What is the central conflict of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main conflict in Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, surrounds Jane's attempts to reconcile the world that often has no values to the code of values by which she lives her life.

This is most obvious in her relationship with the tormented figure of Mr. Rochester. She wants desperately to help him. She falls in love with him and wants to marry him. Yet when she discovers that he is married, albeit to a deranged wife, Jane cannot stay with Rochester, although she still loves him.

Her struggles are internal and external. Jane struggles inside to do the right thing (which is man vs self). Society (in the form of Bertha's brother) expects her to do the right thing in that Edward is already married (which is man vs society). Rochester still wants Jane (which is man vs man), but she cannot live with him in sin, and this brings the reader back to her internal conflict (man vs self).

Jane leaves and tries to forget Rochester and go on with her life. When St. John Rivers proposes, once again, Jane cannot ignore her conscience: she does not love him, so she says no. Then Jane hears Edward's voice on the wind, calling to her, an element of the supernatural. She returns to find Thornfield destroyed by fire and Bertha, the cause of it, dead. Now Jane and Edward can start a life together. The main source of Jane's conflict in the story has been resolved.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It seems erroneous to say that Jane's internal conflict about her relationship with Rochester is the central conflict of the story because she doesn't really seem to feel very conflicted about it.  Once Jane realizes that she cannot marry Rochester, because he is already married, she knows immediately that she cannot stay with him.  However, all throughout the book, Jane finds herself in conflict with various other characters.  Her aunt Reed is a hypocritical and nasty woman who torments Jane and then tells evil lies about her to Mr. Brocklehurst; then Mr. Brocklehurst makes Jane's life difficult and miserable, at times, at Lowood by presenting her as a sinful ingrate.  Then, she must refuse Rochester when he wants her to stay and be his mistress after the revelation of Berthat's existence is made.  Later, Jane conflicts with St. John Rivers who will only consent to take her overseas as a missionary if she will marry him -- because it is the only socially-acceptable way for her to go -- and so Jane must refuse this opportunity even though she dearly wants to accept it.  It is others' concept of her and what is "best" for her that she must fight against throughout the entirety of the novel.