Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre traces the personal development of a young woman who must struggle to maintain a separate identity and independence in the suffocating pressures of her culture. She grapples with the societal expectations of her gender, which frequently conflict with her intuitive sense of self. Each setting and situation that Jane encounters denotes a phase in her personal progress, teaching her and preparing her for the next experience.
The linear organization of Jane’s maturation process is attributable to the viewpoint of the narrator. The narrator is not the child, teenager, or young woman that Jane is during the course of the narrative, but the adult wife and mother who is recounting her story. With hindsight and from a mature perspective, Jane can recognize the pivotal, shaping events of her life. She takes account of her life, selecting events so that a pattern of personal development becomes apparent, what all people do in making sense of their past. The reader also senses Brontë’s voice. Although the novel is not an autobiography, it contains autobiographical elements—Brontë’s experience at the Clergy Daughter’s School is similar to Jane’s years at Lowood, for example. Certainly Brontë draws from her own experience as a maturing young woman in describing the life of Jane Eyre.
Each setting indicates a stage of growth for Jane. Under the cruel treatment of her aunt, Sarah Reed, at Gateshead Hall,...
(The entire section is 583 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Gateshead Hall. Upper-middle class home of the Reed family. Gateshead Hall, identified only as located in “—shire,” England, is the home in which Jane spends the first ten years of her life with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her three cousins. It is here that Jane learns to take care of herself—training that prepares her for the hardships that are to follow during her years at an orphan asylum.
Two places in particular within Gateshead Hall play prominent roles in Jane’s life there. The window seat in which the reader first encounters Jane as she reads a book on the history of British birds is surrounded by thick red curtains and shelters her from both the cold, raw weather on the outside of the window and the cold, loveless environment of the Reed household on the other side of the curtain. Shortly after Jane leaves the womblike safety of the window seat, she is banished to the red room, her late uncle’s old bedroom, after being unjustly accused of fighting with her cousin John. It is from the unhappy atmosphere of Gateshead Hall that Jane acquires the strength of character to help her with the difficulties she must face in the future.
Lowton. Fictional town near which the Lowood Orphan Asylum is located, some fifty miles from Gateshead Hall. This school is believed to be based in part on the Cowan Bridge School that Charlotte Brontë and her sisters attended as girls.
Lowood Orphan Asylum
Lowood Orphan Asylum. After the incident of the red room, Mrs. Reed contacts Mr. Brocklehurst, treasurer of the Lowood Orphan Asylum, to arrange for Jane to live at the school permanently. Jane’s first year at Lowood, especially, is difficult because Mr. Brocklehurst forces the teachers and students to survive on inadequate nourishment and in harsh living conditions. By the spring of her first year at Lowood, typhoid fever ravages the school, resulting in an investigation of Brocklehurst’s methods and leading to vastly improved conditions for the inhabitants of Lowood.
Jane spends the next eight years at Lowood—six years as a student and two years as a teacher. Though her remaining years at Lowood are less difficult than the...
(The entire section is 919 words.)
Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Published in 1847, Jane Eyre was a popular success. Although many women writers were read by the Victorian public, true literary respectability required a masculine name; hence Brontë used the pseudonym “Currer Bell.” The popularity of this intelligent novel should force one to reconsider the often belittled and maligned tastes of the largely female reading public of the period. One can imagine that the novel appealed to women then, and today, because it reflects the frustratingly limiting condition of women in the nineteenth century. Although the novel’s end suggests a happy, typically Victorian domestic solution to Jane’s problems—the reconciliation of Jane and Rochester—this conclusion does not assuage the more pervasive difficulties that Jane encounters in defining her identity as a woman within nineteenth century constraints. Modern readers appreciate Jane’s strength and independence and her admirable struggle to live with integrity within a culture stifling for women.
For example, Jane’s job as a governess exemplifies only one confusing female role in the 1800’s. Women had very few alternatives for survival. If not supported by a father or a husband, an educated, middle-class woman likely was forced to become a governess, a position of lifelong servitude and repression of personal desires. As a woman who possesses the education, tastes, and behaviors of upper-class decorum so that she can teach them to her charges, the governess was frustrated to be treated as simply another household servant. Much of Jane’s confusion about her identity at Thornfield stems from her contradictory role as governess.
