Jane Eyre – Insider and Outsider in Society
Throughout Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, the reader follows the bildungsroman of Jane Eyre, a young girl turned woman who constantly challenges the ideas of what it means to be an insider and outsider in society. Jane Eyre is constantly seen as a threat to other characters because she is either different than those that surround her or because her views threaten the norm. Although Jane spends the majority of her life as an outsider, she often chooses to put herself in that position because she believes that she is superior intellectually to those around her. When finally finds herself as an insider , she isn’t satisfied until she is able to become an insider in the upper class which allows her to gain a sense of self-importance and finds a place in society.
In the opening pages of the novel, Jane is immediately depicted as a girl who physically and emotionally treated as an outsider. When growing up, Jane lived in Gateshead Hall with her aunt and cousins but is never treated like family. Jane is consistently reminded of her inferiorities and is taught from a young age that she is not equal to those surrounding her. Although she and her cousins are young, she is still forced to refer to her cousin John Reed as “”Master””. When Jane protests by saying “”Master! How is he my master? Am I a servant?”” , she is told “”No; you are less than a servant, for you do nothing for your keep. There, sit down and think over your wickedness”” (17, Barnes & Noble Edition). Growing up amongst wealthy children and then being told that she is less than a servant doesn’t even allow Jane to consider herself apart of the help. Instead, she is forced to watch her family thrive in the upper middle class with possessions and a status that she can only dream of. However, being viewed as an outsider, Jane isn’t discouraged by this. Rather, she prefers to be an outsider because she believes that she is superior to those surrounded her. In the opening lines of the novel Jane writes that she is “”humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgina Reed”” (11). Although Jane refers to herself as physically inferior, she implies that she is much smarter than her cousins which she believes to be much more important than physical looks. This causes her to not want associated with the Reed children, helping her to cope with her consistent treatment as an outsider. By being reminded so cruelly of her inferiority at a young age, Jane is immediately taught how to be an outsider. Furthermore, she is often kept separate from the family, adding to her isolation from society.
Jane is also physically an outsider while at Gateshead Hall and is often forced to be locked away or kept separate from the rest of the family. Charlotte Bront?« immediately describes Jane’s setting with “”The clear panes of glass, were protecting, but not separating me [Jane] from the drear November day”” (12). This could be interpreted as meaning that although Jane is protected from the realities of life outside Gateshead, as she is always isolated inside the house and its’ grounds, she is not really separated from the harsh realities of life itselfs she believes she is suffering a cruel life locked inside with the Reeds. Because she cannot be grouped with the family, Jane often describes herself as sharing characteristics with nature or people that she reads about. While in the house, Jane is separated even further from the Reeds. After misbehaving, she is sent to the Red Room, a room isolated from the rest of the house. “”The room was chill, because it seldom had a fire; it was silent, because remote from the nursery and kitchens; solemn, because it was known to be so seldom entered”” (19). After being sent to this room, Jane is both physically and mentally isolated from both Gateshead Hall and the society she lives in. This is also the first time that Jane realizes that no matter how hard she tries to do right and fulfill her duties, she will not be accepted by the Reed household. She is “”termed naughty and tiresome, sullen and sneaking, from morning to noon and from noon to midnight”” (Bront?« 10), and is never able to break this characterization in the eyes of the Reeds. Jane is trapped, imprisoned and cannot escape the confinements of the members and servants of the Reed household. Although it’s at this point in the novel that she is truly the most isolated, it isn’t until that she experiences being an insider that she truly feels isolated. Before leaving Gateshead Hall, she has never been taught what being an insider is like or how to even become one if she wished. It is this foundation that causes Jane to struggle both within herself and in society once she finally leaves Gateshead Hall.
For the first time in Jane’s life, she is able to leave for school and enter society, finally allowing her experience the difference between being an insider and an outsider. When first arriving to Lowood Institution, a school for orphans, she continues to exist as an outsider. Mr. Brockhurst, the supervisor of the school, attempts to exclude Jane from the society within the school. At one point, he places her on a stool in front of the entire school and says that Jane is “”a little castaway; not a member of the true flock, but evidently an interloper and an alien”” (78). The rest of the children are told to shun her, avoid her, and exclude her, attempting to force Jane to become a social outsider. Mr. Brocklehurst attempts to turn gain in to a the “”other”” by using non-human terms to describe her. However, Jane is able to move past Mr. Brocklehursts demotion and continue on in Lowood feeling generally accepted.
