Female Protagonists:"emma" by Jane Austen and "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë


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Commentary on “Emma” by Jane Austen and “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë, comparing the ways in which both passages introduce possible suitors

In both “Emma” and “Jane Eyre”, we are told a story of two female characters who are dealing with the prospect of being involuntarily partnered with a male suitor. Austen and Brontë portray their female protagonists as erring between opinions about the potential suitors and through contradiction they produce a sense of undecided emotions for Emma and Jane Eyre.

Austen and Brontë create different situations for Emma and Jane Eyre, which creates an instant foresight into how the characters are feeling about their suitors. In Emma, Austen provides a large amount of detail in her description of the setting, for example when she writes, “The charming Augusta Hawkins… of so many thousands that would always be called ten;”. This quotation represents one major clause of a very long sentence and by using sentences of such length and including such verbose vocabulary, Austen gives the impression that, despite Emma’s dissatisfaction, the situation is not an emergency and Emma does not seem desperate. On the other hand, Brontë uses short, broken up clauses to create a sense of urgency and the requirement of stealth felt by Jane Eyre, for example when she writes, “and he is occupied too; perhaps if I walk softly, I can slip away unnoticed.” The use of punctuation to split up the sentence creates an image of Jane Eyre panicking and, the brevity of the clauses could reference her short of breath as she is scared of being seen.

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Brontë also creates a closer insight into Jane Eyre’s emotions by writing in the first person. The character-lead narrative offers a very personal perspective for the readers and eliminates any sense of prejudice by a narrator figure as the readers are hearing the unspoilt thoughts of Jane Eyre. Austen writes in the third person which creates a much greater distance and emotional detachment between the readers and Emma. This, as opposed to the use of the first person in “Jane Eyre”, means that there is a chance that the personal opinions and emotions of Emma may be altered or even omitted by the narrator. The use of the third person, in my opinion, limits the level of sympathy that the readers can feel for Emma because they have lost sight of the personal inner emotions of the protagonist and can no longer tell whether what they are being told is genuine. We see this when Austen writes, “She was, in fact, beginning very much to wonder that she had ever thought him pleasing at all;”. The effect on the readers is definitely different from the one which is created by Brontë in “Jane Eyre”, because the feeling of low self-value that Emma is feeling is lost because we are not told how Emma is feeling by Emma herself whereas, despite being written under a male pseudonym, most would argue that Jane Eyre displays a clear insight into female psychology, written so convincingly because of its female author.

The uses of the first and third persons by the authors offers up an interesting insight into the customs of the time. Both texts were written in the early to mid-nineteenth century, when the industrial revolution was beginning to take shape, and when the opinions and values of women were treated very differently, despite the changes in the organisation of the country’s economic management. At the time, women were expected to marry somebody chosen by her parents without resistance, and then to conform to whatever her new and involuntary husband wants her to do. We can see a clear following of this custom by Emma as she seems not to have her own opinion because it is being told to us by an external narrator. However, contrary to the customs of the time, Jane Eyre appears to be hiding from her potential suitor, Mr. Rochester. This is a much more urgent cry for help in that Jane Eyre is using her own voice. Brontë introduces a vivid sense of smell by using words such as “sweet-briar and southernwood”. The identification of Mr. Rochester from these specific smells, Brontë familiarises the readers with the suitor which also adds to Jane Eyre’s desperation because the readers feel acquainted with the man from which she is running.

Both protagonists contradict their initial opinions on their suitors, and seem to experience a significant inner conflict. In Emma, Austen gives a very glowing introduction to Mr. Elton, calling him “a very happy man,” who has changed his life from being “rejected and mortified,” to “gay and self-satisfied.” Austen’s use of hendiadys and anaphora when she repeats, “he came,” and writes phrases such as “eager and busy.” The use of more than one word to fulfil one purpose further highlights the lack of urgency felt by Emma. Then, later on in the passage, the narrator tells us that “she would have been thankful to be assured of never seeing him again.” This vacillation appears to contradict my initial thought about Emma conforming to the customs of the time because now Emma’s opinions have changed and are being shared. We also see some contradictory opinions in “Jane Eyre”. Initially, Mr. Rochester is presented as quite terrifying, implied by the fact that Jane Eyre appears to be hiding from him. Brontë uses the phrase, “that the crackle of the pebbly gravel might not betray me.” This implies severe consequences for her if she is to be found out by Mr. Rochester. However, when Mr. Rochester does discover Jane Eyre, his language appears friendly and approachable when he says, “Jane, come and look at this fellow.” Brontë uses a very short paragraph and then a longer one with a very fast pace to create suspense. The delay of the final line also emphasises the contrast between Brontë’s initial presentation of Mr. Rochester, and the one we have now seen.

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