Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Brontë, is the life story of an intelligent and introverted young girl named Jane. Written in 1847, Eyre was taken in by her Aunt Reed after the death of her parents, and after ten years of verbal and physical abuse by her older cousins, she leaves for boarding school. There she finds a girl named Helen Burns, who teaches her that despite the words thrown at her all her life by her family, and Mr Brocklehurst, the school headmaster, Jane is a kindhearted young woman with a bright future. She receives an education and after teaching at the school for 2 years, she takes the job of a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with her employer, Mr. Rochester. The two indulge in explorative conversations of religion, love, and justice, and despite the lack of physical attraction, Mr Rochester and Jane make plans to get married. On the day of their wedding, it is discovered that her bride-groom already has a wife, and Jane runs away. Nearing death, she stumbles upon a house and begs for food and dorm until she is well, and in the process of her healing she develops a relationship with the two women of the house. St. John, the brother of her two newfound friends gives her the chance to be a teacher at a village school, and later begs her to join him on a journey to India as his wife, making it clear that he will never be in love with her, he just would like her to accompany him and it would be inappropriate for her to come along and not be wed to him. Jane denies, saying that she will never marry a man unless he is truly in love with her, learning from the lack of love from the first 16 years of her life. She returns to find Mr Rochester blind and crippled from a fire, and despite his needs they marry and give birth to healthy children.
Brontë used a theme that was difficult to see until the last few pages of the book--self respect. In her early years, Jane was taught that she was worthless and referred to as the devil himself, and after discovering the love she had for her employer, based not on looks but on mind and curiosity, she settled for nothing less. She knew what she was worth and denied the money and status that came with the marriage of her cousin, and returned to her true lover, though he lost a substantial amount if his money, and was physically crippled. Marrying for love was an unusual thing to do in 1847, but Brontë stressed the importance of knowing your worth and fighting for what you deserve. She showed me that to the right people, your brain is more important than your beauty, and your kindheartedness is more valuable than all the money in the world. Especially at Jane’s age, where love and respect for oneself is commonly lost, her perseverance and fight for happiness and true love gives me a reason to believe that I am worthy of the same thing.
Though Jane Eyre was written 165 years prior to my second book, the theme is relatively similar. What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler begins with Kate Weston, a smart and put-together high school soccer player, in a small town known for its basketball. But she can't remember what happened to her the night before when she wakes up in her room with a pounding headache. She remembers the music, and people, and shots with Stacy Stallard, but after that, everything goes black. She concludes that her best friend Ben drove her home from John Doone’s party early, wondering if he feels more than just a friendship between them, like she does. And then a photo of Stacy goes viral on Twitter.
Soon the town is swarming with news vans trying to get to the bottom of the rape charges filed against four of her classmates, by Stacy. Hartzler explores the opinions of different characters on the subject of the rape, most of which are this:
“You think what happened to Stacey was fair game. It was boys being boys. Just a trashy girl learning the hard way what can happen when she drinks too much and wears a short skirt.”
But Kate disagrees, and honestly as a reader of this book, I do too, and I struggle to explain the book without getting chills down my spine. Everyone claims that it was Stacy’s fault. You go to a party in provocative clothes, and get deliriously drunk, what do you expect will happen? But Kate was drunk that night, too. It could have been her, or a number of her friends that were blind-sided by alcohol that night, and that's what scares her. But where was Ben? He swears he left, but their relationship seems too good to be true, and Kate is suspicious. Everyone needs Dooney and his friends to return to the basketball championship, and Kate is left friendless when she discovers that Ben was at the party at the time of the rape, and turns him in, leaving the small town without their five best starters.
Aaron Hartzler really made me realize, every time I read this book, that it isn't the victim's fault. No matter what happened earlier that night, Stacy was out cold and unable to give her consent, after all there is a video of it. Kate Weston is the only one in her small town not willing to let this pass by because she knows what happened and wants to make it right. Kate could have been in Stacy’s position, just like me or you could have as well, and as a reader that terrifies me. The author explains that the “boys will be boys” excuse is not valid and no matter who committed the crime, they should be charged. Women are often times portrayed as toys for men and most of them are willing to go along with that lie, but Kate isn't and neither am I. Kate knows what she deserves and what the rest of the world deserves and she won't settle for people not accepting that. She lost every single one of her friends, and her boyfriend, and doesn't mind because rape is rape no matter what, and it is something that should never be excused by anyone, for any reason. Both of these books center around self respect and love and what it means to stick up for what you believe in. Both young women were unafraid to stand up for themselves and others like them, and it really helped a young reader like myself realize everything I stand for and everyone that agrees with me. It is important to realize your worth and sometimes it takes a major event to help you, but you can start now. Know that whatever life hands you, you can learn from and better yourself from, and to never settle for something you don't deserve, because what you feel and think and cherish and deserve is something that many men and women alike have been preaching about for centuries. Don't let their efforts to treat everyone equally and help others realize their self worth go to waste.
If you would like a further understanding of the backstory and plot of the book, check out this interview with the author, Aaron Hartzler!
I highly recommend both of these books for anyone willing to read something deep and thoughtful! Let me know your opinion on the books and the topics they cover down below!!