Sequels of Suffering

The opening scenes of Jane Eyre offer an interesting commentary regarding the discourse of nature verses nurture, a query that also imbues the narrative of Wuthering Heights. Like Hindley and Heathcliffe, Jane was raised under the heavy hand of physical and emotional abuse. She, too, experienced bitter estrangement and pure disdain from family members. Yet while Hindley and Healthcliffe suffered under one or two abusers, Jane received such treatment from the whole house. Mrs. Reed, as well as her children and (often) the servants, regarded her a a scape-goat and impressed in her the idea that she was both wicked and “not worthy of notice” (85).

While similar treatment warped and perverted Heathcliffe and Hindley, despite the fact that they were shown love by other household members, it seems for Jane to establish a deeper sense of and thirst for justice.  Wuthering Heights ushers the reader to justify the antagonist’s actions due to their oppression, but Jane proves an anomaly within this schema. If Emily’s Bronte attempts to warrant the effects of abuse on Heathcliffe and Hindley, Charlotte presents an illustration of a women (who would have then been understood as the weaker gender) remaining reputable under persecution. Instead of losing her moral compass, as seems to be the effect of despotism on Heathcliffe and Hindley, Jane’s conscious preserves her and affirms the injustice of her situation as she suffers silently. It seems that nature, namely the sincere sense of right and wrong that all humanity innately knows, prevails over the abusive nurture that Jane experienced at Gateshead. This observation does not neglect the reality and intensity of Hindley and Heathcliffe’s suffering nor the undeniable impact of nurture on children. Yet it demonstrates that, despite oppression, it is possible for the oppressor to maintain their sense of justice and their longing for goodness.

Later on, Helen demonstrates another example of how abuse does not necessarily always bring about the debasement of the abused. This character presents a stark contrast to the Earnshaw boys, for her very oppression actually refines her virtue and integrity, rather than simply preserving it. She responds by forgiving sincerely, again and again, and by returning good for evil. One evening near the fire, after Jane has described her sufferings at Gateshead, Jane advises her new friend: “Would you not be happier if you tried to forget [Mrs. Reed’s] severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in ursine animosity, or registering wrongs” (120). Helen views suffering, an experience to which she is not unaccustomed at Lowood, as an opportunity for patient endurance and a means of sanctification. Perhaps it would have proven interesting to witness a conversations between Heathcliffe, Hindley, and Helen, the latter of whom would calmly, sympathetically entreat her fellow-sufferers just as she did Jane by the fire that night: “It is far better to endure patiently… than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you” (117). For the men of Withering Heights, Helen would have offered timely counsel.

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