Comment on and explain the quote "Suffering created Jane Eyre as a self-made woman."

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a child Jane learns early to care for her own well-being and to be true to herself no matter what the consequences. Whether it is the cruel Mrs. Reed or the headmaster at Lowood or Mr. Rochester, or St. John Reeves, Jane Eyre will not be dominated by anyone. In each place that Jane lives, she encounters suffering, but exerts strength of character as she refuses to be dominated or to compromise her integrity. There are several locations in which Jane demonstrates this strength of character as she suffers.

  • Gateshead

Mrs. Reed, the wife of Jane's deceased uncle, who loved her, is extremely cruel to Jane, allowing her children to taunt her and hurt her. But, Jane fights back until her aunt locks her in the Red Room. After this incident Mrs. Reed contacts Lowood's Mr. Brocklehurst and sends her off. Before Jane leaves she vents her antipathy,

I am glad you are no relation of mine. I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to visit you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick. . .

  • Lowood School

At this school Jane strives to learn as much as she can, and she has the stamina to persevere despite humiliation, hunger, and adversity. When she is made to stand on a stool because Mr. Brocklehurst believed Mrs. Reed that Jane is a liar, Jane endures humiliation and physical pain. But, she tells Miss Temple that Mrs. Reed falsely accused her when she spoke with Mr. Bocklehurst and she is not a liar at all. Despite this cruelty, Jane does not forget how to love as she makes friends with sweet Helen. When Helen dies, Jane is desolate, but she survives the typhus epidemic and finally graduates and is hired at a governess.

  • Thornfield

At Thornfield Jane meets her employer, Mr. Rochester. Jane is uncomfortable with this position as she is expected to act like one of his aristocratic class, but she is paid as an employee and treated as a servant. When Mr. Rochester does talk with her, Jane refuses to be intimidated,

"I don't think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you're older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I--your claim to superiority depends upon the use that you have made of your time and experience."

When Jane falls in love with Rochester and he proposes, Jane worries about marrying "above her station" and she loathes the thought that Rochester's love may be some type of "favor" toward her. Still, she thinks she may have finally found a place where she can belong. But, on their wedding day, Jane learns that the crazed woman upstairs that Grace Poole cares for has been Rochester's wife, she is brokenhearted. She refuses to stay and departs from Thornfield although she has nowhere to go. She tells herself before leaving Thornfield,

“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

  • Moor House

While Jane does find family at Moor House, she is nearly starved. She becomes a teacher and works with her cousins for a time. Later, she is put again into a position in which she is faced with domination. This time it is from her cousin St. John Rivers, who wants her to marry him and join him as a missionary in India. While she is grateful for all that he has done for her, Jane cannot marry St. John and change. She considers,

...but as his wife—at his side always, and always restrained, and always checked—forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low...—this would be unendurable.

  • Ferndean

Having heard the voice of Rochester, Jane calls, "Wait for me! I will come!" and returns to find Thornfield burnt and Mr. Rochester a broken man, living at his manor house in Ferndean. There the independent Jane tells Rochester that she will marry him because she loves him better after his accident because she can

" useful to you, than I did in our state of proud independence, when you disdained every part but that of the giver and protector."   

With each experience, Jane has become stronger and, finally, she is so competent and self-sufficient that she can easily care for Mr. Rochester and no longer feel dependent upon anyone.