WWJD (What Would JANE Do?)
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre not only tells the story of a young woman facing the social pressures of Victorian society, but also one of human nature. As the reader makes his/her way through the novel, he/she gets a firsthand glimpse of the, often, horrific situations Jane Eyre is forced to be in. While some may believe Jane to be acting foolishly or out-of-hand, others believe that her responses are completely justified.
Georgiana, John, Eliza, and Mrs. Reed blatantly single out Jane, taken in by Mr. Reed as an orphan, due to her presumed “physical inferiority (pg. 7).” After suffering physical and verbal abuse from the 14-year-old John, Jane appears to yell at and strike him. For her “wild and animalistic” behavior, Mrs. Reed sends her to the Red Room. During the Victorian Era, women fighting against social convention (i.e. a life of being controlled by men) were named crazy, lunatic, and animal-like. The later character, “Bertha” (in quotations for fans of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea), is the epitome of this idea; the belief of “lunatics” acting freakishly depending on the cycle of the moon comes into play here. Back to Jane…can anyone really blame her for reacting to his torture? In my opinion, Jane wasn’t violent ENOUGH with him; the snotty, self-entitled brat threw a book at her head! Yet, in that time, her actions were considered “wild.” I swear, I’m not defending Jane just because she’s the main character. In fact, coming from someone who has read this particular novel four or five times, I actually can’t stand her. However, the ridiculous societal norms of women during the Victorian Era prevent me from being prejudiced against her and make me rethink using the word “crazy.”
On the other hand, Brontë challenges acts of human nature via Helen Burns. Helen is the second-coming of Jesus, golden angel, who doesn’t seem to have a negative opinion of anything (well, except negativity). Her Christian approach to life prevents her from being angry about or defending herself against the atrocities of Lowood. She scolds Jane for her HUMAN reactions to abuse, and tells her that prayer and positive thinking will solve everything. If my sarcasm wasn’t obvious enough, this way of life is not possible. I repeat, NOT POSSIBLE. I’m quite sure that there were days when Ghandi wished it wasn’t raining, Mother Teresa was upset her flowers died, or the Pope cursed Ruben Studdard for beating Clay Aiken on American Idol. Even Jesus, himself, had a lapse in “peace, love, and happiness”—anyone remember Him literally flipping tables in the Temple courts?
Moral of the story: if Jesus can lose his cool, so can you. Personally, I think that Helen Burns might as well be a completely unrealistic figment of Jane’s imagination, because people like her do not exist. I consider her to be more of the subconscious angel on Jane’s shoulder than an actually living, breathing character. More importantly, Helen’s peaceful ways didn’t help her escape a painful death from tuberculosis. The very world that she fought so hard to bring peace to ended up killing her in return for her efforts.
I agree with Charlotte Brontë that raw human nature ultimately wins over the “Helen” way of life. However hypocritical Jane may be at expressing this idea, the only way to survive is by fighting to.