Jane Eyre

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Social Class and Social Rules Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Love, Family, and Independence Theme Icon
Social Class and Social Rules Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Feeling vs. Judgment Theme Icon
The Spiritual and the Supernatural Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Jane Eyre, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Social Class and Social Rules Theme Icon

Life in 19th-century Britain was governed by social class, and people typically stayed in the class into which they were born. Both as an orphan at Gateshead and as a governess at Thornfield, Jane holds a position that is between classes, and interacts with people of every level, from working-class servants to aristocrats. Jane's social mobility lets Brontë create a vast social landscape in her novel in which she examines the sources and consequences of class boundaries. For instance, class differences cause many problems in the love between Jane and Rochester. Jane must break through class prejudices about her standing, and make people recognize and respect her personal qualities. Brontë tries to illustrate how personal virtues are better indicators of character than class.

Yet the novel doesn't entirely endorse breaking every social rule. Jane refuses, for instance, to become Rochester's mistress despite the fact that he was tricked into a loveless marriage. Jane recognizes that how she sees herself arises at least partly out of how society sees her, and is unwilling to make herself a powerless outcast for love.

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Social Class and Social Rules Quotes in Jane Eyre

Below you will find the important quotes in Jane Eyre related to the theme of Social Class and Social Rules.
Chapter 1 Quotes
You have no business to take our books; you are a dependant, mama says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen's children like us.
Related Characters: John Reed (speaker), Jane Eyre
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Jane has sought refuge from her aunt and cousins in a book, when her cousin John Reed barges in and insults her. Jane was orphaned several years earlier, and now it's only a few months since her uncle - the only member of the Reed family who was kind to her - also died, and the rest of the family feels free to share their scorn and disdain for Jane. Here John belittles Jane's presumption in taking a book to read from among the family collection, for she could not be further from being a member of the family.

Though John's words are cruel, his actions are those of a child, and he seems to be buoyed and his opinions confirmed by those of his mother. Indeed, he repeats his mother's words in calling Jane a "dependent," and in assuming that this is such a negative term. The family's official line underlines several widespread beliefs at this time: that social classes were to be kept separate for a reason, for instance, and that those who are poor or vulnerable are justifiably so, and should remain in that position.

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Chapter 10 Quotes
I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon. I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it and framed a humbler supplication; for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space: "Then," I cried, half desperate, "grant me at least a new servitude!"
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker)
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

Jane has graduated first in her class at school, and has decided to stay on in order to become a teacher herself. Soon, though, Miss Temple leaves for a distant land. For a long time, Jane has felt somewhat restless, trapped in an oppressive school because she is without family, poor, and female, and thus opportunities to support herself are scarce. Until now, Jane has not rebelled against these strictures: instead, she has chosen to work within them, carving out a place for herself that is tolerable mainly because of her adoration of Miss Temple. With her mentor gone, though, suddenly Jane sees no reason to continue at the school.

However, even in the midst of "gasping" for freedom, Jane is both realistic and humble enough to recognize that she cannot yearn for an entirely different lifestyle. She does pray to God, but little by little adapts her prayer so as to fit her circumstances. As she does so, nonetheless, she recognizes that because of her social position, and because of her current circumstances, there are few things she could do that would actually give her greater liberty. Finally, she accepts that she may continue to feel oppressed wherever she may goes - but she insists that even that would be preferable to staying in the same place, where she knows all too well the exact outlines of her "servitude." 

Chapter 14 Quotes
I don't think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker), Edward Fairfax Rochester
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

Over the course of the first long conversation between Jane and Rochester, Jane's feelings towards the man quickly become complicated. On the one hand, she does feel a real connection to him, and admires the fact that he is largely willing to chat with her as an equal. Here, though, Jane uses the opportunity that Rochester has given to her to stress that, for her, equality is not just something that can be parceled out here and there, as a sign of good will. If Rochester really wants to treat Jane as an equal, he will have to hear what she has to say on the subject of anything that comes up - including, here, gender relations themselves.

