Compare and contrast between Mr. Rochester and St. John from Jane Eyre.    

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mr. Rochester and St. John Rivers are literary foils. Simply put, this means that they are characters who offer a contrast to each other. And the contrasts between the two men really couldn't be much greater.

These differences illustrate a number of wider contrasts that Bronte is keen to explore. First, there is the contrast between appearance and reality. Mr. Rochester appears, on the face of it, to be a brooding, rather stern character. Yet beneath that gruff exterior beats a passionately romantic heart.

St. John Rivers, by contrast, is incredibly handsome. Not only that, but as a missionary he appears to possess firm moral rectitude. He seems to have all the necessary qualifications of a "good catch." But beneath his charming exterior there is no passion, no desire, no joie de vivre. He spent what little zest for life he had on an ultimately fruitless courtship of Rosamond Oliver. He couldn't go through with marriage despite the great love between them. Rosamond just wouldn't be much use as a missionary's wife, you see. St. John is such an insufferably self-righteous prig that he's prepared to sacrifice love at the altar of high moral principle. Now, whenever Jane meets him, he comes across a human iceberg, with meltwater coursing through his veins.

This leads us to another important contrast in the story: that between what society demands and what the heart desires. Mr. Rochester has been leading a life of unrestrained debauchery as a way of escaping the chronic unhappiness of a marriage to a mentally unstable wife. His proposal to Jane, though heartfelt, would effectively make her his mistress, and Jane simply won't countenance that for a moment. Though she desperately desires to be with Rochester, she cannot allow herself to risk the shame and social isolation that would undoubtedly befall her should she accept his proposal.

Yet even here Rochester's innate sincerity, goodness, and regard for Jane shine through. He does not seek to compel or cajole; he allows her to decide her own destiny. Contrast this with poor old St. John. He tells Jane that she is "intended" to be a missionary's wife. He's going to marry her for duty, not for love, so naturally he feels that she should have no problem doing likewise. But Jane still has a beating heart, and ultimately her heart tells her that she should turn down St. John's less-than-generous offer.

Rochester is a force of nature, not fully subject to human laws and mores. St. John, however, is entirely a creature of his society, his background, and his upbringing. As such, he will always be a slave to his overriding sense of duty. Jane is almost a synthesis of the two characters. On the one hand, she yearns to follow her heart and be with Rochester, but at the same time, she feels the need to pay due respect to the prevailing moral code. And it is only with the death of Rochester's mad wife that she is at long last able to do this. Love conquers all, but only within a system of socially acceptable norms.

mrshh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

St. John Rivers and Mr. Rochester have some things in common despite the fact that they are very different characters.  

Edward Rochester is a wealthy man, who owns Thornfield Hall and a great deal of land.  He has no living parents or siblings.  Mr. Rochester is an older man with dark features, who "is nearly forty."  Mr. Rochester loves Jane deeply and passionately and regards her as his equal.  He is attentive to her, and he is vocal about his affection for her.  He is not an overly religious man.  On the contrary, St. John is not a wealthy man.  He does have siblings.  He has two sisters, Mary and Diana.  He is a younger man.  St. John pities Jane, but does not truly love her.  He wants to marry her for practical reasons.  He thinks that she will make an excellent missionary's wife.  St. John proposes, and Jane admits to herself that "he will never love [her]; but he shall approve" of her.  St. John is deeply religious, and he plans to become a missionary.  

Mr. Rochester's character is often associated with fire.  He and Jane often speak beside a roaring fire.  Jane saves him when he room is lit on fire.  Later, his own house burns down and he is blinded during the fire.  He shows himself to be a passionate person and shows warmth to Jane.  St. John is often associated with cold.  The weather is cold when Jane befriends St. John.  St. John is a cold person, and does not show warmth to Jane.

Both Mr. Rochester and St. John want to marry Jane.  Mr. Rochester is turned down by Jane after she finds out about his insane wife.  St. John is also turned down by Jane when she rejects his marriage proposal, telling him that she sees her relationship with him as more of a sisterly one.  Both men try to convince her to change her mind.



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Jane Eyre

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