Analyze Jane Eyre's character. How is her personality formed? How is she described? How does her character relate to the historical period of the novel?

In a word, Jane Eyre's character development is about choices. She is confronted with a variety of difficult decisions throughout the novel, such as whether to marry Mr. Rochester or accompany St. John Rivers to India. When neither course of action is ideal, she makes the decision that best aligns with her desire to be autonomous and preserve her self-worth, even when these choices defy expectations for women during this time period.

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I am no bird and no net ensnares me. I am a human being with an independent will.

This quote is the essence of Jane's character. Though her independence is a threat to the social norms of the time period, she chooses to prioritize her integrity and happiness over the opinions of others.

Readers see Jane's character develop a great deal throughout the text. When the novel begins, she is a young girl who is thoughtful and precocious, but her aunt considers her to be "too independent" for a girl her age. Because of this, she is subject to harsh punishments that limit her autonomy. For example, her aunt sends her off to Lowood, a dismal Christian boarding school, with the belligerent Mr. Brocklehurst. Lowood is an environment that expects conformity from all of its students, and when Jane does not live up to these expectations, she is publicly berated for her shortcomings. However, the injustices she experiences at Lowood only strengthen her belief in gender and class equality. She also develops a close relationship with another student named Helen Burns, whose spiritual devotion, patience, and humility help Jane channel some of her cynicism into righteous passion.

After eight years at Lowood, Jane is ready to further exercise her independence. She becomes a governess for a young girl named Adele at an estate called Thornfield. Though she is very good at her job, things become complicated when she falls in love with Mr. Rochester. Her love turns out to be requited, but on the day the two are supposed to marry, it is revealed that Mr. Rochester is already married to a woman he keeps in his attic. Jane is faced with a difficult choice: she can live a passionate life with Mr. Rochester, but doing so would mean compromising her morals and self-worth. She ultimately decides that preserving her integrity is more important than her attachment to Mr. Rochester, even though leaving Thornfield means sacrificing her love and livelihood.

Jane eventually finds herself at a manor called Moor House, where she accepts a teaching job and lives with three siblings who happen to be her cousins. One of these siblings is a man named St. John Rivers, who is a foil for Mr. Rochester. St. John is a very devout and simple man whose behaviors vary greatly from Rochester's erratic passions. He takes an interest in Jane but more as a partner than as a lover. He wants Jane to move to India with him as a missionary, confronting her with another difficult choice. Moving to India would allow her to travel and explore the world, but St. John has very specific ideas about how women should behave, and Jane is not willing to live by these expectations. She knows she also doesn't really love St. John, and she can't bring herself to live in a passionless marriage.

She eventually returns to Mr. Rochester, and the two marry. However, she demands an apology for his previous actions and requires that the two share equality in their relationship. In their relationship, she is finally able to find the balance between love and freedom, independence and intimacy, that she has sought her whole life.

Ultimately, the fact that Jane's character development is a series of choices is very important in and of itself. During the mid 1800s, when the book was published, women had most of their choices made for them—in regards to who they married, where they lived, what they did, and even what they wore. Jane refuses to accept a world in which others chart her life's path. Instead, she develops a clear set of principles and values and ensures that her choices are a reflection of these values, even when she has to make sacrifices in the process.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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