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Michael Spaulding

Classism in Jane Eyre

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Head of the Class: Jane Eyre On Friday 29 April 2011 at Westminster Abbey, Prince William married Catherine Middleton. According to Google Trends, which records all search queries entered into their engine, starting around the week before the actual wedding the popularity of the keywords royal wedding surpassed queries to include: God and Barack Obama (Google Trends. Figure 1). Printed by the Wall Street Journal, Nielsen Co. reports, an average of 22.8 million total U.S. viewers tuned in to watch the royal wedding live from 6 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. Eastern time Friday (Schuker). Thats about as many people who watch a top-rated prime-time show, such as a typical episode of American Idol (Schuker). But these arent prime-time hoursmany people would have to crawl out of bed or find a way to watch television on the way to work just to get a glimpse of the live wedding. Perhaps the reason why so many people tuned into to watch the royal wedding is related to our valuation of social classes. The prince isnt anyone particularly special after allother than the fact that he has is rich and well a prince. People often apply these same interests to celebrities; the euphamism Bradgelina is another example of the wide spread attraction to wealth and fame. I cannot remember the last time any of my relationships were printed onto the front page of a national magazine or tabloid. In an era postdating the introduction of The Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) and the Equal Rights Amendement (1848-Present) it may seem strange to think that people still have a tickling interest in others whose claim to fame stems from wealth and social class. One might argue that we are growing away from these concerns as a society, but the royal wedding view count and the prolific blabbering of tabloids at every checkout line across America tell a different story. When confronted with a novel such as Jane Eyre, it shows us modern 21st centurians that we are still dealing with many of the same social concerns and public interests as they did over a hundred

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and fifty years ago. What is even more interesting is that it not only stretches across the continuum that is time, but also space and culture. Jane Eyres setting is 19th Century England, which is far separated from 21st Century America. Through exploration of Bronts addressing of classism and wealth in Jane Eyre we can begin to understand the archetypal concerns that comprise a facet of human nature that encourages us to pursue and regulate an evolving desire of segregation. By evolving desire of segregation I mean that as the human race becomes more racially and genderly tolerant, people must find different ways of segregating themselves and finding news ways to create group mindsets. Many today do this through religion, sexuality, age, and interestthese are the rifts, or gaps, that people place between themselves to help provide a sense of belonging; through seperation, people grow together. Wealth, however, has the appeal of something much older and virile; wealth has the anachronistic quality of having been marriaged to individuals in the past that were conquerers, royalty, and emperorsI consider it the ancient evil. When we first meet Jane, she is living with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, at the residence Gateshead Hall. At the very beginning of Chapter II she has found herself in trouble and is being repremanded. Part of her verbal scolding is an insult of class reduction. Mrs. Reed tells Jane, No; you are less than a servant (Bront and Dunn 9). Then, when the hypothetical situation is proposed by Bessie, one of the house servants, of whether or not Jane would go to her poor, low relations (Bront and Dunn 20) outside of Gateshead Hall, Jane reveals her own thoughts on the matter: poverty for me was synonymous with degradation (Bront and Dunn 20). What is interesting about her belief is in the qualities she ascribes the the poor. She notes three quite probable characteristics of the poor: ragged clothes, scanty food, fireless grates, but then

