How is Jane Eyre independent? Please provide specific examples.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

From an early age, the orphaned Jane is forced to fend for herself and become independent. She is disliked by her aunt Reed, sent off to a charity school, and enters adult life with no fortune or family to back her up. She knows that she will have to earn her own living and make her own way in the world.

Jane supports herself by becoming a governess. While many women in her time and place took on governess jobs, most considered it a comedown for a lady to have to work for a living. Jane, however, is glad to have the opportunity to earn her own way and finds life at Thornfield better than what she had experienced before. Her spirit does rebel, however, at the stifling monotony of a woman's narrow life in a home.

Jane leaves the job and Rochester to maintain her dignity and moral principles when he wants her to commit bigamy, another show of independence. She takes a job at the Morton School for the daughters of poor cottagers, and while she does see this as a come down in the world after Thornfield, she knows it is better to have her honor and support herself rather than live in sin.

She refuses to marry St. John Rivers because she does not love him, and she freely returns to Rochester and shows her strength in caring for him after he is maimed by the fire. As readers, we tend to like and admire Jane because of her independent spirit: she is true to herself and willing to put up with hardships rather than compromise her beliefs.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Jane Eyre, we get the first glimpse of Jane's independent spirit when she protests her cruel treatment at the hands of her aunt in Chapter 4:

"I will never call you aunt again...I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty."

After this outburst, Jane experiences a sense of liberation: "My soul began to expand, to exult with the strangest sense of freedom." This feeling encourages her sense of independence to blossom and paves the way for many more instances, beginning next with Jane's departure from Lowood School and acceptance of the position of governess at Thornfield Hall, in Chapter 10.

It is at Thornfield, in her relationship with Mr Rochester, that we see Jane's independent spirit truly flourish. Part of the reason for this is that Rochester does not treat Jane as his inferior; he grows to love her and views her as his equal, despite their differences in social class and wealth. When Rochester proposes marriage, for example, in Chapter 23, Jane is so stunned that she believes he is mocking her. This prompts a strong independent reaction:

"I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you."

While Jane accepts his proposal, the discovery of his secret wife, Bertha, prompts her to leave Thornfield. But it is her independence which reunites the couple later on: Jane rejects St John's proposal of marriage and asserts her need for emotional fulfillment by returning, for the final time, to Rochester at Thornfield Hall.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team