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

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.

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