A literary hero is often defined as “a character in a literary work, especially the leading male/female character, who is especially virtuous, usually larger than life, sometimes almost godlike” (W.W. Norton). These characters also often embody the ideals their culture.
In the mid-nineteenth century, a typical woman would have carried the burden of “staying in her place.” In other words, she was subject to the universally established standards and social roles that society had traditionally placed upon her. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre depicts Jane Eyre as a feminist heroine of the 19th century. At a time when women depended on men financially and socially and were considered as property only useful for family life and marriage. Yet if Charlotte Bronte’s iconic character Jane Eyre had, in fact, existed in that time period, she would have defied most of these cultural standards and proved herself a prime example for aspiring feminists of her day. Jane would have adequately represented their unique version of a mighty heroine. Jane’s profound commitment to dignity, independence, freedom of choice, unwillingness to submit to a man’s emotional power and eager willingness to speak her mind represents sufficient evidence of why Jane Eyre remains undoubtedly a fictional heroine of the feminist cause.
It could be respectively said Jane is a “bad” feminist. However, it’s impossible to naturally suggest that a novel written in the 19th century should perfectly fit the mold of what 21st-century feminism should be. Feminism is a social movement powered by people, and because it is powered by people, it can have its faults. Alternatively, literature should function as an education in how modern society has evolved tremendously since the 1840s. We should thoughtfully look at how Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte fit and instantly broke the molds within that time. Maybe in a contemporary Jane Eyre, Jane would say sternly “bye” to Rochester and move to better herself in ways that didn’t involve marriage, but Jane Eyre and its enduring can teach us the poetic beauty of being both true to ourselves, whether we genuinely want to be a budding entrepreneur or a housewife/husband or both and still be an outspoken feminist.
The key point of feminism is not that women are better than men or don’t require men or should shun all of society for some new creation – it’s that women are equal and have a choice. Just as some voluntarily choose to be devoted moms and excellent teachers and gentle nurses still to this glorious day although they are “traditional feminine roles,” does not conclude them less worthy feminists and legendary heroines. Jane Eyre is an appropriate heroine of the feminist movement because she embodies the value of feminism which is equal social, political, intellectual and economic right for both men and women.
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