Jane dismisses typical assumptions made about the reasons why men should be considered superior to women. Of course Rochester has seen more of the world than she has, Jane says - she would never, as a woman, be permitted to travel around the world by herself, and even if she could, her financial circumstances would prevent her. Independence, for Jane, is thus not necessarily only a personal character attribute: it is also a function of luck and circumstance, and it has little bearing on true moral equality. 

Chapter 17 Quotes
"He is not to them what he is to me," I thought: "he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine;—I am sure he is—I feel akin to him—I understand the language of his countenance and movements: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him … I must, then, repeat continually that we are for ever sundered:—and yet, while I breathe and think, I must love him."
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker), Edward Fairfax Rochester
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:

Jane has been relegated to a corner of the room at the party, where she can observe all that is going on between Rochester and his guests. Jane feels alienated from the wealthy, privileged women at the event. But as she observes Rochester with them, she realizes that she does in fact feel a profound kinship with Rochester, so profound that she believes he belongs with her far more than with people of his own class and social strata. 

Jane's affinity with Rochester is not one of rational, detached judgment, in which similarities and differences, appropriate distinctions and parallels, might be carefully considered. Instead it is something she feels emotionally. At the same time, Jane herself is careful to study and identify this blossoming feeling of love for Rochester; she doesn't get carried away by her feelings but rather respects their reality as she tries to figure out what it is that she feels, and what must be the result.

Chapter 18 Quotes
I saw he was going to marry her, for family, perhaps political reasons, because her rank and connections suited him; I felt he had not given her his love, and that her qualifications were ill adapted to win from him that treasure. This was the point—this was where the nerve was touched and teased—this was where the fever was sustained and fed: she could not charm him.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker), Edward Fairfax Rochester, Blanche Ingram
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

As a member of the servants, Jane is considered largely invisible by many of the guests to Thornfield, including Blanche Ingram, which gives her the opportunity to observe the woman and Rochester from a distance. Jane isn't certain why Rochester is going to marry Blanche. The reasons she imagines are vague and uncertain: this is too distant a reality for Jane for her be able to understand the motivations driving the upper classes. What she does know, however - and what surely is the one known factor that she can take solace in, now that she herself is in love with Rochester - is that he does not truly love Blanche, nor will he ever. Here Jane resigns herself to losing Rochester based on the social norms of upper-class marriage, but she does not resign herself to failing to win his heart.

Chapter 26 Quotes
What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker), Bertha Mason
Page Number: 338
Explanation and Analysis:

Finally, for the first time, Jane lays eyes on the source of all the strange happenings and mysterious sounds that have seemed to haunt Thornfield. But this first sight fails to substantially clarify the situation, or help Jane understand who this person is - even though she knows intellectually that it must be Bertha Mason, Rochester's legal wife. 

Bertha is described not in human but in animal terms. Indeed, it is the inability to describe her as a woman that locates the source of her insanity. Jane may have pressed at the borders of what is permitted and is not among women, especially of a particular social class, but she now witnesses someone who has thrown all those strictures out entirely. As Bertha fails to act as a proper woman, as a proper wife to her husband, the book has no way left to describe her other than by considering her non-human, making an analogy to the animal world. 

Chapter 32 Quotes
Again the surprised expression crossed his face. He had not imagined that a woman would dare to speak so to a man. For me, I felt at home in this sort of discourse. I could never rest in communication with strong, discreet, and refined minds, whether male or female, till I had passed the outworks of conventional reserve, and crossed the threshold of confidence, and won a place by their heart's very hearthstone.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker), St. John Rivers
Page Number: 432
Explanation and Analysis:

As Jane and St. John speak of the latter's love for Rosamond, St. John grows surprised that Jane would presume to speak to him so frankly of such private matters. St. John is not used to women speaking to him in such a manner: indeed, propriety and social custom make it nearly certain that very few women will broach such private topics with a man, even one with whom they are close. While Jane has acted somewhat ashamed of her propensity for frankness and openness before, here she wholeheartedly embraces this attitude, and in addition claims that there is little she can do about it: it is just part of her nature. Jane even claims a positive ethical status for such openness, arguing that convention can often mask what is real and true, while speaking frankly honors each person much more.