Jane Eyre\'s Flight from Flight


November 8, 2000


The feminist literary critics, Gilbert and Gubar, claim, in their famous essay on Jane Eyre in The Madwoman in the Attic, that Jane tries different modes of escape from the imprisoning patriarchal Victorian society that is the setting of the novel. "Escape through flight, escape through starvation... [and] escape through madness," (Dialogue 341) are the three they outline. In the traumatizing red room scene, Jane tries all of them, and then, as the novel progresses, each is given an entire section. She uses flight to escape from Gateshead, starvation to escape Lowood, and madness (via Bertha, Gilbert and Gubar argue) to escape from Thornfield Hall. But where is Jane aiming to go when she escapes? Gilbert and Gubar don\'t quite answer this, they say she is simply escaping from "the strictures of a hierarchal society" (Dialogue 369). They claim that Charlotte Bronte could not "adequately describe a society so drastically altered that the matured Jane and Rochester could really live in it" (Dialogue 370). This conclusion defines Jane as an ultimately negative heroine. That is, she is not trying to get to something, she is just trying to get away.


Until the end of the novel, it is true that Jane herself does define her existence in terms of negatives. At Gateshead, her aunt, cousins, and the household servants, call her a "rat" (15), a "bad animal" (17), and a "mad cat" (18). By verbally degrading her, the child Jane does partially succumb to the labels. The narrator Jane admits that she "didn\'t very well know what I did with my hands" (17). Much as an animal simply behaves without thinking, so does she. She plays the role cast onto her and then rebels against it. In leaving Gateshead, she is essentially asserting that she is not an animal, despite what they all say.


However, at Lowood, the boarding school to which she is sent, Mr. Brocklehurst, the school\'s primary owner, tries to pull her back down into the position of an animal when he visits and publically humiliates her. "This girl," he says, "might be one of God\'s own lambs" but instead carries on as an "alien" (78). Thus, at least, he gives her a choice. Knowing already that she is not an animal, and having already succumbed to and dismissed that lowly guise, Mr. Brocklehurst\'s words propel Jane into trying the other option. Even her good Christian friend, Sarah Burns, dismisses the possibility for Jane to be human by saying that "you [Jane] think too much of the love of human beings... besides the race of men, there is an invisible world and a kingdom of spirits" (81). Likewise, when Jane has the pleasant experience of tea with Miss Temple, she describes them as having "feasted on nectar and ambrosia" (85). Again, the positive suggestion, though not explicit, from Miss Temple is along the lines of the supernatural and unearthly. Jane must be either an animal or supernatural, according to the few authority figures in her narrow life, and because she knows empirically that the first is horrid, and because both Sarah and Miss Temple reccommend the latter, while the unkind Mr. Brocklehurst reccommends the former, she opts for the supernatural route.


In this state Jane arrives at her new place of "servitude," Thornfield Hall. Appropriately, she falls in love with a man who incessently calls her by a variety of spritey names. From the first time they meet outside, Jane, he thinks, is a creature with powers to "bewitch" his horse and make him fall off it. Later he furnishes her with the nicknames "elf," "shade," "dream," "fairy," "mermaid," "angel," and other such fantastical presences. Much as the people of Gateshead placed her beneath the level of human, Rochester elevates her to a position equally distant, but above or parrallel to human. He does the same to himself at one point, saying that Jane must think him an "ogre" or a "ghoul" (303). This furthers the message he is already sending her that she is not human because it says that the man she is in love with isn\'t either. In two consecutive love scenes between Jane and Rochester, Jane realizes and asserts that being