The Malleability of Convention

*This is the finished version of a cold critical I had written, it is not the one I handed in as a polished. I posted it for feedback, in case anyone would like to comment on it. Thanks!

The Malleability of Convention

“Discuss the significance of an individual’s attempt to live unconstrained by convention or circumstance.”

Within the attempts to live unconstrained by society’s conventions, or expectations, it is inevitable that conformity will take place due to the fact that an individual is brought up in a conventional environment – total freedom from these conventions is not possible. However, it is through attempting to live unconstrained by convention that the development of one’s personal sense of discipline, or ability to live within their personal desires and own moral judgement through experimenting with rebellion and partial conformity, takes place. This allows for one’s morality not to be sacrificed for convention as an individual is now able to determine the extent and factors to which they wish to conform, therefore exemplifying the malleability of convention. In this sense, a compromise is created between convention and one’s attempts to live on their own terms. In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, one’s attempt to live unconstrained by conventions dictates and develops an individuals personal discipline, and therefore ability to live unconstrained by convention, as showcased through the character of Jane. An individual will do this through first wholeheartedly rebelling against convention, attempting to partially conform to convention due to experiences that have shaped said individual, and finally balancing one’s ability to live unconstrained by convention and their personal discipline through shaping convention to fit with their own desires as exemplified though Jane’s time at Gateshead, her initial relationship with Rochester, and finally, through the development of her personal discipline, the ability to marry as per convention, though with unconventional reasons.

In one’s attempt to live unconstrained by convention, one must first experiment with, and endure the consequences of living unconstrained in a conventional society. The endurance of said consequences dictates whether or not an individual may conform or continue to attempt to live unconstrained by convention, showcased through Jane in her time at Gateshead when she lives with the Reeds. As a child, Jane struggles with the conventions of social classes and the discord it creates in relationships, as evident through her own experiences and reflection in the Red Room as punishment when she states “…Had I been a sanguine, brilliant, careless, handsome, romping child…Mrs. Reed would have endured my presence more complacently.”(15) Here, after she is exiled to the Red Room for fighting with her cousin John, Jane reflects that she is an unconventional, rebellious child, through considering the viewpoint of her aunt, Mrs. Reed. However, she does not wish to conform to these realizations, nor is she mature enough to recognize the malleability of convention so as not to compromise her own morality and contentedness with life. Because of her attempts to live unconventionally through wishing to be treated equally to her cousins who are, in regards to social classes, higher than her, Jane recognizes the repercussions rebellion has in a time such as the conventional Victorian era in which Jane Eyre was written. Through this, it is evident that Jane understands the impact of rebellion on convention, and endures the consequences – exile in the Red Room – though does not agree with it, her personal self – discipline budding. This development is critical to one’s attempts to living as per their own wishes, unconstrained by convention as without such experiences, one’s personal discipline and therefore strength to continue to live unrestrained by convention will not be refined.

Likewise, one will be placed in more experiences in which they may choose to conform or continue to live unrestrained by convention that will determine the development of their personal integrity and therefore their ability to form convention to fit with their own needs. As conformity offers the path of least resistance, it may be partially adopted – as seen through Jane at Gateshead, she has experimented with rebellion, and now must consider conformity. In her initial relationship with Rochester, Jane is seen to be in a battle between the subdued conformity ingrained in her from Lowood and her own unconventional nature, as evident through Jane’s submissiveness to Rochester when she states, “I did as I was bid though I would much rather have remained somewhat in the shade: but Mr. Rochester had such a direct way of giving orders, it seemed a matter to obey him promptly.” (132) It is evident that Jane has changed since her time at Gateshead; it is through this quote that she is seen to conform to society’s class system – as she is inferior to Rochester she must obey him, in spite of objections such as wishing to “have remained somewhat in the shade”. However, she still remains quite opinionated due to the development of her self – discipline and her recognition of her wish to stay in the shade, as also learned at Lowood and through other experiences. These experiences have matured her, Jane is now able to recognize the compromise of convention and personal morality – it is not the path of least resistance though it offers less consequence than Jane has experienced in her youth, as well as the ability to live per her own judgment. In this sense, convention is malleable because of fact that Jane acts within her class, yet remains open minded and opinionated.

Within experimenting with both rebellion and conformity, one is then equipped with the necessary experiences to enable them to recognize and act on the malleability of conformity. Jane herself is now able to do so, and is seen to do so, through marrying Rochester as per her own unconventional statutes and expectations as she states “I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together… All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character–perfect concord is the result.” (397) Through her attempts to live unconstrained by convention, Jane has married Rochester for love, not financial security as was commonly seen during the Victorian Era in which Jane Eyre was set, and is seen to be equal to Rochester in all respects – they are “precisely suited in character.” The development of Jane’s personal discipline, through experimenting with rebellion and conformity, allowed her to recognize and act per her own conventions – she was enabled to marry Rochester in accordance with her own principles, as evident through the fact that she had not married Rochester until their alliance was aligned with her own personal conventions. In this regard, Jane’s marriage signified her conformity, though society’s convention to marry was malleable in the sense that Jane only pursued this once her personal desires were met.

Exemplified through Bronte’s Jane Eyre, individuals are unable to live entirely unconstrained from the conventions of society, though one is able to recognize the malleability of convention when they experience both conformity and rebellion. It is through this that one develops their sense of personal discipline that, in turn, enables them to live per their own moral standards and principles within society’s conventions – hence, one is able to act on the malleability of convention, as showcased through the character of Jane in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, in her experience with rebellion, conformity, and eventual recognition of the malleability of the conventions she faces. It can therefore be determined that, while one may not conform with the conventions of society, nor be societally permitted to live completely unconstrained by these conventions, individuals are able to live within conventions when their personal integrity allows them to pursue conventions on their own accord.

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