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Jane Eyre: Sexism Essay, Research Paper
In the cases of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice and Emily Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the ideals of romantic love are very much the same. In both 19th century novels, women’s wants and needs are rather simplified. However, this could also be said for the roles and ideals of the male characters. While it was obvious that this era was responsible for a large amount of anti-female sexism in society and the economy, can it also be said that male-female partnerships were simplified from the male perspective?
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it is widely agreed that the character of Jane Bennet is, in all aspects, the perfect 19th century woman. She has beauty, charm, manners, a little intelligence (but not too much), and is very loving and supportive. All of these qualities are said to show the men around her that she would make a good wife. As many discussions about this story have already said, this shows a sexist ideal of the time, that women are only good for wives. However, along the same standards we find a character such as Charles Bingley, who is thought to be the perfect gentlemen of the time. Bingley is remarkably handsome, affable, rich, and extraordinarily mannerly. All of these characteristics throw the Bennet house of women into a frenzy over who will be fortunate enough to marry Bingley. While this may show a certain dominance/subordinance relationship due to the women clamoring for the hand of a “good man”, it also simplifies a man’s place as to be rich, handsome, and strong. Thereby, all men who are not these things are judged according to what they do have to offer in terms of these three or so categories.
In the very beginning of the novel, the Bennet girls’ mother says, when asked if Bingley is married, “Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!” (p3, Austen). This shows a simplicity of role for a female, but also an undermining of any personality a man may have. Nothing is known about Bingley except that he is rich, yet Mrs. Bennet is already prepared to allow him to marry any of her daughters. Albeit she is being made fun of for this mindset, she continues to focus solely on her daughters marrying the most handsome, rich man they can find.
It can be said that in a relationship such as this, that the woman is simply a pawn in the game, trying to move up in social status. This is rather sexist. However, at the same time men are presented as only being good for bringing a woman up in social class and providing her with wealth. Which role is worse for the individual is arguable, but it can be assumed that either person would most likely be rather unhappy in such an arranged marriage. The man, who had known nothing of the woman except her looks and lineage, would most likely grow tired and resentful of his wife. This can be seen in the character of Mr. Bennet, who continuously throws sarcastic barbs toward his wife and children, most of whom he believes are “silly and ignorant” (p2). This possibly could have been prevented had the Bennets not followed standard conventions of the time and married a woman he did not know very well.
On the same point, Mrs. Bennet can assuredly not be happy with her husband. The only way someone can be happy while another person is actively degrading him/her is to ignore it, which is not an effective way to deal with the problem. This may also have been avoided had she not followed standard conventions of marriage and courtship. However, to judge the decisions of characters 150 years ago would be unfair. To a certain extent, people are all free to choose whatever path they want. However, some paths at certain points in history are more difficult than others.
The ideas of who is “agreeable” to the opposite sex are similar to the ideas of who is not. Near the beginning of the story, Darcy is introduced with Bingley. Darcy is also rich and handsome however his character seems to be the polar opposite of Bingley’s warm demeanor. “Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared, Darcy was continuously giving offense.” (p10) When considering his opinion of Jane, Darcy thought she was “pretty, but she smiled too much” (p16). While these thoughts would be expected from someone in today’s culture, they were shockingly rude for that time. However, Darcy continued to be a main character throughout the novel, and finally married Elizabeth. Had Darcy been a poor man, how many people at the party would have ever forgiven him for his personality, let alone married him? This shows an obvious emphasis on wealth in society at the time, but it also shows a simplistic sexist ideal of men being rich providers in a male-female relationship.
In Emily Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre, sexism in the 19th century male-female relationship takes on a more insidious tone. While in Pride and Prejudice the ideals and roles were more innocently ingrained in the characters, Jane Eyre shows a darker, more possessive side. When Jane is with Rochester, there is a constant struggle between his possessive tendencies and her optimistic “prophecies” of the future. In Chapter 24, Rochester has pressured Jane for sexual relations, and she has denied him by…
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