Marriage, however, was no saving grace. Jane expresses the very modern fear, practically unheard of in the nineteenth century, of losing her identity in marriage. She resists compromising her identity and denigrating herself in conforming to Rochester’s idea of a wife. In her wedding dress, she does not recognize herself before the mirror, nor can she write “Mrs. Rochester” on her luggage. As St. John’s wife, she fears she would be “always restrained, and always checked—forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low.” When Rochester is maimed and socially ruined, essentially bringing his physical strength and social position equal to that of Jane, the threat of domination no longer exists. Jane announces her decision in the powerful, self-asserting words of the final chapter: “Reader, I married him.”
Chapters 1-3 Questions and Answers
1. Where does Jane live, and with whom?
2. What is her status, and how is she treated?
3. Why is Jane off reading alone?
4. Where is she sitting?
5. What happens between Jane and John?
6. What is Jane’s reaction to being hit with the book?
7. How do we know that Mrs. Reed is an unkind woman?
8. How does Jane behave in the Red Room?
9. Why does Jane imagine a ghost or spirit?
10. How do we learn about Jane’s appearance?
1. Jane lives at Gateshead hall with her aunt through marriage, Mrs. Reed, and her three cousins, John, Eliza, and...
(The entire section is 234 words.)
Chapters 4-6 Questions and Answers
1. How does Jane spend her last few months at Gateshead Hall?
2. What is Mr. Brocklehurst’s attitude toward Jane?
3. What does Mrs. Reed tell Mr. Brocklehurst about Jane?
4. Why does Jane become upset at Mrs. Reed’s statement?
5. What are the conditions at the Lowood School?
6. How would you characterize Miss Scatcherd?
7. Why does Jane think Helen Burns is approachable?
8. What shocks Jane about Helen?
9. How does Brontë use Helen as a symbol of Christian love?
10. How does Jane react to Helen’s pious beliefs?
1. Jane continues to be...
(The entire section is 243 words.)
Chapters 7-10 Questions and Answers
1. What are the conditions at Lowood during the winter months?
2. How does Mr. Brocklehurst humiliate Jane?
3. Upon whom does Jane rely on for love and affection?
4. What happens at Lowood that changes the whole atmosphere?
5. How does Jane react after Miss Temple proves she is not a liar?
6. How does Helen view her impending death?
7. What happens to Jane during her last eight years at Lowood?
8. Why does Jane decide to leave Lowood?
9. How does she find other employment?
10. What news does Bessie bring her?
1. The children are half starved and...
(The entire section is 256 words.)
Chapters 11-15 Questions and Answers
1. How did Jane first meet Mr. Rochester?
2. Describe Mrs. Fairfax’s personality.
3. Explain Jane’s identification with Adele.
4. What is Jane’s mood when Mr. Rochester comes home?
5. What intrigues Mr. Rochester about Jane?
6. What do Jane and Mr. Rochester think about each other’s appearance?
7. Why does Jane think Grace Poole odd?
8. Explain the circumstances that ended the relationship between Celine Varens and Mr. Rochester.
9. Why is Jane’s knowledge of French important to her now?
10. How does Jane react to having her hand held by Mr. Rochester?
(The entire section is 235 words.)
Chapters 16-19 Questions and Answers
1. What effect has Mr. Rochester had on Jane?
2. Why does she want to suppress her feelings?
3. How does Jane react to Mr. Mason?
4. Why is she so curious about Grace Poole?
5. What does she observe about Blanche?
6. How does Rochester try to keep Jane involved in the festivities?
7. What does he observe about her feelings?
8. How do we know Jane is more clever than the other guests?
9. What reaction does Rochester have when he learns that Richard Mason has arrived?
10. What is the significance of Jane being able to physically support Rochester, again?
(The entire section is 256 words.)
Chapters 20-22 Questions and Answers
1. What is the added mystery in this chapter?
2. How is Rochester’s behavior contradictory?
3. What has happened to John Reed?
4. What important information does Mrs. Reed tell Jane?
5. Who is with Mrs. Reed when she dies?
6. How is the attacker described by Richard Mason?
7. What becomes of Georgiana and Eliza Reed?
8. How does Jane feel when she is approaching Thornfield Hall?
9. What does she blurt out to Rochester?
10. How does Jane describe him?
1. Richard Mason is attacked by someone in the attic.
2. Rochester intimates his...
(The entire section is 230 words.)
