Literature is one of the subjects that educate the reader on the culture of the society. The study of classic English literature enhances the knowledge of the culture of the people present during this period. The term realist narrative is used to describe a narrative that writes on real-life experiences. This is an ideal aspect in that it enables the reader to relate to the content of the book with ease. Social class and status of women in society are some of the elements of the culture of any community. These two topics are unavoidable due to their significance in the day to day lines of human beings (Roberts, p. 304).
The focus of this paper is to provide an analysis of two literature books that talk about social class and the role of women in society. The books, in this case, are George Elliot’s, Middlemarch and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.The paper compares and contrasts both books in terms of the realist narrative style. The paper further offers a concluding paragraph summarizing the contents of both novels.
Summary of Middle March
George Eliot’s, Middlemarch is based on the life of Dorothea Brooke. Dorothea is an agreeable young lady who chooses to marry Casaubon due to his extensive education. The novel is set in the Victorian age where class, education and the social elite is a significant part of the culture. The marriage does not turn out the way Dorothea anticipates due to their incompatibility. She becomes a victim of unfortunate circumstances in that she loses her husband at an early stage of their marriage. She is then faced with the dilemma on whether to follow the laws of society or fight for her happiness. She chooses to follow her heart by marring Will Ladislaw who changes the dynamics of her life (Groundwater, p. 352).
The novel is classified under a realist narrative due to its display of real life circumstances. One of the issues that the book raises is the existence of social classes in the society. Middlemarch is set in the Victorian age making it subject to the observation of social status. The community comprises of a hierarchy that is keen on the observation of social protocol. There are several factors that determine the classification of the members of the community. One of the factors in this case is the influence of individuals in society. Most of the laws are made by the religious individuals who are classified as nobility. A majority of the laws control the conduct of the citizens making them accountable to all forms of authority. Failure to abide by these laws makes an individual an outcast in the community. When Dorothea loses her husband, she is expected to act a certain way. Despite the level of grief she is experiencing, she is expected to behave like a lady and be graceful at all times. This places pressure on members of society who are inclined to put the needs of the society above their own needs (Lerer, p. 245).
One of the characters in the novel is that of Fred Vincy. Vincy is born in a privileged household making his life easier than the rest of his counterparts. He does not take advantage of his position in that he shuns the opportunities given to him. He throws away his chance to get a college education due to his rebellion against societal norms. He continues to make a number of mistakes that finally sees his character bankrupt due to accumulated debts. Vincy’s conduct is not acceptable in the community. His actions cost his family in that they lose the respect that society accords them. The lifestyle in Middlemarch is reflective of the Victorian era. High standards are set for the community who are at the mercy of the influential individuals. It is difficult to belong to the lower class due to the few opportunities presented to such people. It is thus not uncommon for the less fortunate to climb up the ladder so as to elevate their status.
“I am not aware of it. And to me it is one of the most odious things in a girl’s life, that there must always be some supposition of falling in love coming between her and any man who is kind to her… I have no ground for the nonsensical vanity of fancying everybody who comes near me is in love with me.”
As stated earlier, the Victorian age demands an immense amount of responsibility from their citizens. Culture is an essential aspect in the community of Middlemarch. The culture has been past down from generation to generation making it valuable to the community. One of the elements of the culture is the observation of gender roles. The Victorian age is infamous for the division of roles between men and women. One of the themes that the author writes on is the position of women in society. Women in Middlemarch face a number of disadvantages due to the cultural norms that are supposed to follow. One of the disadvantages that women face is their lack of financial security. Most of the financial responsibility is reserved for men who are expected to excel in their studies. Men are thus given most of the opportunities in terms of intellectual knowhow making them more significant in society (Lerer, p. 145).
“She was always trying to be what her husband wished, and never able to repose on his delight in what she was.”
Women on the other hand show their worth through having a successful marriage and family. Women who do not achieve this role are placed in a lower level compared to their counterparts. When Dorothea loses her husband, she loses her dream of beings an exceptional woman. Her new status as a widow makes her vulnerable to all forms of criticisms by the people around her. Women do not have much influence in the community. They are expected to act in the best interest of the men so as to as to maintain the patriarchal norms.