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continues to add two that are unsubstantiated, subjective, and prejudice: rude manners, and debasing vices (Bront and Dunn 20). At this point in the novel (the beginning) we continually see examples of classism performed by Mrs. Reed and her children and reinforced by the obliging nature of the servants. This includes the notion that Jane was not worth of being seen by a physician, but Mrs. Reed would employ Mr. Lloyd, an apothcary, sometimes called in when the servants were ailing (Bront and Dunn 15). So, it is to be noted that Janes life is one of ubiquitous judgment and prejudice toward not only herself but others, all eminating from the Reed family. Unfotunately, this is similar to modern society as well. Each child must live in their parents house and often succumb to, and inherit, their parents beliefsboth good and bad. This way of raising children forces often worthless beliefs down the throats of children and ensures the sustainment of such infections in society, e.g., that value of character can be derived from wealth and status. If anyone thinks a class divide doesnt exist as much today as it did a hundred and fifty years ago, they can visit www.Classism.org, a website with links to Classism in the News with over sixty links to news articles, many of which have been written by or contributed to by PhDs, JDs, and TED speakers. Although at this point in the novel, iterated by Janes independent thinking and rebellious and righteous nature, the reader hopes that Jane is going to grow above and away from such persecutional thinking, this belief is short lived as we will see toward the end of the novel. Jane never fully overcomes her prejudices, but she become more aware of them. But now, Jane goes to school. It is at Lowood Institution that we see the next dramatic instance of classism. This is personified by the hypocritic nature of Mr. Brocklehurst, the schools false philanthropist. Due to the neglect of Mr. Brocklehurst, [s]emi-starvation and neglected colds had predisposed most of the pupils to receive infection (Bront 65). This is supposed to be a man who personified

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christian values and selflessness, but when he arrives during a visit to the institution his wife and two daughters have accompanied him. The wife and daughters are elevated, conducted to seats of honour at the top of the room (Bront 55) and dressed in fashion (Bront 55). The picture of his relatives juxtaposed against an act anguishing to read, Mr. Brocklehurst demands that all the girls in the school must have their hair cut off (Bront 54) to ensure they clothe themselves with shamefacedness and sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel (Bront 54). The incredulity of this request constrasted against the flamboyent attire and mien of his family only emphasize the despotic and counterfeit nature of Mr. Brocklehurst. In the 21st Century we have seen many examples of similar hypocrisy. Examples include Bono, who transferred his mustic catalogue to a tax-free jurisdiction in the Netherlands to avoid paying taxes and is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, yet is considered the face of the worldwide campaign against greed and endlessly lobb[ies] [for] Western governments to give their tax dollars to the Third World (Bilzerian). Or, for example, our current presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He began his campaign by joking he was out of work when speaking with unemployed people in Florida (TheYoungTurks), saying maybe I should also tell my story, I am also unemployed (Romney); this is ironic because he profited a whopping adjusted gross income of 21.6 million dollars (Montgomery, Yang, and Rucker). And the list goes on to include the bank and housing scandals that led to our recent economic crisis, Bernie Madoff, and dozens more. Wealth and greed and temptation pervade modern culturethis is what generates movements like Occupy Wallstreet. When you get wealth focused into the top one percent of the nations population, the spawning of classism is inevitable. Jane graduates then teaches for a short while at Lowood. After desiring change in her life because she isnt quite satisfied with her current position and accumulating experiences, she sets

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off for a new career at Thornfield Hall where she meets Mr. Rochester. This series of events is a process by which Jane is escalating in class and wealth through the novel. Her pay doubles to thirty pounds per annum (Bront 75) and she attains the rank of governness instead of that of instructor at a shabby school for oprhans. She even hopes to work in a house of English repsecability (Bront 75)classism! As we can see, Jane still unconsciously emulates the same prejudices she so consciously acts like she doesnt agree with. After some trouble with her marriage to Rochester, Jane escapes into the country and winds up nearly starving to death before she reaches the humble home of St. John and his two sisters, all of which conveniently end up being her cousins. However, when she first arrives at the house, she is ragged and worn down by her situation. The housemaid meets her at the door and shuts her out to die, claiming she is a homeless beggar (Bront 286, 290). St. John rescues her from sure demise and upon regaining her strength after a few days of bedrest she meets Hannah again, the same servant that turned her away as a begger a few nights before. During this meeting Jane becomes contentious and sententiously lectures Hannah on her incivility to call [Jane] a beggar (Bront 291); obviously Jane has taken much offense to being mistakenly reduced in class. And then Jane, after accepting a humble job procured by St. John (which she should have been extremely grateful for), has the gall to complain to herself about it. She notes that her students are mostly ignorant and after some difficult instruction she predicts that her students may transform her feelings for them from disgust to gratification (Bront 306). Her concern for the strata of social statuses is most apparent in her complaint: I felt degrated. I doubted I had taken a step which sank instead of raising me in the scale of social existence. I was weakly dismayed at the ignorance, the poverty, the coarseness of all I heard and saw round me (Bront 306). But, finally she has an epiphanynone too late considering we are approximately eighty percent through the novel

