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

The central conflict of Jane Eyre concerns Jane fighting to assert her independence and identity despite the societal conventions of the time and despite the constant attempts of the people around her to mold her behavior to their own expectations, especially as a woman.

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The central conflict in Jane Eyre can be boiled down to man vs. society. Though many personal conflicts occur throughout the novel, at its core, the book is about Jane determining and sticking to her own values in a world of people that constantly mistreat her and try to shape...

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The central conflict in Jane Eyre can be boiled down to man vs. society. Though many personal conflicts occur throughout the novel, at its core, the book is about Jane determining and sticking to her own values in a world of people that constantly mistreat her and try to shape her behavior to fit their purposes.

As a child, Jane is accused of being wicked, full of passion and vice. She is mistreated by her family and punished for any attempt to defend herself. Despite being a generally inquisitive, good-natured child who prefers to keep to herself, Jane is criticized by her aunt and cousins, as well as their servants, for being impudent and disrespectful. She endures slander, such as when Mrs. Reed tells Mr. Brocklehurst that she is a liar and when Mr. Brocklehurst then names her as such to the whole of Lowood School. Through all this she must fight to retain her sense of identity and not give in to what the world around her tells her that she is. She fights to be good and honest and dutiful, despite her frustrations in striving to please a world that does not accept her.

When Jane arrives at Thornfield Hall, she faces a very different obstacle. Mr. Rochester expects a governess to be mild and accommodating and is shocked by Jane's frankness and independence. His behavior towards her is often bizarre, seeming to goad her into speaking out of character or revealing things she does not want to, and she must avoid these traps he lays for her, such as when he dresses as a gypsy woman to trick her into telling him her feelings for him. Later, when they are engaged, he tries to alter her in other ways, describing her as a fairy or an angel. Jane fights back on this count.

“I am not an angel,” I asserted; “and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me—for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.”

Jane must constantly assert her identity and her independence, with Rochester and with others. She has an excellent sense of self and must struggle to make sure it is recognized by those around her.

We see this later in the novel in her relationship with St. John Rivers. He has set expectations of her behavior and identity, expecting her to marry him and become his missionary partner as a dutiful Christian woman. When she argues back and offers to go as his sister or cousin rather than as his wife, he becomes unsettled and even angry, but this does not stop Jane. She will not be forced to do something that goes against her nature.

The conflict is resolved when Jane returns to Rochester at the end of the novel. When she hears his voice in a vision, she knows that in her heart she wants to be with him and decides to follow that passion rather than allow herself to be dictated by the expectations of society. Despite Rochester's physical limitations, despite his age, he is the man that she wants, and she defies societal conventions to pursue her own desires. Though she has spent the whole novel establishing her identity in contrast to the expectations and criticisms placed on her by the outside world, it is not until this moment that she is able to fully assert her independence and dictate her own future.

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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.

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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.

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