Summary of Jane Eyre
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is based on the life of a lady who faces an immense amount of challenges as she during her upbringing. Jane becomes an orphan at an early age placing her under the mercy of her aunty. Her aunty is married to a wealthy diseased husband making her belong to the high society. Jane falls victim to the cruelty of her aunt and cousins who do not show her the lover she so desires. She lives a life of misery in that she does not grow up with the love other children are exposed. She finally gets enough confidence to tell her family how she feels about the way they have treated her. This earns her a place in the red room where her uncle lost his life. She is exposed to routine nightmares due to the reputation of the room. Her aunty decides to send her to boarding school making this one of the pivotal times of her life. She manages to get an education elevates her situation in life. Eyre becomes a governess which earns her a job in one of the wealthy families in the community. During her journey, she meets a number of male figures whose strong perception makes Jane an advocate for women empowerment (Roberts, p. 217).
Society is a significant aspect in the community during this era. People who belong to a lower class are exposed to a number of disadvantages. A look at the life of Jane shows the amount of mistreatment she undergoes due to her status in society. Jane does not come from a wealthy family. Her situation is worsened when she loses her parents at an early age. Her move to her wealthy aunty house does not change the dynamics in that she is still treated differently from the rest of the family. The author showcases the brutality that the less privilege faces under the authority of the high society.
“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!”
Jane develops a romantic relationship with Mr. Rochester who belongs to the elite class. Jane on the other hand has a simple lifestyle which lives a lot to be desired during this period. She uses this premise as an excuse not to marry Mr. Rochester. This asserts her personality as an independent woman who refuses to abide by rule of the society. The ability to move to another social class is displayed by Miss Ingram social climbing ways. She uses all means to marry a man with a wealthy background so as to elevate her status (Roberts, p. 315).
Jane studies to be a governess to the children of wealthy families in the community. The fact that the society requires a governess to teach young women how to behave shows the high amount of pressure that women are accustomed. Women are required to behave a certain way so as to uphold the societal expectation and norms. Women are taught how to behave in front of members of the surrounding environment. One of the duties of a woman is to be supportive of her family. These places women in a subservient position compared to the men in the community. Eyre opposes this kind of treatment that women are accorded. She breaks all the rules by ensuring that she accomplishes all the things she set herself to do. This makes her earn the respect of the people who had initially mistreated her.
As stated earlier, Eyre gets a job as a governess. Women are not expected to work during this period. Most of the careers are created to suit the needs of the men leaving the women to maintain their role of mother and wife. One of the few jobs created for women is that of a governess. This displays the different levels of education that is provided for the different sexes. Women are not expected to uphold challenging careers making their chances of empowerment diminish. The book is reflective of Bronte’s criticism of the Victorian lifestyle and attitude towards women. She thus uses this book to make a statement on her thoughts on the inequalities experienced by women at the mercy of their male counterparts. Unequal marriages are created by unequal social positions. Berthas marriage to a man of higher social standing exposes her to a number of oppressive situations by her husband. This serves as a motivating factor for Jane whoachieves her own wealth so as to elevate her status before she marries Mr. Rochester (Francis and Brontë, p. 231).
In conclusion, both books base their themes on the observation of social class and the role of women in society. The authors bring this out through the explanation of the social cultural aspects in the communities. The use of realist narratives is essential in that it exposes the reader to the lifestyle of the people who lived in this era.Both books show a similar characteristic that places them in the same category. Despite this they have several differences that bring out the unique characteristic of the authors work. Both authors educate the reader on the social differences experiences by different people. This showcases the number of changes that society has undergone from the time of the Victorian age to present day.
Groundwater, Anna. The Scottish Middle March, 1573-1625: Power, Kinship, Allegiance. London, England: Royal Historical Society, 2010. Print.
Francis, Pauline, and Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre. London: Evans, 2010. Print.
Lerer, Seth. Error and the Academic Self: The Scholarly Imagination, Medieval to Modern. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Print.
Roberts, Timothy. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. St Kilda, Vic: Insight Publications, 2011. Print.
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