Gender and Sexuality in Society in the Works of Charlotte Bronte Thesis

Pages: 11 (2959 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

Gender and Sexuality in Society in the Works of Charlotte Bronte

The gander roles issue in Charlotte Bronte's writings is one that arises often right from the beginning. Jane Eyre, an autobiographical book is one that comes under the influence of this subject to deeper level than the others because the novel is indeed partly autobiographical. Villette is another novel that places gender roles at the center of its issues. The feminine protagonists in both novels are actually under the influence of the writer's own experiences of gender issues in the nineteenth century England. As Mary a. Ward writes in the Introduction to the Haworth edition of Villette: "The imagination is at least the fruit of the experience; for the poet weaves with all that comes to his hand" (Bronte, xvi).

Jane Eyre starts with the analysis of gender role in the close circle of the family, the reeds, with an overprotective mother and a bulling and not very bright son who had nothing but contempt for his female family members or for the hired staff alike: "the servants did not like to offend their young master by taking my part against him, and Mrs. Reed was blind and deaf on the subject: she never saw him strike or heard him abuse me; though he did both now and then in her very presence: more frequently however, behind her back" (Bronte, 18). The young John was also using violence against the defenseless creature who happened to have no means to protects herself at the age of ten, thus having to endure not only the cruelty of his words, but also his physical brutality.

The gender issues are accompanied by the class difference issues and that makes it the more difficult for Jane Eyre to grow in a society where she has to cope in a society where being an orphan girl and having no money of one's own would make one's existence harder than the average women had to put up with in those days.

The years passed between the time the narrator girl in Villette spends at her godmother's in Bretton and the next episode where she is already a young woman, are synthesized as: "a bark slumbering through halcyon weather, in a harbor still as glass -- the steersman stretched on the little deck, his face up to heaven, his eyes closed: buried if you will in a long prayer. A great many women and girls are supposed to pass their lives something in that fashion; why not I with the rest?" (Bronte, 36). The passive attitude expected and imposed to most of the nineteenth century girls during their childhood and teenage years is evoked in this description.

Both Jane Eyre and Villette are so called Bildungsromane. The protagonists are women living in the Victorian era, in England or elsewhere in Europe. A matter of main concern in heir lives is their education. They acquire certain knowledge by means of both education and experience. The girls in the Victorian era were prepared for their adult lives in two ways, depending on their social status and their wealth. The working classes prepared their daughters to be able to work both inside and outside their homes. The wealthy families gave a higher degree of education to their daughters, but it was still kept to a minimum and mostly destined to enable them to find suitors and get married. Those who were well educated, but did not posses any means to allow themselves a life without working were either forced to look for a job as a governess or teach in various schools. They were mostly ignorant of life challenges and in matters of sex they were completely unprepared for the experience. Parents, tutors and educators were prepared to keep girls away from any form of knowledge that involved gender interrelations and any king of information about sex. They were supposed to be innocent and yet able to fetch a husband according to their rank and family's tastes. Debra Teachman is pointing out that girls in Victorian England had to walk on a very thin line between the expected amount of innocence they had to display and the knowledge about worldly affairs that involved their relationship with young men: "because the future of most women was only considered secure if they married, they also had to make themselves as attractive as possible to men of their social class so that they would be considered acceptable as marriage partners. Learning the accepted rules of proper behavior for her station in life, therefore, was an essential part of every girl's education" (Teachman, 30).

In the traditional style of a Buildungsroman, the ominous protagonist of Jane Eyre is learning about human relationships, especially those with male characters, from how own enriching experiences. She will suffer the consequences of her innocence at first, but not only will she get passed them, but she will learn from her own mistakes and grow stronger. In fact, she will become able to teach valuable lessons to the very men who even though much older than her, was in a desperate need to be taught lessons about life's beauty thorough the eyes of sensitivity and empathy.

Usually, the years before a girl reached the marriage age were, just as in the case of Jane, in Jane Eyre or Lucy Snowe in Villette, completely unsatisfactory for a young girls education when it came to matters of heart. Both Jane and Lucy will develop adult passions inspired by men they meet when they are just about to leave the childhood years for good. They are abruptly falling into the adult life style with satisfactions, but most importantly with all its hardships, disillusions and deceptions. In Jane Eyre's case, the first eighteen years of her life were extremely challenging for her. Left an orphan from a young age, she was taken into foster care by a family that did not really care much for her. The school she is admitted to, Lowood, does not treat her much better than the Reeds. Her only sources of satisfaction are coming from her academic achievements.

By contrast, although forced to take a job as a teacher, Lucy Snowe, from Villette, spends a relatively happy but just as clueless childhood. The first male-female adult relationship Lucy has is taking place in London at the inn she was recommended to find shelter. A young woman alone in a city inn was certainly destined to arise suspicions as to her whereabouts. The first man she meets at the inn is luckily old and experienced enough to be her grand-father and more importantly, he met her two uncles who used to take a rom at the same inn, when they were in London, years ago. After havin provided company and cared for Miss Marchmont, and living within the narrow boundaries of Miss Marchmont's house, fate forces Lucy to confront the big world and look for a job again. It was a tough task for a young girl of no means. Before taking action, Lucy evaluates her situation: "I had nothing to loose. Unutterable loathing of a desolate existence past forbade return. If I failed in what I know designed to undertake, who, save myself, would suffer? If I died far away from -- home, I was going to say, but I ad no home -- from England, then, who would weep?" (Bronte, 54). When Lucy decides to live England for the continent, she is putting her own safety at stake. A young girl travelling alone was unusual and destined to at least rise eyebrows. As she is pondering her situation as a lonely passenger of a ship, she is evoking the contemporary mentalities related to young girls traveling unaccompanied: "Foreigners say that it is only English girls who can thus be trusted to travel alone, and deep is their wonder at daring confidence of English parents and guardians" (Bronte, 58).

In spite of the high degree of education Jane Eyre reached at Lowood school, her access to readings had been quite narrowed down by what the beliefs of the time allowed her educators to leave at her disposal. This is pointed out in Jane Eyre when she is taking a look at the library in the Thornfield house. She finds that the master, Mr. Rochester left a bookcase open for the use of both the governess and her pupil: "light literature, poetry, biography, travel, a few romances" (Bronte, 157). Although scarce, they still appear to be far more richer in number than what she could put her hands on at Lowood: "I suppose he had considered that these were all the governess would require for her private perusal" (idem).

Jane's first encounter with the master of the Thornfield Hall is also her first awakening of her instincts as a grown woman. She meets him accidentally, while he suffered an accident and fell off his horse. In spite of her shyness, she finds the courage to speak up to the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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