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Jane Eyre and the Anti-Heroes

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The Victorian era, with its fascinating social conventions and classes, cannot compare to present day America, with music and pop culture dominating the entertainment scene and government officials getting into publicized scandals. Victorian literature was generally compliant with social customs, with beautiful, reserved female protagonists who abide by patriarchy and hierarchy. The novels themselves were long, with multiple subplots and numerous characters. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, however, had a strong-willed anti-heroine main character that did not comply with social customs. Characteristics of anti-heroes and heroines are definite human flaws, not always thinking about what the moral action is, and rejection of traditional values. Jane Eyre is considered the anti-heroine because she defies the patriarchy and the social hierarchy in Victorian Society, as well as maintaining her autonomy. Her relationships with the four anti-heroes, St. John Rivers, John Reed, Mr. Brocklehurst, and Mr. Rochester, help criticize Victorian literary convention because they do not always do the morally correct actions.

Thus, with her straightforward speech and mannerisms, Jane Eyre defies patriarchy and social hierarchy and maintains her autonomy, becoming a prime example of an anti-heroine. As a child Jane defies patriarchy when she does not submit to Brocklehurst and as an adult stands up to Rochester, both choices based on her developing set of moral codes, not out of necessity. When Jane first officially meets Rochester in the drawing room, she knows he is of higher class and her employer, yet she jests with him, acknowledging that “the men in green all forsook England a hundred years ago,” in a serious tone (Bronte – 124). She does not follow the standard for young women on the time, intriguing Rochester along with staying independent.

Jane maintains her autonomy by marrying Rochester when she is not emotionally or financially dependant on him. Living away from Rochester brought her a fortune to sustain her for the rest of her life and taught her that she can survive away from him without pining and being miserable. During the second proposal scene, after Jane returns to Rochester, Jane is sure of Rochester’s love for her, and asked him to “push [her] away, for [she’ll] not leave [him] of her own accord,” since Rochester is not sure of his ability to keep Jane (Bronte – 451). Jane marries for love and births Rochester’s child, but has kept her autonomy and sense of self throughout the ordeals.

Likewise, Mr. Rochester and John Reed are considered anti-heroes because they are both morally corrupt and unable to make proper decisions. Rochester tries to marry Jane while married to an insane woman and caring for the child of his French mistress, the child which may or may not be his. Rochester comes clean in “an open admission of truth,” acknowledging that he is already married not because he feels guilty for lying to her, but because a clergyman reveals the truth to Jane first (Bronte – 300). John Reed mistreated Jane as a child, in addition to gambling and committing suicide once he grew older. He “gave himself up to strange ways,” asking his mother to give up her remaining fortune to fund his addictions and relieve debts without shame or understanding that she needed money to live off of (Bronte – 224). Both men act childishly without care for other’s feelings, but unlike John Reed, Rochester, under Jane’s guidance, may eventually adopt a better set of morals.

In addition, Mr. Brocklehurst and St. John Rivers are both almost fanatically religious anti-heroes and try to control Jane’s choices using religion. Mr. Brocklehurst controls the orphans at Lowood, practicing patriarchy and informing the girls that they will not get into heaven if they disobey or disagree with him. He tells Jane that “[she] has a wicked heart and must pray to God to change it,” aiming to scare her into submission, while setting a double standard for himself, allowing Brocklehurst to steal money from his school without shame (Bronte – 33). Jane feels morally obligated to marry St. John and emotionally obligated to marry Rochester, but knows the right choice is to marry St. John. She eventually decides that even though “[she] can imagine the possibility of conceiving an inevitable, strange, torturing kind of love for [St. John],” Jane cannot openly love and be happy with him, since he would not accept her feelings (Bronte – 423). However, unlike Brocklehurst, St. John does not deceive Jane and is firmly truthful with her.

Therefore, the idea of anti-heroes and anti-heroines defy Victorian literary convention because the characters have too many faults and reject social customs. Jane is too straightforward in her speech and manners, Rochester is morally deprived and very blunt, and St. John proposes to Jane, knowing that they will both die in India if she agrees. Brocklehurst steals money from his school while flaunting a doctrine of self-deprivation and John Reed wants to squander away his mother’s remaining funds. The characters are not molded into handsome, reserved, good-natured figures, making the novel much more interesting and enjoyable for readers.


Bronte, Charlotte. Charlotte Bronte: The Complete Novels. New York: Gramercy. Books, 1975. Print.

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