janes greatest desires. She sees her attraction to him as a dilemma that must be avoided. Jane, who cares passionately for Mr. Rochester, preserves her detachment from him (Craik 73). The emotions between Mr. Rochester and Jane become so intense that by the time this marriage is reached it has come to represent the resolution of moral and emotional conflicts (Craik 72). Those conflicts become even more profound with the weddings interruption. At this point Jane realizes that her love has no hope. She said, The whole consciousness of my life lorn, my love lost, my hope quenched, my faith death-struck, swayed full and mighty above me in one sullen mass (p.301). She longs to stay but knows it cannot be. Jane expresses the tension between her desire to be Rochesters and her moral knowledge that she must leave him (Ewbank 183). The reader must begin to perceive as one Janes agony and its emotional and spiritual implications (Ewbank 185). In the end Mr. Rochester pressures Jane to become his mistress. The intensity of pressure which he puts on her is matched, not by fear or revulsion of the popular heroine, but by a responsiveness which she barely masters (Heilman 35). But Mr. Rochester lets her go because he too, recognizes that without her soul and spirit she is not worth having (Ewbank194).
A contrasting moral dilemma is shown in Janes relationship with St. John. He pressures her to enter into a loveless marriage. Jane is deliberately made to draw attention to the parallelism between this temptation and the earlier one, between, as it were, an attempted physical rape and a more grievous attempted spiritual rape (Ewbank