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and recognizes her feelings to be wrong (306). This is an important transition for Jane because it armors her against the upcoming temptations that arise when she inherits twenty-thousand (Bront 326). Many are not so resilient to corruption, and this may be Janes best quality throughout the novel. It isnt that she makes too much progress forward in her thinking, but at least she doesnt really slide backwards in it. An paralleling example of Jane being accused of beggardom presented itself in the form of the 2009 arrest of Henry Louis Skip Gates, professor at Harvard University, who was apprehended for breaking into his own house by Cambridge police department because he was an African American and the neighborhood he lives in is wealthy and in the upper social echelon (Jan). Gates apparently handled the situation with restraint and was even invited to dinner with Barack Obama after the incident. Note that when I performed a real estate search for Cambridge, Massachusetts around Gatess address on Ware St., the average price of any home in Mid-Cambridge was $454,378 and the average price of Single-Family Homes located on Ware St. were $1,420,242 (Trulia). These examples just scratch the surface of the relationship between wealth and classism, of which there undeniably is. Finally, the end of the novel is upon us. First, note that Jane in her benevolence has still kept enough money for herself to be potentially accepted into the upper class. The rest of the money immediately went to buying a respectable familyRivers. Jane learned from Rosamonds father, Mr. Oliver, of the Rivers familys importance. Mr. Oliver had great respect for the very old name, Rivers (Bront 315). Mr. Oliver believes that a valuable name like Riversas valuable as a fortuneshould be used in a way that secures privilege. To think that someone as intelligent and observent as Jane would not have considered such words doesnt give her much credit. Jane has always been concerned with status, so it should come as no surprise that she has spent fifteen thousand pounds securing one. And so the novel practically

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climaxes when Jane returns to her disfigured darling. She struts in with the confidence of a new family and five thousand pounds and lovingly deceives her pitiful one-armed cyclops. She even tells him that she is an independent woman now (Bront 370). And then Rochesters observation reinforces what Jane had known when she walked in: as you are rich, Jane, you have now, no doubt, friends who will look after you (Bront 370). This was her backup plan just in case she couldnt snag the man she loved and the family name he bore. Not that this or any of it was wrong, only that note of such behavior should be known (Bront 329). And so, after Mr. Rochester agrees to marry Ms. Eyre, she has claimed three namesEyre, Rivers, and Rochester. Earlier in the novel, St. John and Jane are talking and she says, I am not ambitious (Bront 303)yeah right, actions speak louder than words Jane and you have ambition in your movements. Jane now resembles something like The American Dream: the freedom to work your way up in life by the sweat of your own brow. So at the end of the story, we can now begin to see the threads connecting all people (i.e., wanting to succeed) to classism. A rather famous display of classism that many young Americans may not have been aware of prior to the release of this 1997 blockbuster film was seen in the movie Titanic.Four different classes were represented in the scope of the main plot of the story. First, there was Rose Dawson Calverts family (Kate Winslet) who had a family name but no wealth; this family dynamic is synonimous with the plight of the Rivers. Second, there is Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is the character that succumbs to romance, is willing to sleep wherever he can, and doesnt have anything but a great personality to work with; this character parallels Jane Eyre. Third, there is the new-money character Margaret Molly Brown who has no family name, but is able to buy her way into the upper class through her wealth; this character, who is a supporting role in Titanic, parallels the supporting roles of Janes cousins Diana and Mary Rivers and also

