I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed" (Bronte 34). In this scene, we see Jane refuse to say or do something in exchange for something called love. She even decides to leave Rochester when she finds out about Bertha. She walks away from love because she does not want to think she settled for something.
Another novel that explores the evolution of self is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Austen uses Elizabeth's growth process to make her points about society. Elizabeth becomes an excellent case study because she learns from her mistakes and becomes healthier person by the end of the novel. She learns from the mistake she made with Wickham and this revelation allows her to move into a relationship that she will treasure for the rest of her life. She and Darcy both must learn to get over their first impressions of people. When Elizabeth tells him, "You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it" (Bronte 145). He is "astonished" with "an expression of mingled incredibility and mortification" (145) when she says this and her accusation of not being a gentleman is something he cannot forget. As a result, he ponders it and finally realizes it is true. The evolution of self in this story forces us to look at how we think of others when we have very little information to go on.
In the twentieth century, literature moves into to a deeper understanding of the human condition. Henry Miller's "Daisy Miller" is one such story. In this tale, we have two characters that evolve. Winterbourne demonstrates how easily we are influenced by the opinions of others. Like him, we make false assumptions about people more often than we should. While studying others in Geneva, he exposes how self-absorbed and snobbish he is. One thing we realize about him is how he is not as innocent as his aunt wishes he was. He wants to do what he wants to do, even if it is inappropriate but somehow it is not acceptable for Daisy to do the same kinds of things. Daisy is opposite Winterbourne in almost every way and this contrast helps readers understand the issues Miller is pointing out. Daisy does not care what other people think and Winterbourne worries too much about what other might think or say. His attraction to Daisy allows us to see his darker side. He becomes very aware of the everyone around him and he frets over what they might be thinking about him. As he and Daisy walk to the Castle of Chillon, he discerns the people "were all looking at her hard" (Miller 566). The more people looked at Daisy, the more Winterbourne took "satisfaction in his pretty companion's distinguished air" (567). He does worry that she will "talk loud"(567) or "laugh overmuch" (567), thoughts that reveal his true character. Winterborne is crippled living in a society of manners and opinions while Daisy simply wants to enjoy herself. She proves it is not always so easy to do.
As a race, we are constantly evolving and changing. It may feel like things never change or that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The truth is when we break it down on a personal level and study individuals, we see a lot of changing occurring and some of it actually good. Literature helps us to see things thing take place because we are often so involved with our own lives that we cannot see what is happening around us. Writers such as Keats and Bronte look at specific events and people and prove how they influence their world. These ideas help us learn about ourselves and they can even give us permission to evolve as we allow literature to penetrate our minds.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Bantam Books. 1981.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Scholastic Books. 1962.
Keats, John. "Ode to a Nightingale." English Romantic Writers. New York: Harcourt Brace