In Jane Eyre, what struggle does Jane have with her identity, if any at all?

Expert Answers

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

Jane 's early life has constantly attempted to force her to acknowledge that she is nothing, has no power, and must simply accept what is grudgingly given to her. In addition, she is poor and is being told she is plain, if not ugly, which for a woman in her...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Jane's early life has constantly attempted to force her to acknowledge that she is nothing, has no power, and must simply accept what is grudgingly given to her. In addition, she is poor and is being told she is plain, if not ugly, which for a woman in her position is yet another denial of access to power.

Yet, from an early age, she feels something else inside. Those who try to dominate her find her stronger and more resilient than they possibly could have expected. Her inner picture of herself is far from just a dependent, just a deprived student, or just a governess.

When her relationship with Mr. Rochester begins to develop, she slowly recognizes that he sees her as she has always secretly seen herself: as an intelligent, passionate, independent individual, fully capable of making her own decisions and her own life. When she runs away from Rochester because she cannot accept the conditions of life with him that he offers, she also finds the strength to reject the offers (we can even say demands) of yet another man who wants to dictate her choices for her.

She returns to find a deeply changed Rochester, but one with whom she can now have a relationship of equals, and with this, the open assertion of an inner identity she can now embrace.

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

Besides her internal conflicts of passion vs. reason, Jane struggles to find her place in the world and establish for herself an identity.  With Mr. Rochester she asserts herself as an individual, but does not receive the full respect she would like as he tries to marry her while still committed to a hopeless marriage with an insane woman.  St. John Rivers proposes to Jane, but again his desire to marry her is not what Jane wants as St. John wishes a missionary companion. Finally, Jane receives an inheritance from her Uncle John Eyre and achieves financial independence; returning to Thornfield, Jane finds Mr. Rochester in physical ruin, but spiritually purged so that she can truly be his wife and equal, thus achieving her identity.

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

I would want to argue that Jane actually has a massive struggle with her identity, which forms the major dominating conflict of this tremendous Victorian novel. As we read the novel, we see that Jane is trying to establish her character, and oscillates in terms of who she is and what she does between two extremes on a spectrum. Her character and identity is threatened by being overwhelmed by passion and emotion on the one hand, and then cold, calculating reason on the other hand.

Let me offer two examples to demonstrate the various oscillations that Jane's identity experiences. Firstly, the famous incident in the red room indicates how Jane was overcome by passion and her emotions. One of the servants says, "Did every anybody see such a picture of passion!" and she is described as being like "a mad cat." Jane herself admits that so overcome was she by her anger that she was "rather out of myself." Likewise, after Jane discovers the existence of Bertha Mason, she is clearly dominated by reason in her decision to leave Rochester and Thornfield and not take him up on his offer to become his mistress.

Also, if we consider the other charactes in this novel, they all seem to represent one of these two extremes and the potential influence that they have to try and draw Jane towards these extremes. Note for example the way that Rochester is associated with fire and passion, and how St. John Rivers is associated with snow, ice and cold, hard, reason. It is only at the end of the novel, after Jane has rejected St. John and Rochester himself has been maimed, that Jane is able to achieve a happy balance between these two extremes and find her own identity.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team