What are the Victorian colonial elements in Jane Eyre

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Answered by: Arushi , An Expert in the Colonialism and Empire Building Category
The purpose of this writing is to discern the Victorian colonial elements that exist in the work, Jane Eyre.

Unlike its literary precursor (the romantic period), the Victorian period was a time plagued with numerous contradictions. These contradictions have never been quite as intricately woven into the persona of a character as they are by Charlotte Bronte in the portrayal of Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre hence becomes a character who personifies the Victorian values as well as victorian colonial elements while at the same time seeking to challenge them. Her voice becomes a tool for the author to contest the inherent social dogmas and traditions that were considered far too sacred to be questioned. This novel delineates the ideals of a progressive, counter-cultural movement that shook the fabric of the Victorian society and disseminates these ideals in hope of a change that was slowly gripping that age. In the words of Charlotte Bronte, “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last.” True to this belief, this Victorian iconoclast embarks upon a journey to protest the fallacy of Victorian orthodoxy and the culture of oppression that it created. .Jane Eyre questions the austerity and tyranny of the ideals of a society driven by a rigid, anachronistic and oppressive set of dogmas. Hence, it embodies a complex fusion of Victorian elements, creating a wholesome reflection of the era, integrating not just the mainstream but also the subaltern.

The correlation between the social and aesthetic value of Jane Eyre as a novel and its production in the great age of the English novel is striking. The novel in the general sense gained impetus in the Victorian age due to its effectiveness in representing the social conflicts that pervaded that age. In one single body of work, the novel captured the spirit of defiance fostered within many writers as well as their refusal to be complacent about the deplorable condition of the working class in England. The genre of Bildungsroman itself aided in the rise of class consciousness as it helped authors delineate the lives of those in the middle class. This genre broke away from the trend of escapism that was evident in the work of the Romantics. Hence, Jane Eyre, as a bildungsroman, has much relevance as one of the most prominent features of this novel is the element of social criticism that it so effectively projects on to the reader. The socio-political purpose and the relevance of the novel in the Victorian age is captured in the essence of Jane Eyre. This novel vocalizes the nuances of the life that a Victorian middle class woman was doomed to live and questions the morality of this social stasis that had been, in many ways, characteristic of the Victorian society.

One of the most prominent issues addressed by Bronte in her work is that of class and poverty. Perhaps the status of the protagonist as an orphan helps the author amalgamate both these social themes into her novel. In her tale of suffering and struggle for those oppressed by the class structure, she echoes the sentiment of Carlyle, who asked, “To whom, then, is this wealth of England wealth?”. Caught within the throes of progress, the working class of Victorian England had become hostage to misfortune. Despite having the central role in the rapid growth of Industrial England, this class was exploited and excluded from the “society”, having been forced into the status of “Others” within their own country. The “orphan” as well as the “governess” in Jane exposes this grotesque reality of the Victorian society and humanizes the struggle of those held in the crossfire of Victorian class conflict. As an orphan, Jane unravels the cruelty to many that were born in the margins of the society. She is born in a class limbo, isolated in status from her surrogate “family” as well as from the servants. This theme repeats in her adulthood when even as a governess she is unable to find a place in the social structure, as “(she was and was not a member of the family, was and was not a servant)”. This ambiguous status of class that isolated the “orphan Jane” and the “governess Jane” from the society permeates across her life, shaping an eager and conflicted woman that often resurfaces in the personality of the protagonist. Hence, this facet of the tale questions a class structure that diminished the status of so many that it enveloped.

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