Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre, presents Jane, the main character, as an uncommonly plain heroine. A journal article by Jen Cadwallader compares the main character Jane to fairytale heroines. The article examines the similarities between Jane Eyre and classic fairytales like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. One major difference between these stories, and Jane Eyre is explained quite bluntly when the article states, “Jane is, quite pointedly, no Beauty”(Cadwllader 235). Jane is introduced as a very plain average-looking girl. After being introduced to plain Jane, one is left to wonder why Brontë chose to have Jane appear so plain.
Brontë grew up in a world where if characters had great inner-qualities it was practically guaranteed that they would be beautiful on the outside as well. Brontë chose to go against the stereotype. Because Brontë made her heroine’s appearance average, Jane’s story evolves in exciting manner when she experiences phenomena that would normally be very unlikely for a low-class, plain woman. We discussed this characterization strategy a bit with the Jane Austen novels, Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice. Though Austen tried to avoid the stereotypical beautiful heroine, I believe Charlotte Brontë pushed the stereotype even further.
However, Jane Eyre does contain many female characters that portray exquisite beauty. These beautiful characters are also fortunate enough to have many great accomplishments as well. When Jane is asking Mrs. Fairfax about Miss Ingram Mrs. Fairfax states, “’Yes indeed: and not only for her beauty, but for her accomplishments'”(Brontë 152). The presence of these perfect characters within the novel is an excellent contrast to Jane because it makes her seem even more like the underdog.
This ideal of beauty is still present within modern popular culture. Disney princesses seem to always be presented as being skinny, skilled, and with seemingly flawless hair. Growing up, girls are socialized into a world where beauty is better. Society has clearly changed since Jane Eyre was first published in 1847. We owe a portion of this change to authors like Austen and Brontë because they gave the non-traditional heroine a chance to win over the hearts of readers.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002. Print.
Cadwallader, Jen. “‘Formed For Labour, Not For Love’: Plain Jane And The Limits Of Female Beauty.” Brontë Studies: The Journal Of The Brontë Society 34.3 (2009): 234-246. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 8 Nov. 2014.