Oftentimes when you are a student in an upper level high school literature course, or perhaps a college English seminar, you are asked to read the novel, Jane Eyre. Considered to be a classic, Charlotte Brontë's creation has for many generations been promoted as an inspiration for young girls across the globe. Eyre is, of course, a young woman who is orphaned and abused by her guardian Mrs. Reed and her cousins. She struggles to survive the horrid conditions at Lowood Hall, wherein she eventually becomes a teacher. Then, after finding new work, she stumbles upon Mr. Rochester, who — spoiler alert — becomes the love of her life. While I can agree that it is inspiring to see that a novel written by a woman can be as successful as Jane Eyre is, I cannot defend the idea that Eyre is a good role model for young girls of today.
For a novel that is deemed "feminist", I personally find the label to be inaccurate on a number of levels. Yes, Eyre is able to escape Gateshead, get an education and find work for herself, but she makes too many choices that do not correlate with the idea of a strong, independent woman. While one could argue that the simple fact that she is able to make choices for herself promotes feminist theory, the argument is not good enough for me.
Firstly, Eyre complains ... a lot. While there was no #reallifestruggles in Victorian England, it is clear that Eyre is unhappy for most of her life. Granted, most of her unhappiness is completely warranted, but for someone who comes from nothing to become a governess and still complain, is ridiculous. Governesses earned the equivalent of both a man's and woman's salary during this time, and let's not forget the fact that she was living in a mansion with Mr. Rochester, so I would say that things were working out pretty well for her. The strongest people are those who can accept their circumstances and work to change them, but Eyre continuously serves others, complains about it, but does not change a thing.
Secondly, Eyre is a total racist. Think back to all of the disparaging comments that she makes upon discovering Bertha Mason. She essentially refers to Mason as a rabid animal who is mentally unstable. Considering Mason is the only character of a race other than white in the novel, and that she is the only character depicted with apparent mental instability, it is safe to argue that the narrator, Eyre herself, is quite prejudiced.
Thirdly, going off of the last reason, Eyre is certainly not a feminist. When does Eyre blow up at Rochester for lying to her for all those months? The man kept his real wife in an attic and never told Eyre about it, but Eyre never tells him how despicable he is. Eyre accepts that Mason's craziness justifies Rochester's actions, though she pities Mason for not being able to control her mental state because apparently white people are the only stable ones. Where is the womanly sisterhood?
Fourthly, Eyre is not a good role model because in the end, she goes back to Rochester. Excuse me, but if I found out on my wedding day that my man had another woman stashed away, there would be absolutely no way that I would run back to him. The man not only lied, but he toys with her emotions every chance he got. He dresses up as a fortune-teller to plant ideas in Eyre's mind about her future, and he even manipulates her into believing that he is marrying another woman and finding her new work in Ireland, all to see how she really feels about him. Honestly, Eyre could have done so much better than someone so insecure.
Lastly, Eyre chooses the life of servitude. She works for others her whole life and hates it, yet the minute Rochester needs someone to care for him, she drops everything to run back to him. Since the man lost his eyesight and is crippled after the house fire, he needs someone to care for him full-time. Eyre ultimately becomes his lifetime slave through marriage, meanwhile she just inherited quite a deal of money that could be used on anything she wants, but she continues to pursue the slave-like lifestyle that she complained about in the past.
There is so much more to life other than a happy ending and a "picture-perfect" marriage. An heiress, such as Eyre, could have had such an important effect on the world, but instead she chose love. While there is nothing wrong with choosing love if that is what you want in life, a story such as Jane Eyre sends a problematic message to young girls that everything will work out perfectly for them if they focus less on themselves and more on others. It is time to stop making girls feel guilty about living a life on their own terms without feeding into others' desires.