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The tale of Jane Eyre is clearly one of self-discovery and maturation. Indeed, it is the story of a young woman's fight to claim independence and self-respect amid a society that prohibits her from reaching her potential. Jane's struggle against injustices done to her courses throughout Charlotte Bronte's narrative, and, as her strength of character prevails, Jane emerges as her own woman.
Here are examples of Jane's fortitude that effect her emergence of self:
- In Chapter 2 Jane's cousin John taunts Jane and throws a book at her; she, in turn, questions her treatment:
Why was I always suffering, always browbeaten, always accused, forever condemned?...Why was it useless to try to win anyone's favor? (Interestingly, she narrates that she learns later she "clearly" why.)
Because she fights back, Jane is cruelly punished by her cruel Aunt as she is cloistered in the Red Room where her uncle has died. Her act of defiance causes Jane's aunt to turn her over to Mr. Brocklehurst from Lowood School. Then, as Mrs. Reed maligns her before the cruel, sanctimonious Brocklehurst, Jane feels "a passion of resentment foment" within her.
- At Lowood School Jane refuses to embrace the passive acceptance of her friend Helen Burns who believes in Christian patience and endurance.
"Yet it would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear."
I heard her with wonder: I could not comprehend this doctrine of endurance; and still less could I understand or sympathise with the forbearance she expressed for her chastiser. Still I felt that Helen Burns considered things by a light invisible to my eyes. (Ch.6)
Always Jane sustains her independence, enduring punishment. Later, she feels some vindication as Brocklehurst is exposed for his religious hypocrisy and heartless treatment of the students. At the end of Chapter 10, Jane strikes out on her own, having accepted a position as governess in Milcote at Thronfield.
- At Thornfield Jane finds some contentment and even happiness and joy as she becomes fond of little Adele, her pupil, and falls in love with Mr. Rochester. However, this satisfaction is short-lived as Jane learns of the maniacal Mrs. Rochester. So, she leaves Thornfield and endures hunger until she is taken in by Mary and Diane and their pious brother St. John; ironically, they are Jane's cousins. Jane works as a teacher in a local school until St. John asks her to marry him and accompany him as a missionary. But, the uncomprising Jane refuses him on principle.
I felt how, if I were his wife, this good man, pure as the deep sunless source, could soon kill me, without drawing from my veins a single drop of blood, or receiving on his own crystal conscience the faintest stain of crime.... He experienced no suffering from estrangement—no yearning after reconciliation; and though, more than once, my fast falling tears blistered the page over which we both bent, they produced no more effect on him than if his heart had been really a matter of stone or metal.
Because he does not really love her, Jane cannot in good conscious enter into marriage with him, even when he tries to convince her that she may go to hell for not joining him in serving God. It is Jane's inner faith in herself that causes her to hear the voice of Mr. Rochester. She cries, "I am coming!" And, again she follows her own heart and is independent, acting as a woman in her own right.
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