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Marxism in Jane Eyre
Transcript of Marxism in Jane Eyre
Brooke Williams, Emma McLeod, and Hannah Smith
Marxist criticism is a type of literary criticism centered around the influence of class, power, and economics on a piece of literature. Marxist critics usually examine conflict between characters due to differences in social classes. By analyzing society and history instead of other literary elements like form and craft, Marxist criticism has changed literary theory and practical criticism.
What Marxist Critics Look For:
Critics attempt to identify conflicts of power, class and wealth in works. This critical viewpoint allows them to examine characters based on their socioeconomic status and their desire for economic improvement and how this influences the piece as a whole.
They also look into how class differences are represented and reinforced to audiences through literature.
Instead of searching for authors' meanings, Marxist critics also read texts based on historic influences in an attempt to point out social inequalities to the reader.
One of the main goals of a Marxist critic is to identify how a writer's struggle with class and financial position influences their writing.
Jane Eyre: a Marxist Perspective
Money plays an influential role throughout the book. It influences many characters and their behaviors. Charlotte Bronte often uses issues like money, power, and class to emphasize the personality traits of the different characters as well as to initiate conflict between them.
Quotes Relating to Marxism
Mrs. Fairfax says, "...John and his wife are very decent people; but you see they are only servants, and one can't converse with them on terms of equality...for fear of losing one's authority" (113)
Various social ranks appear in _Jane Eyre_. Here Mr. Rochester is above Mrs. Fairfax who is the housekeeper, but she considers herself above the servants.
"Everything appeared very stately and imposing to me; but then I was so little accustomed to grandeur.” (115)
Jane's economic standing is shown in contrast with that of Mr. Rochester when she enters his home and surveys his possessions.
Mrs. Fairfax says, "And yet it is said the Rochesters have been rather a violent than a quiet race in their time: perhaps, though, that is the reason they rest tranquilly in their graves now" (123)
The Rochesters, in their wealth and high social standing, are referred to as an entire race of people which places them apart from everyone else.
Karl Marx created both Marxism and Marxist criticism. Marx believed that the inequality in society would eventually lead to a social revolution in which the upper and middle classes would be overthrown in a social revolution led by the working class. The product Marx envisioned of the revolution would be a society where all were equal. This theory was termed Marxism. Since Karl Marx believed that literature was one way that ideas about society was conveyed to and influenced the masses, he began to review literature in search of social injustices and inequalities which was the beginning of Marxist criticism.
The writer must earn money in order to be able to live and to write, but he must by no means live and write for the purpose of making money.
- Karl Marx
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Jane and Money
Throughout most of the book, Jane lives in poverty. Her lack of wealth is a force that drives her, sometimes in desperation, to dependence upon employment by others. When she learns of gaining an inheritance from her uncle she says:
"One does not jump, and spring, and shout hurrah! at hearing one has got a fortune; one begins to consider responsibilities, and to ponder business; on a base of steady satisfaction rise certain grave cares, and we contain ourselves, and brood over our bliss with a solemn brow” (432).
Not only does this quote speak to her character, but it also reveals the drastic changes that take place in the life of somebody based off their economic status. This quote demonstrates the strong influence of money on behavior. At the same time, this scene serves to illuminate Jane's humble ways and reasonable thinking.
Edward and Wealth
Mr. Rochester is one of the many wealthy characters in the novel. Throughout the book, his wealth helps to construct his unique personality as well as uphold existing ideologies about the wealthy. His character and behavior support the existing belief that wealthy attach more value to material items. This can be seen in the following quote:
“I will myself put the diamond chain round your neck, and the circlet on your forehead -- which it will become: for nature, at least, has stamped her patent of nobility on this brow, Jane; and I will clasp the bracelets on these fine wrists, and load these fairy-like fingers with rings.” pg 296
In showering Jane with jewelry, Edward is making an attempt to bring her into his economic class. She is very resistant to this method, though, because she is unused to material items.
The main element we chose to analyze in our paper was the conflict between Edward and Jane. Although their love is great, there was no way of preventing the various conflicts that occurred due to their economic differences.
There seems to be an imbalance of power within Edward and Jane's relationship. Edward suggests Jane has a sort of emotional power over him, when he says, “Station! station! -- your station is in my heart...” (302) At this point, he seems to disregard her literal low class and poverty. In his eyes, Jane is a woman worthy of great appreciation and is far more than a poor orphan. Regardless, Jane is always in servitude to Edward.
Jane is clearly serving Edward as a superior when she works as a governess. Even in the end of the novel, when Edward is blinded and has lost a hand, Jane is still serving him:
"The water stood in my eyes to hear this avowal of his dependence; just as if a royal eagle, chained to a perch, should be forced to entreat a sparrow to become its purveyor” (494).
Although she is serving him out of love, his superiority still remains prominent in her mind. Although physically disabled, he is still an eagle and she is still a sparrow. Edward is now dependent, but even Jane still views him as a royal eagle because she has always seen him as a man of wealth and power.
How does this relate to Marxism?
The relationship between these characters supports a few fundamental ideas of Marxism:
1. Characters are defined by their wealth - Jane's poor origins have forever labeled her as a sparrow. Edward will always be seen as an authoritative royal eagle due to his socioeconomic status.
2. Servitude - Jane's loyal and kind values are emphasized through her constant servitude. Charlotte Bronte uses the idea that the lower class are the working class to bring Jane's hardworking and modest characteristics to light.
3. Oppression and Overcoming - Charlotte Bronte veers slightly from the status quo by bringing Jane and Edward together against all odds. Jane is able to overcome her oppression and poverty to marry Edward, but it is only after she gains wealth. In the way Bronte brought these two characters together, she upheld the idea that individuals of different social classes often clash. By the end, Jane and Edward were more equal in wealth.
By looking at some of the following questions, we can further understand the Marxist lens:
What is the social class of the author?
Which class does the work claim to represent?
What values does it reinforce?
What values does it subvert?
What conflict can be seen between the values the work champions and those it portrays?
What social classes do the characters represent?
How do characters from different classes interact or conflict?
What role does class play in the work; what is the author's analysis of class relations?
How do characters overcome oppression?
"Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!--I have as much soul as you..." (291)
Here Jane is upheaving the status quo that places her below Edward intellectually because of her poverty and gender. Marxist criticism looks both for oppression caused by class and when class is challenged in literature.
Edward says, "I will myself put the diamond chain round your neck, and the circlet on your forehead -- which it will become: for nature, at least, has stamped her patent of nobility on this brow..." (296)
Edward's attempt to give Jane jewelry and riches clearly exemplifies his high economic status compared to her dependency.
"I again felt rather like an individual of but average gastronomical powers sitting down to feast alone at a table spread with provisions for a hundred" (433)
A major shift in terms of social and economic position occurs when Jane receives a sizable fortune from her uncle. Although she is overwhelmed by the sum, she is able to make decisions that benefit herself because of her newfound wealth.
Overall, the characters within _Jane Eyre_ are categorized into separate classes based on their social statuses and wealth. The class distinctions in the novel affect how the characters relate to each other and what conflicts arise between them. The conflicts between Jane and Mr. Rochester that come from class differences are especially pivotal to the plot of the story. The conflicts between Jane and Edward are eventually resolved with Jane's rise in economic class, showing the important role of class in society.