Chapters 23-25 Questions and Answers
1. Where and at what time of the year and day does Rochester’s proposal take place?
2. What prompts him to propose?
3. How does Jane react at first?
4. Why are they forced to run into the house after the proposal?
5. How does Jane respond to Rochester’s offer of jewels and fancy clothes?
6. What warning does Mrs. Fairfax give Jane?
7. How do Jane’s fears show up in her dreams?
8. Who wakes Jane from her fitful sleep?
9. What happens to the chestnut tree?
10. Where does Jane sleep on the eve of her wedding?
1. It is mid-summer when...
(The entire section is 208 words.)
Chapters 26-27 Questions and Answers
1. How is the wedding ceremony interrupted?
2. What is the relationship between Richard Mason and Bertha Rochester?
3. Where is the Mason family from?
4. How did Rochester come to marry Bertha?
5. How many years ago were they married?
6. What secret was kept from Rochester about the Mason family?
7. How does John Eyre figure in this chapter?
8. What is the solution Rochester offers to Jane?
9. What hastens Jane’s retreat from Thornfield Hall?
10. How do we know this has been a devastating experience for Jane?
1. A lawyer, Mr. Briggs, reads a...
(The entire section is 216 words.)
Chapters 28-29 Questions and Answers
1. What is the name of the house where the Rivers family lives?
2. What happened to Jane when she first came to town?
3. How did Hannah react to Jane?
4. Was Moor House similar to Thornfield Hall?
5. How did the Rivers family decide to let Jane stay?
6. What did they surmise about Jane’s background?
7. Why does Jane choose an alias?
8. What are the occupations of St. John Rivers, and his sisters, Diana and Mary?
9. How does St. John Rivers describe Jane?
10. What are Jane’s observations of St. John Rivers?
1. The Rivers family lives at Marsh...
(The entire section is 216 words.)
Chapters 30-31 Questions and Answers
1. What do the Rivers sisters have in common with Jane?
2. Why does Jane admire Diana?
3. What is Jane’s observation of St. John?
4. What, and where, is Jane’s new home?
5. Who are her pupils?
6. Who dies and leaves the Rivers family a small inheritance?
7. How does Jane describe Miss Oliver?
8. What is Miss Oliver’s connection to the school?
9. Who is Mr. Oliver?
10. How does St. John react to Miss Oliver?
1. They all love reading, and are well educated.
2. She admires her strength and leadership qualities.
(The entire section is 185 words.)
Chapter 32-33 Questions and Answers
1. How has Jane’s status changed?
2. What does she observe about St. John Rivers and Rosamond Oliver?
3. What does Mr. Oliver tell Jane?
4. How are Jane’s dreams different from her days?
5. Why does Miss Oliver like Jane?
6. How does Jane shock St. John?
7. What language is Jane studying?
8. How does St. John feel about Rosamond Oliver?
9. What does St. John do with Jane’s paper?
10. What is Jane’s reaction to St. John’s attention to her paper?
1. She is now regarded with respect by the towns-people.
2. St. John and Miss...
(The entire section is 194 words.)
Chapter 34-35 Questions and Answers
1. What time of year is it?
2. How did Jane prepare Moor House for Diana’s and Mary’s return?
3. Why does St. John want to marry Jane?
4. Why does she refuse him?
5. What did Diana think of this idea?
6. How does Jane constantly describe St. John?
7. What happened to Rosamond Oliver?
8. What does Jane say when St. John asks her if she will look for Mr. Rochester?
9. What stops Jane from giving in to St. John’s request?
10. What does Jane say when she hears Rochester calling her name?
1. It is Christmas time.
2. Jane cleaned and...
(The entire section is 188 words.)
Chapters 36-38 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Jane go to look for Rochester?
2. What stops her, at the last minute, from giving in to St. John?
3. How does Diana react to knowing that Jane turned down St. John’s proposal?
4. How does Jane find Thornfield Hall?
5. Where does she stay?
6. What does The Host tell Jane?
7. What is Rochester’s reaction to having Jane come back to him?
8. What mystical occurrence does Rochester describe?
9. How has Rochester’s philosophy changed?
10. What becomes of Diana, Mary, and St. John Rivers?
1. She can’t stop thinking or dreaming about...
(The entire section is 234 words.)
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Discussion
Ideas for Reports and Papers
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
For Further Reference
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Blom, Margaret Howard. Charlotte Brontë. Boston: Twayne, 1977. This introductory work asserts that Jane Eyre reflects Brontë’s own contradictory struggle to be both independent and controlled by a man. Using biographical information as a springboard for analysis, the work examines Brontë’s novels in separate chapters, including notes, an index, and a bibliography.
Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. This feminist work examines recurrent themes in the works of major nineteenth...
(The entire section is 507 words.)