Discuss the role and character of Rochester in Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

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As the Byronic anti-hero, Mr. Rochester acts as a foil to Jane Eyre.  For instance, in his unscrupulous attempt to defy moral law and the mores of his society, he accentuates Jane clear sense of morality.  For, after the revelation that Mr. Rochester is, in fact, married, Jane refuses to marry him and departs from Thornfield. 

Mr. Rochester also exemplifies the motif of spiritual cleansing and growth by tragedy.  Haunted by his past of which he is ashamed, the fire at Thornfield cleanses him of this past as well as his selfishness because he loses his eyesight and must depend upon others.  When Jane is restored to him, his eyesight gradually returns as he is renewed in life, and, like Jane, the better for having suffered.

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Mr. Rochester is a “Bronte Sisters” hero – an anti-hero with gothic qualities. He is dark, brooding and described as not particularly handsome but with something attractive deep in his soul – a kind of Heathcliff without the destructiveness of vengeance. Rochester is haunted by the guilt of his past life that has left him with both a child by a former mistress (Adele) and an insane wife (Bertha) whom although he keeps hidden away in the attic, is nevertheless caring for as opposed to putting her in an insane asylum where she belongs. He was tricked into marrying Bertha, but he believes it is his duty nonetheless to care for her. Rochester and Jane are alike in that they both possess personal qualities that transcend their physical appearances. This is what attracts them both to each other – they see what lies beneath the exterior.

Rochester tries to ignore morality in pursuing a bigamous marriage with Jane and then when his marriage to Bertha is exposed, trying to convince Jane to become his mistress. In the end, however, he pays for this sin by having his house burned down, becoming blind and losing the use of his right hand. His love for Jane stays true, however, and he is eventually rewarded with marriage to her.

Like the other Bronte sisters’ male characters, Rochester’s character helps illustrate the theme of love and passion. These sisters must have believed that strong, passionate love was a wonderful ideal, something to be sought after, and something that was certainly not present in most marriages during Victorian times. Rochester also represents the theme of atonement and forgiveness. He is maimed because of his transgression of moral law, but his deep love atones for his sin and he is forgiven and restored to Jane.

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In some ways Rochester is a less compelling character than Jane Eyre. His position in the world has been secured by his birth and a series of family decisions and deaths. Jane’s, on the other hand, is self-created. As a child she defends herself to her wicked aunt and refutes Mr. Brocklewood's defamation of her character at Lowood Institution. Once the school’s conditions change, Jane dedicates herself to her education and finds her own employment as a governess. But Rochester’s character goes through a pronounced transition throughout the novel, both physically and spiritually. Before meeting Jane, he had essentially written off women as either tedious drawing room ladies (British aristocracy) or insane and treacherous creatures (his wife Bertha).

When Jane comes to Thornfield Hall to tutor his young ward Adele—also changing her character for the better—Rochester reconsiders his views on women. Even before she arrives at his home, at their first meeting (after his accident on horseback) something shifts in the man simply because she is different than the other woman he has met. She’s small and unassuming but capable of helping a solidly built man up from the ground and back onto his horse, without complaint or panic.

Rochester’s physical transformation— blindness and a ruined hand—sustained in the fire that destroyed Thornfield Hall, is almost less important than the mental and spiritual shift that happened in the period before this, after his attempted bigamous union with Jane and her flight from his home. Jane’s desertion isolates and crushes Rochester so completely that he seldom leaves his chambers and barely speaks to his servants. When Bertha burns down Thornfield Hall and falls to her death, only concern for his servants rouses Rochester to act—if he had been alone with Bertha, he probably would not have left the burning estate. Pairing a physical deformity with a spiritual blow was a theme in British storytelling long before Gothic literature.

After the fire, Rochester sinks deeper into melancholy, and hallucinations—of Jane’s return. When she does come back, his character shift enters its last phase. Now he can become what has been denied to him his entire adult life: a partner in a peaceful marriage with someone he deems his equal. After their marriage, his vision suddenly returns—another outer manifestation of a profound change in his character.