In Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, how can Jane's feelings about going to school be considered ironic?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter Eight of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, the reader first hears of Jane's progress in her studies at Lowood Institution:

Already I had made visible progress: that very morning I had reached the head of my class; Miss Miller had praised me warmly; Miss Temple had smiled approbation; she had promised to teach me drawing, and to let me learn French, if I continued to make similar improvement...

Jane finds a sense of validation in her educational achievements. Overcoming a set-back because of her Aunt Reed's accusations against Jane's character, she applies herself to school with renewed vigor:

I from that hour set to work afresh, resolved to pioneer my way through every difficulty: I toiled hard, and my success was proportionate to my a few weeks I was promoted to a higher class; in less than two months I was allowed to commence French and drawing.

Jane is at the school when "typhus fever" sweeps through its halls and takes the lives of many. "Some wealthy and benevolent" benefactors resolve to construct a new building and improve the situation of the students living within Lowood's walls. Life there improves dramatically. Jane continues as a student, and eventually becomes a teacher.

I had the means of an excellent education placed within my reach...I availed myself fully of the advantages offered me. In time I rose to be the first girl of the first class: then I was vested with the office of teacher...

Jane works diligently on her studies to show that she is a good person. Because of how she has been treated, Jane believes that she has little to speak to her value; the one thing she she feels that demonstrates her quality is a strong education. Even Bessie overlooks her virtues.

When Bessie arrives from Gateshead, she quizzes Jane about what she has learned at Lowood. When asked, Jane shows that she is accomplished in playing the piano and painting. She also is able to describe her abilities with needlework. Each time, Bessie assures Jane that she is much more talented than her cousins, the Misses Reed. Bessie notes:

Oh, you are quite a lady, Miss Jane! I knew you would be: you will get on, whether your relations notice you or not...

I find that while those around her, and even Jane herself, believe that education will show her true value, who Jane chooses to be as a person proves her true worth. Helen had stated in earlier:

If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.

Jane's education gets her a place at Thornfield. However, it is not her education that dictates her success in life. Edward falls in love with her because of who she is, not what she has learned. When she refuses to marry Edward, it is because of her morality that she leaves. When she returns to Gateshead and cares for her hateful Aunt Reed, it is not because of her learning, but because of her character and her virtuous behavior. These are the same qualities that allow Jane to love Edward after the fire—her kindness, loyalty and love make her stand out as an exceptional person.

It is ironic that Jane feels education is so important—she discounts her caring disposition. While her education allows her to maintain a certain independence in her job, what really matters is what Jane has had all along: a forgiving spirit and a loving heart. These are the things that show Jane's true nature and worth.

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Jane Eyre

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