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represents a future that Jane could have if she wished. Finally, there is the charismatic, but sinister male character who has the family name and the wealthCaledon Nathan Hockley (Billy Zane); he parallels Rochester, but not because Rochester gets the girl; Mr. Hockley does not get the girl. The reason they are similar is due to their social rank and why theyre there, although they both get a punishment of sorts (Hockleys suicide and Rochesters flaming maiming). Titanic won eleven Academy Awards and was the first movie to ever gross over a billion dollars (it reached over two billion). Sure it had great actors and actresses, excellent writing, and a surefire plotbut it also had the appeal of class segregation, conflict, and distinction; this is what drives a lot of the conflict in Jane Eyre as well, and it influences us today in our very lives. The take away lesson may be that the human race is sadly obsessed with classism and there is no escaping it (thats bleak). In the Introduction to The Crucible, Christopher Bigsby might have said it best when discussing the paralleling prejudices of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and the McCarthy Communist Hunts of the 1950s: community prejudice is a sense of participating in a ritual, of conformity to a ruling orthodoxy and hence a hostility to those who threaten it. The purty of ones religious principles is confirmed by collaborating, at least by proxy, in the punishment of those who reject them. Racial identity is reinfored by eliminating those who might contaminate it, as ones Americanness is understored by identifying those who could be said to be un-American (Bigsby). This is exactly what happens in classism. It is a self-segregating system where the participants all try to protect themselves from everyone else. Charlotte Bront understood what made her era tick. It is the same for all generations. We can trace back the stories of wealth and power to before the Romans, and Science Fiction stories have often projected them into the future as well. The only way to fix this problem is to change

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the way everyone perceives their own position with society. And if you dont agree, youre probably a bad person.

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Key: Blue: Royal Wedding Red: God Yellow: Barack Obama

Figure 1. Google Trends.

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Works Cited

Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. Intro. Bigsby, Christopher. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin Classics, 2003

Bilzerian, Adam. Hypocrisy in Philanthrophy. The Bilzerian Report. 8 Feb. 2012. Web. 19 July 2012. <http://thebilzerianreport.com/?p=578>. Bront, Charlotte, and Richard J. Dunn. Jane Eyre, An Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2001. Print. Google Trends. Figure 1. Google. Web. 19 July 2012. <http://www.google.com/trends/?q=royal+wedding,+God,+Barack+Obama&ctab=0&ge o=all&date=2011-4&sort=0>. Jan, Tracy. Harvard Professor Gates arrested at Cambridge home. The Boston Globe. 20 Jul. 2009. Web. 19 July 2012. <http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/07/harvard.html>. Montgomery, Lori, Yang, Jia Lynn, and Rucker, Philip. Mitt Romneys 2010 tax return. The Washington Post. 24 Jan. 2012. Web. 19 July 2012. Romney, Mitt. Romney Says Hes Unemployed. YouTube. 16 Jun. 2011. Web. 19 July 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRTbt2J8Kxs>. Roth, Christine. Victorian England: An Introduction. University of Washington. Web. 19 July 2012. <http://www.english.uwosh.edu/roth/VictorianEngland.htm>.

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Schuker, Lauren. Wedding Ratings: Perchance to Dream. Wall Street Journal. Royal Wedding Gets 22.8 Million Viewers in U.S. 2 May 2011. Web. 19 July 2012. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703703304576297334268253192.htm l>. The Young Turks. Romney Says Hes Unemployed. YouTube. 16 Jun. 2011. Web. 19 July 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRTbt2J8Kxs>. Trulia. 29 Ware Street, Cambridge MA. Trulia, Inc. Web. 19 July 2012. <http://www.trulia.com/homes/Massachusetts/Cambridge/sold/21902630-29-Ware-StCambridge-MA-02138>.