The Gender Politics of Mentorship Roles in the Novel Jane Eyre
The novel Jane Eyre caused much talk and controversy when it was published, and continues to be a recurring novel in cultural consciousness to this day. The story of Jane Eyre seems to resonate in many different ways with different generations for a variety of reasons. Jane Eyre is many things,both a heroine and a hopeless romantic; the novel itself is at best a feminist manifesto in long-form and at worse a portrayal of the limits of feminism of the time. The framework in which you place both Jane the character and the novel determines the message that it leaves.
Although throughout the novel, Jane plays many roles, one that she consistently plays is that of apprentice to someone,or intellectual inferior. Surprisingly though she is also assigned the role of an intellectual superior with similar frequency. Throughout the novel, Brontë structures a series of relationships in which there in a subject that teaches or instructs, and one that is being taught. The power dynamics in these relationships become very telling of the social hierarchies portrayed in the novel.Brontë displays power relations and hierarchies through mentor-mentee relations. However, it must be noted that her female mentors seem to contrast greatly with the male ones in that they are usually marginalized socially in some way or another. A saving grace is that in all mentor-mentee relationships, learning exists. Brontë seems to use learning as a sort of cathartic process through which hercharacters are allowed to sometimes transcend these social hierarchies in which they have been placed.
Jane Eyre is filled with discourse on different feminist subjects, not only in its content but its very conception and the story of its writer. In this novel, Brontë presents us with her version of a powerful woman and how she relates to others, both male and female and in all socialspectrums. A corner stone influence of the novel is class. Many of these relationships are often defined and heavily shaped by class. Up until the end of novel Jane is consistently aware of her place within a social class continuum. In addition, she appears to be under the impression that she is a subordinate in all sense to those who are above her in social rank.
Rank is a concept that Jane istaught early on in the novel. At the beginning, Jane is portrayed by Mrs. Reed as the uncivilized child. The Reeds paint her as a child that is stripped of agency and is made a dependent of the family. She becomes less than an individual. In addition, as a dependent, she is deemed as less qualified to have access to intellectual development than the Reed children. When Jane is found reading a bookbehind a curtain, John says to her “You have no business taking our books. You are a dependent, mama says you have no money.” Money granted access to education. A keen mind and an educated one at that were only possible through the possession of money and riches. Therefore having no money, continually placed Jane at an intellectual disadvantage to others. This is not to say that there was actuallyany sort of discrepancy in her mental capabilities and those of the people around her, however from a conceptual standpoint, her very class limited her imagined mental standpoint from the start.
In the novel, Brontë explores the concept of inferiority in many different ways, and she is able to exemplify it through the power relations of the mentor/mentee. Further on in the book’s timeline,when Jane is at Lowood, is portrayed not only as an intellectual inferior to Helen Burns but also as a religious inferior. Helen is a model student and reads books that Jane cannot begin to understand. She has conversations with Miss Temple that are outside of Jane’s comprehension grasp.
Although Helen does appear to be superior in her moral and religious standing, a lot of her religious...