Feminism in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House Feminism, if anything, has appeared majorly in the literature spectrum through all decades and forms. Feminism is the political, cultural, or economic movement aimed at establishing equality and protection for all women. No matter the time period or place feminism has always been a popular literary topic that has made a few works quite notorious, including Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. Both works contain the scenarios in which the main characters are taken advantage of due to the apparent feminist society.
Made obvious by the title, Jane is the main character of the novel Jane Eyre. During the novel Jane meets people, in Jane’s case, men who try to hold her back or suppress her from becoming all that she can be. She is faced with men who aim to hurt her while others do it without notice and full of love. Jane finally realizes the way to be equal with the men in her life, and be treated as an equal is to rise against them and stand for her rights and what she believes in. Jane would not have to do this if not for the Victorian time period she lives in, where men consider themselves superior to women.
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Through the hard work and suffering Jane finally beats society’s unjust morals and becomes an equal to man thought impossible to change. In the second work we meet the main character of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House, Nora Helmer. Like Jane, Nora is constantly demeaned by her husband Torvald. He uses pet names for Nora that time and time again asserts his dominance and show very little respect towards her. Nora was never treated as harshly as Jane was, but she was still nevertheless continuously disrespected. In Nora’s life as well, the society in the Victorian Era is to be blamed for the men’s anti-feminist views.
In the play, in order to gain her respect Nora must decide between her husband Torvald, or leaving him and the suppression of Victorian marriage, similar to Jane’s decision whether or not to leave and run away with Rochester. Both characters have to decide between their rights as human beings and their love. Eventually Nora confesses her true feelings to Torvald and realizes that to leave him is the only way she could ever become something or someone in her life. In Jane Eyre, there is more than just one man who can be held responsible for having anti-feminist ideas and actions.
The man mostly recognized for his downright disrespect for women is Mr. Brocklehurst. Mr. Broklehurst is a rather annoying clergyman, he feels that he has a specific goal in his life, to “save” the otherwise lost souls of his girls in the school, but really he is trying to mold the girls to his own visions of how women should be rather than Gods. An example of Brocklehurst’s extremity can be found within the text of Jane Eyre:”Naturally! Yes, but we are not to conform to nature: I wish these girls to be the children of Grace: and why that abundance?
I have again and again intimated that I desire the hair to be arranged closely, modestly, plainly. Miss Temple, that girls hair must be cut off entirely; I will send a barber to-morrow: and I see others who have far too much of the excrescence- that tall girl, tell her to turn round. Tell all the first form to rise up and direct their faces to the wall. ” (Bronte 75-76)This shows Brocklehurst’s severity in his rules for the girls to follow, all for his feminist beliefs and his misinterpretation of Gods words. Besides these mandatory rules for the girls to follow Brocklehurst made a promise to Mrs.
Reed that he would let everyone know of Jane’s “vicious nature” telling all the other girls of the institute to “shun her [Jane]” and to “shut her [Jane] out of your converse” (Bronte 78) It is this directed anger toward Jane that sets Mr. Brocklehurst above all other men when it comes to hatred for women and can be considered the antagonist of feminism and Jane in this particular work. In addition, Brocklehurst was not the only enemy Jane came across in the novel. After leaving Lowood she takes a job as a governess at Thornfield manor, here she meets Mr. Rochester.
At first Jane sees him as rude and disrespectful due to his cold and gruesome remarks, but it is her fight and how Jane stands up for herself that leads to one of the most known relationships in literature. Eventually Rochester asks Jane for her hand in marriage but at the scene of the wedding, we come to learn, that Rochester is already married to an insane woman, living in his attic, named Bertha. With this Rochester asks Jane to run away with her to Europe, this is exactly where Jane is faced with a very hard decision between following her heart as everyone wants to do, or keeping her respect and dignity.
We can see the respect Jane now has from Rochester when he says to her, “I was wrong to attempt to deceive you; but I feared a stubbornness that exists in your character” (Bronte 354). This shows that Jane has gained Rochester’s respect and the ‘stubbornness’ in Jane’s character is the best thing for her, for without this trait Jane could never gain respect from others, especially men, in his novel. Knowing that Jane has decided to leave her, Rochester begins to persuade Jane to stay with him. He says, “Oh, Jane, this is bitter! This ??? this is wicked. It would not be wicked to love me” (Bronte 355).
Jane replies, “It would to obey you” (Bronte 355), showing that she will not give into his pleading, regardless of how much she loves him because to obey him would lead to the loss of all the respect she has worked so hard to gain, especially from him. Looking at A Doll House, Nora is faced with similar anti-feminist ideas and actions brought by the men around her. Firstly we meet a man by the name of Torvald Helmer, Torvald is a man who took pride in his dominance of his marriage, while treating his wife as a young naive child, using playful names, and uses an undermining tone towards Nora.
These attributes are present throughout the play, for example Torvald is seen saying, “Spendthrifts are sweet, but they use up a frightful amount of money. It’s incredible what it costs a man to feed such birds” (Ibsen 46). This, a perfect example, shows both childish nicknames as well as his demoting tone, leading the reader to see how Torvald thinks of himself as superior to Nora because of his social status in society and the household. He can be closely compared to Rochester in Jane Eyre.
