Sexism and Submission in Jane Eyre

There are many things at this point in the novel that I am critical of about Mr. Rochester. First, I have read ahead and am already aware of the fact that he has a secret wife. Second, there is an oddly specific praise for Jane when she fits the societal roles of a submissive woman.

               Before Mr. Rochester and Jane are to be married, they wake and have a discussion in his office. Mr. Rochester says,

“’I never met your likeness. Jane: you please me, and you master me—you seem to submit, and I like the sense of pliancy you impart’” (389).

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2020.

Is this because unlike Bertha, Mr. Rochester’s hidden wife, Jane is easy and susceptible to control?

               This is by no means to criticize Jane for being more inclined to fit the standard for women at this time. It is understandable that she should feel this way after having seen womanly submission to men all her life, beginning with her cousin the very day her Aunt conceded to him simply because he was a boy and believed him over Jane, to her boarding school where she was often degraded and made to feel small by the abusive male overseer. Jane’s submissive nature is often perceived by Mr. Rochester and other men of his likeness as idealized simply because of the power dynamic between a man and woman and the antiquated sexist gender norms of the era.

               Are we to believe that Mr. Rochester did not like the likeness of Bertha? Did he not like that he could not tame her? That she was too difficult? That she was a burden to him and yet he kept her trapped away in that horrible Thornfield house a hidden, shameful secret? Mr. Rochester idealized Jane because of her submission, and in my opinion, this is disparaging.

5 thoughts on “Sexism and Submission in Jane Eyre

  1. What I’ve noticed throughout the text and from reading classmate’s blog posts, is that Mr. Rochester loves control and he wants to have Jane under his thumb. This is once again a great example of Mr. Rochester trying to slowly gain control over Jane. By praising her submissiveness, he is shaping her to be more submissive and easy to control but less true to herself.

  2. I think your last sentence is sort of getting at something I think is important to understand. “Mr. Rochester idealized Jane because of her submission, and in my opinion, this is disparaging.” What you describe are characteristics of an abuser. Rochester doesn’t love Jane, he keeps her around because he can control her, and she benefits his public image. Rochester takes advantage of Janes trust and naivety. He even gaslights her by lying to her so much about Bertha that she thinks the house is haunted. Jane can’t trust herself or Rochester. Whenever I think about Rochester, all I think is abuser. Especially because of how he neglected and isolated Bertha.

  3. Jane finally fits the narritive society wants her to fit. She is meek and pliable to the whims of someone who is supposedly her better. Her continued trauma has lead her to be able to mask her indepenant spirit. But from Rochester’s entrance he has wanted to dominate the conversations. His character has sought to be in control of everything which can be seen when Rochester is dangling Jane’s wages in front of her.

  4. It reminds me of the angel vs monster dichotomy discussed in “The Mad Woman in the Attic”. Jane’s submissiveness towards Rochester allows her to become “his angel”. The behavior is praised and idealized. In comparison, Bertha is reduced to the role of a monster because she is, in some way or another, not conforming to Rochester’s demands.

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