In Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë, who expresses strong sympathy for the working class and the poor, forcefully condemns both upper-class exploitation and arrogance. Jane's own struggle makes clear the integral relationship between wealth and survival, though her experience is actually less precarious than other characters in the novel. However, the book also abounds with subtly condescending attitudes regarding the "constitutional" limitations of society's neediest members. Ironically, then, in Jane Eyre Brontë simultaneously fosters democratic attitudes while perpetuating a rigidly class-based system of social relations. The tone of her work — inspiring in its compassion, disturbing in its traces of elitism — reflects a striking contradiction in the intellectual and moral sensibility of British society at mid-century.
An 1842 article entitled "Industry and its Reward in Great Britain and Ireland," published in the Westminster Review, demonstrates this contradiction. The authors argue on the behalf of the working classes, specifically agricultural laborers. They explore the relationship between subsistence wages and impoverishment in order to depict the arduous struggle for survival faced by the rural poor. Much like the majority of Jane Eyre, the tone of the prose is fervent and highly attuned to the suffering of the underprivileged. The unidentified authors emphasize the cruel indifference of those in power,
There is a mighty evil connected with the condition of the working classes in this country which has to be met, exposed, and overcome. That evil is the following: — The upper and even the middling classes have been so long habituated to the knowledge of the existence of misery, want and privation, that they ask, with indolent or vapid indifference, when pressed upon to consider the whole question, "What is there new then, that we have not heard of?
This article identifies and disparages self-congratulatory elitist rationalizations of the status quo....