Besides the obvious similarity between the two, that both are romantically involved with the main females in the works, these two men posses certain characteristics and actions that connect them very well. Both men in the novels believe that women are far less superior then men, leading to their similar anti-feminist qualities and how they treat their loved ones. Their idea of superiority to women is gained from their workplace and how it was known as a woman’s place to be in the kitchen and to care for the family and house, while the men worked to support the family financially, which was obviously more important at the time.
In addition, these anti-feminist characteristics lead the women to leave the men, and both, after treating them with disrespect plead for the women to stay. This similarity between the men’s actions and characteristics shows how both pieces of literature have main ideas or themes of feminism. As we understand, Jane eventually gained respect from those who thought of themselves as her superior, but doing so was not an easy task. Jane was forced to begin sticking up for herself at a young age due to the cruel environments she was forced in to. “Jane does move from silence to speech, thus providing a model of feminist resistance and liberation. (Kaplan) With this sudden change Jane was able to show that she is equivalent to anyone, whether a man or women. Without her personal strength Jane could not possibly have any freedom and would be treated as other women were during this time period where women’s rights were hardly recognized. In relation to Jane, Nora also had to stand up and show herself to people. While Jane overtime became comfortable sticking up for herself, Nora suddenly came to realization that to leave Torvald was the only way she could have been an independent woman and free of Torvald’s self-proclaimed superiority. If??Nora??wants to define her worth, she can only do so by turning away from her children and husband” (Metzger). Nora realizes that she was never happy with her marriage and even after 8 years have passed she knows Torvald never really loved her. She wants to become her own person so she will have to only depend on herself and nobody else. “I have to stand completely alone, if I’m ever going to discover myself and the world out there. So I can’t go on living with you. ” (Ibsen 110) After all the time she spent being Torvald’s “doll” she finally stood up for herself, and like Jane, moves from the shadows to center stage.
Furthermore, the Victorian society in which both of these works are based allows us to see more similarities between A Doll’s House and Jane Eyre. The society present in these two works was one of men superiority to women. The men were known as the hard workers, the ones who, at the end of the day, brought home the money for the family. The women, however, were known as house wives; they would cook, clean, and care for the family and house all day while the men “worked hard” all day. In Jane Eyre, the ideas and influences of this time period can be exemplified many times.
Going back to the wedding scene in the novel, Jane knows if she accepts Rochester’s request to run with him to Europe she will become nothing but a mistress to him, which was a very common relationship between men and women during the time. Jane was also aware that if she became his mistress, there would be no respect for her, as well as no love. With bertha in mind many have thought of her as an extreme symbol of Victorian marriage and the confining and repressive aspects of it. “In their generative work Sandra M.
Gilbert and Susan Gubar designate Bertha, the original mad-woman in the attic, as the emblem of the Victorian woman’s suppressed feminist rage”(Wylie). This Victorian era was the height of anti-feminist ideas in society. In A Doll’s House the lack of feminist movements and ideas of the Victorian era are very present as well. Not mentioned above, in this specific time in history women along with having no power in society were very uneducated, if at all. This was one of the reasons as to why Nora decided she needed to leave Torvald, “I have to try to educate myself. You can’t help me with that.
I’ve got to do it alone. And that’s why I’m leaving you now” (Ibsen 110). As a woman in this Victorian era, society never thought Nora well enough to receive an education, rather to learn and become a house wife. Nora mentions that Torvald cannot help her receive this education; actually, he was the one thing stopping her. “For??Nora??to emerge as an individual she must reject the life that society mandates. To do so, she must assume control over her life; yet in the nineteenth century, women had no power. Power resides with the establishment and as a banker and lawyer, Torvald clearly represents the establishment. (Metzger) In order to reach this ‘establishment’ you must be far more educated than the average person (man), and while women were treated as “dolls” or playthings during the Victorian era, women could not possess power. The commonality found when analyzing these two pieces of literature is the central theme of feminism and how the protagonists of each story face and overcome the dominance of men and the Victorian time period where women’s rights were never recognized. In order to show their power, both females needed to show their strength by standing up for themselves and what they believe in.
Through these similarities Jane Eyre and A Doll House have been recognized as two of the most influential pieces of literature to new feminist societies. Works Cited Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Penguin Classics, 2003. Print. Cameron, Rebecca S. “Irreconcilable Differences: Divorce and Women’s Drama before 1945. ” Literature Resources from Gale. N. p. , n. d. Web. 22 Feb. 2010. Conway, Kathleen. “The Disclosure of Secrets: Reflection and Growth in Jane Eyre and Middlemarch. ” Literature Resources from Gale. N. p. , n. d. Web. 22 Feb. 2010. Goonetilleke, D. C. R. A. “A Dolls House: Overview. ” Literature Resources from Gale.
N. p. , n. d. Web. 14 Mar. 2010. Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll House. New York: Signet Classic, 1965. Print. Kaplan, Carla. “Girl Talk: Jane Eyre and the Romance of Women’s Narration. ” Literature Resources from Gale. N. p. , Fall 1996. Web. 22 Feb. 2010. Metzger, Sheri. “An Overview of A Doll’s House. ” Literature Resources from Gale. N. p. , n. d. Web. 15 Mar. 2010. Scott, Shelley. “Ibsen’s’ Women. ” Literature Resources from Gale. N. p. , n. d. Web. 22 Feb. 2010. Wylie, Judith. “Incarnate Crimes: Masculine Gendering and the Double in Jane Eyre. ” Literature Resources from Gale. N. p. , n. d. Web. 15 Mar. 2010.