An Illustration of Disability and Gender Politics in “Jane Eyre”

I made an infographic for this project illustrating the shifting gender politics between Jane and Mr. Rochester, as well as depicting Jane’s relationship to feminine and masculine gender expression as it relates to the men in the novel. An infographic was an easy way to display quotes that provided insight into Jane’s feelings towards Mr. Rochester, St. John, and her own gender expression.

Naturally, Jane’s journey begins in the upper left-hand corner of the infographic. The quotes here come from Chapter 25 of the novel, when Mr. Rochester and Jane discuss marriage for the first time. Mr. Rochester senses reluctance in Jane, asking her “What is the matter,” “Are you well,” and ultimately telling her “This is hypochondria” (Bronte 265). He clearly senses reluctance surrounding discussions of the pair’s upcoming marriage. As it appears, Jane is not ready to submit herself to marrying Mr. Rochester.

Perhaps one of the reasons for her reluctance is encountered earlier in the novel. Mr. Rochester offers to outfit Jane in all kinds of fancy and expensive clothes, saying, “‘This morning I wrote the banker in London to send me certain jewels he has in his keeping…In a day or two I hope to pour them into your lap’” (Bronte 245). Jane’s response to this offer is lukewarm to say the least. She instead tells Mr. Rochester to “never mind jewels…Jewels for Jane Eyre sound unnatural and strange’” (Bronte 245).

Jane’s rejection of Mr. Rochester’s lavish clothing and jewelry is not just a denial of Mr. Rochester’s expensive items, but a rejection of her own femininity. In her own admission, jewels—a symbol strongly associated with femininity—seems “unnatural” when paired with her.

In other interactions, Jane denies the passive, feminine role put on women at the time. This is especially apparent between her and St. John. St. John has a more overbearing, dominant personality, as seen in the way he bosses Jane around. Even his marriage proposal is bossy and direct, trying to compel Jane’s choice in a forceful way. The more forceful St. John gets, the more Jane rejects his advances. Jane’s independence is apparent between her interactions with Mr. Rochester and St. John, which represents her reluctance to assume the perceived “feminine” role in society by submitting to dominant men.

Mr. Rochester’s injury and resulting disability cause the gender politics between him and Jane to change. She begins to describe him in a more helpless, vulnerable way. The line “the subjugation of that vigorous spirit to corporeal infirmity” particularly stands out (Bronte 420). Throughout the novel, Jane is expected to be subservient, yet this time that idea if applied to Mr. Rochester though the “subjugation” of his “vigorous spirit” or his domineering, masculine personality. In turn, Mr. Rochester’s disability forces him into the more “feminine” role, which seems to make Jane more comfortable with the idea of marrying him as she is then put in-charge of him.

This creates a troubling depiction of disability. While, in a way, Jane Eyre champions an independent, modern woman through Jane’s journey to get married and maintain her identity, it also emasculates Mr. Rochester as a disabled man. Jane begins to see him as less of a man, and, therefore, less threatening to her independent identity. This is a problematic depiction of disability because, despite Mr. Rochester losing his ability to see, he has not lost any integral parts of himself that should have him be perceived as lesser in Jane’s eyes. This is why my response to Jane Eyre matters, because it exposes the belief that the disabled may have different abilities, but they should not be thought of or seen as less, which is a trend across the literature we’ve read in class so far.

4 thoughts on “An Illustration of Disability and Gender Politics in “Jane Eyre”

  1. I really love the use of an infographic because I am such a visual learner. I agree with the fact that Jane probably felt more comfortable with Mr.Rochester after his incident because she could have more autonomy in the relationship. She is a very independent character and values caring for others rather than being cared for. Great project!

  2. This infographic was super cool! I really appreciate recontextualizing this particular theme in that way. We’d talked about the sort of troubling way that Bronte uses disability in class a bit and I found it absolutely fascinating. I really appreciate that you’ve expanded upon that, because I think it is one of the more morally grey and interesting ideas that this story puts forward.

  3. This is such an interesting way to portray the relationships in Jane Eyre! I think power dynamics are such an interesting aspect of relationships, as well as the ways the change based off of seemingly unrelated circumstances, and you captured that very well. Great great job!!

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