Jane immediately connects with two people at her new school, Lowood Institution, named Miss Temple and Helen. These two individuals give Jane a sense of belonging for the first time in Jane’s life. Jane has never had a motherly figure and it is Miss Temple, the superintendent at Lowood, that is able to help Jane along her journey and comfort her in a way that only a mother could. “”Miss Temple has generally something to say which is newer than my own reflections; her language is singularly agreeable to me, and the information she communicates is often just what I wished to gain”” (69). Jane is now able to recognize herself in someone else which is why she is able to take characteristics from Miss Temple that she finds admirable, ultimately helping her mature and become less of an outsider. Helen Burns, an orphan at Lowood, is the first friend that Jane has and acts as a foil to Jane, particularly in the subject of religion and submissiveness. Helen isn’t oblivious to the injustices the girls suffer at Lowood, but she believes that God will reward the good and punish the evil. Jane, however, struggles with blind faith and desires love and happiness while alive. Despite their differences, Jane cares for Helen greatly and enjoys having a friend and being an insider for the first time in her life. In a conversation with Helen, Jane says “”If others don’t live me, I would rather die than live-I cannot bear to be solitary and hated. Helen. Look here; to gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other who I truly love, I would willingly submit to having my arm broken”” (70). This demonstrates that after receiving love for the first time in her life, Jane is willing to subject herself to physical and emotional pain in order to keep that relationship. By the time that Jane finally started to feel a sense of belonging, she was suddenly reminded of her previous status as an outsider. First, Helen dies of illness, taking away Jane’s one close friend and Lowood. Then, Miss Temple leaves Lowood, causing Jane to return to a place of isolation. Bronte writes “”And now I felt that it was not enough. I desired liberty; or liberty I gasped; and for liberty I uttered a prayer, it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing.”” (101) Jane returns to being an outsider, but she feels differently about it than in her previous experiences of being excluded. Now, Jane has felt a love and a sense of belonging and is forced to return to an empty place, and is longing to leave it as quickly as she can. She now is desperate to gain this love again, and it’s foundation is what causes Jane to enter such a controlling relationship with Mr. Rochester in the future.
Once leaving Lowood, Jane hopes to ease this restlessness by becoming a governess at Thornfield Hall, but soon finds that the restlessness only grows stronger once she arrives. As she gets settled, she finds no intellectual stimuli. “”I believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness, and what I believed in I wished to behold”” (130). Jane has already experienced what it’s like to be with someone similar to her, such as Miss Temple or Helen, and then finds herself missing that company. She now has a void that she both wants and needs to fill, it’s only once she meets Mr. Rochester that she starts to feel like she belongs again. Mr. Rochester is the first person to challenge her intellectually and soon she begins to associate being an equal with love. This makes it extremely difficult to separate her feelings with Mr. Rochester and she becomes increasingly confused to what she feels for him. Jane thinks that Mr. Rochester “”in not of their kind. I believe he is of mine; – I am sure he is… though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates mementally to him”” (208). Jane finds herself asserting her equality and ability to be an insider based on character rather than birth which is an opportunity she has never gotten in life. Similarly, Mr. Rochester is intrigued as Jane challenges him in a way that he never has been before. Mr. Rochester is more interested in the idea of being with an outsider, someone who is different, as he has been an insider his entire life. Jane desperately wants to be an equal while Mr. Rochester is seeking the opportunity to become an outsider, which fuels their desire for eachother.
Once Jane leaves Thornfield Hall, Jane finds herself homeless and alone until she discovers her family. After running away from Mr. Rochester, Jane finds herself lonely, freezing and hungry until she comes across Marsh End, symbolizing the end of her search for acceptance. Staying with her newly found relatives helps her to heal and find a stable ground; she is able to overcome the anger she has regarding the abuse she suffered as a child living with the Reed family. At Marsh End, some of her wishes come true; she finally belongs to a family, she finds an intellectual match while studying with her cousins Diana and Mary, and her dream of starting a small school comes true with the help of her cousin St. John Rivers. He acts as a foil to Mr. Rochester and offers an alternative to the life offered by Rochester. However, Jane isn’t satisfied by this because she feels that St. John doesn’t view her as an equal. She says to him “”I have a woman’s heart, but not where you are concerned; for you I have only a comrade’s constancy; a fellow-soldier’s frankness, fidelity, fraternity”” (472).
Jane recognizes that although she is given positive characteristics and is valued in Marsh End, St. James still believes that he is superior to her because he is both smarter than her, but also because he is a man. Jane never felt this way with Mr. Rochester, but rather valued that she was viewed as an equal and is desired in the eyes of her master and a man.
Jane had the opportunity to be an insider in multiple times in her life, but she was never able to satisfy her craving of being an equal until she was accepted by someone in a higher class than her. Although being accepted at both Lowood and Marsh End, both of these places were filled of outsiders. The students in Lowood all came to school as orphans and her family at Marsh End was physically isolated and comprised of just a small group of people who removed themselves from society. Jane, without realizing, had a desire to be an insider of the upper class. She grew up having nothing for herself while being surrounded by wealth and desired to have something of her own one day. This is why she is only satisfied when she is with Mr. Rochester as she finally finds herself accepted into the upper class.