Jane Eyre

The Unenslaved Self: Feminist Enlightenment in Jane Eyre

In Jane Eyre, each episode Charlotte Brontë tells of Jane's life recounts a new struggle, always featuring a man and his patriarchal institution: John Reed's Gateshead, Brocklehurst's Lowood, Rochester's Thornfield, and St. John's Moor House. In every circumstance, these men attempt to confine Jane to an inferior role as a woman. Looking back on her life she writes, "I never in my life have known any medium in my dealings... between absolute submission and determined revolt." Because of this tireless opposition against overwhelming power, Jane often uses images and descriptions of slavery to characterize these relationships. But her use of slavery as an analogy evolves. Beginning as a term of ironic empowerment, Jane soon rejects the perception of herself as a slave and eventually reaches a point of feminist enlightenment in which she realizes she is naturally free. Consequently, the metaphor of slavery depicts her own path of overcoming the oppression that threatens her inherent liberty.

Jane first introduces the motif of slavery during her time at Gateshead, where, associating her own revolutionary passion with those destitute souls, she is proud to declare herself a slave. After a painful...

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