What is the original source of “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will” from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote truly characterizes Jane Eyre; she demonstrates throughout the narrative of Charlotte Bronte's novel that she is a "free human being with an independent will."

  • Having been orphaned in her childhood, Jane must live with her uncle's wife, Mrs. Sarah Reed, who is very cruel to her and allows her spoiled children to taunt her. When her cousin John abuses her one day as she reads History of British Birds, Jane falls and hurts her head. Because she is hurt, Jane cries out and she fights back against John; as punishment the cruel aunt sends her to the "Red Room," the room in which her uncle has died. Little Jane is horrified in this room as she believes that she sees a ghost, but no one will let her out. Jane never forgets this experience and strengthens herself from it.
  • The headmaster of Lowood School comes to Gateshead Hall to meet with Jane; he questions her in a cruel manner. Nevertheless, the intrepid child replies bravely. When Mr. Brocklehurst inquires if she likes the Psalms, the candid and truthful girl bravely replies, “No sir.”
  • At Lowood School, Jane makes friends with a lovely girl named Helen Burns. Soon after they become friends, Helen is beaten by one of the teachers. When Jane talks to the long-suffering girl, Helen tells her, 

“Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and spitefully use you.”

         Helen does not agree, saying that she could not possibly bless Mrs. Reed.

  • Having completed her studies at Lowood and taught there for a while, Jane Eyre is hired at Thornfield Hall, where she will work as the governess for Mr. Rochester's ward. There she develops a warm relationship with her employer. However, when it appears that he will marry, Jane feels that she must resign, telling him that she is "no bird" that can be ensnared. "I am a free human being with an independent will which I now exert...."
  • But Jane does not leave in Chapter 23 after she says these words, because Mr. Rochester proposes to her. Later, however, Jane discovers that Rochester is already married--to an insane woman. She departs then even though she has nowhere to go.
  • It is a starving and destitute Jane Eyre who unknowingly collapses at the home of her cousins. She does not expect charity and is glad when she is offered a position. 
  • When Jane receives her inheritance from her uncle, she divides her inheritance of £20,000 among her newfound relatives.  But because she will not be "ensnared" in marriage with St. John Rivers, whom she does not love, he becomes upset with her.
  • Jane tells Diana and Mary Rivers that she is going on a journey “to see or hear news of a friend about whom I had for some time been uneasy.” After she reaches Thornfield, she sees a "blackened ruin," so she stops at the Rochester Arms Inn and learns of the fire. She is told that Mr. Rochester now lives at his manor home, Ferndean. She flies freely to her one love, Edward Rochester.
jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote comes from Chapter 23 of Jane Eyre, a novel by Charlotte Brontë. Jane says this in response to Rochester, who tells her to stop struggling "like a frantic bird." Jane responds that rather than being a bird, she has no net. She is free and can exercise her free will to leave Rochester, which she then chooses to do. The metaphor of a bird runs throughout this passage, as Rochester likens her to a bird, and Jane refuses to characterize herself as a creature who is locked in a cage. Rochester thinks of a bird as wild, while Jane sees a bird as caged. In this instance, Jane can exercise her free will, which makes her very different than Bertha, Rochester's wife who is locked away in the third floor of Thornfield, Rochester's house.