Social class in Jane Eyre

Jane and Rochester
Jane and Rochester belong to very different social classes

In Brontë's Jane Eyre social class is a recurring theme, as class dictates what a character can and can't do and how they are viewed by others. This is because in the Victorian period, class determined how an individual lived their life. Social class determined marriage, as people tended to marry partners within their own social class. Women were in a particularly vulnerable position, as men and their families tended to choose a suitable wife on the basis of the woman's dowry, a sum of money that the male received from the bride's family through marriage.

Social class is presented in Brontë's Jane Eyre through Jane's lack of money and how others view her because of this. It is also presented through Jane's role as a governess and the money she later receives in her uncle's will.

How is social class presented in Jane Eyre?

  • Through Jane's lack of money and how others view her because of this.
  • Jane's role as a governess.
  • The money she receives from her uncle's will and how she then feels 'an equal' to Rochester.

Social and historical context

In the Victorian era, women's wealth and dowry determined who they should marry. Through marriage, the husband would receive the dowry, making the woman dependent on the husband.

How is it presented in the novelEvidenceAnalysis
Jane's role as a governessJane is well-educated and must take the role of a governess to support herself financially. Later on in the novel, Jane's cousins must also take on the role of governesses - something they wish they didn't have to do.I told her I had a prospect of getting a new situation where the salary would be double what I now received.This shows that Jane is independent and strives to improve her own situation and how she lives. This was unusual in the Victorian period, as most women were dependent on a man; either their father or their husband.
Mrs Fairfax's response to Jane's engagementAfter Rochester has announced his forthcoming marriage to Jane, Mrs Fairfax shuns Jane as she believes she has stepped above her station by marrying Rochester."I believe she thought I had forgotten my station, and yours, sir."Mrs Fairfax believes that social class and its rules should be followed. This was a common belief in Victorian society. Rochester's response of "Station! Station! - your station is in my heart" illustrates Brontë's true feelings about social class and her attempts to challenge it.
Jane as an independent womanAt the end of the novel, Jane proclaims that she is an independent woman, as she has money and wealth of her own."I am independent, sir, as well as rich: I am my own mistress."Jane views herself as an equal to Rochester, as she has five thousand pounds to her name. The repetition of 'I' illustrates Jane's independence. She is her 'own mistress' and nobody can tell her what to do.

How does social class impact on Jane's journey to happiness and adulthood?

  • Jane is forced to go to Lowood School and not be part of the Reed family, as she is viewed as 'poor' and as a child who is clinging onto the Reed's wealth.
  • Jane becomes a governess in an attempt to make her own money and have her own independence.
  • Jane believes Rochester will marry Blanche Ingram as she is wealthy. She expects this to happen and it breaks her heart.
  • Jane is shunned by Mrs Fairfax when Rochester announces his marriage to Jane.
  • Jane receives money from her uncle's will and splits it with her cousins, giving them independence and happiness.