Why does Jane Eyre end on St John and with the penultimate words of the Bible?
This is a really good question, and one that has been asked many times. Why would Jane Eyre end with St. John, instead of with Jane? In chapter 38, Jane is giving us a detailed account of the people we have come to care about in the novel. Of course, she starts off by telling us "she married him", so we know she and Rochester have gotten married, and that her love has healed him.
Throughout the novel, Jane has struggled with people mistreating her in the name of religion. She had to endure horrible conditions with her aunt and cousins, then was abused at the school, all of these people using the name of God as punishment for her. Jane wants her own identity and doesn't want to lose herself again. With Rochester, she has found a love that allows her to be herself. She, in fact, is the one who becomes the stronger of the two. In a twist, Jane becomes a Christlike figure for Rochester.
When her cousin, John, wants to marry her, she sees that she will have to live her life the way he lives it. John wants to go on a mission to India, and expects Jane to follow him. She knows she will lose herself completely if she were to marry John. With the novel ending with St. John, we see what life would have been like for Jane. John is near death, after serving for many years in India, trying to help the natives there. Jane would have had to become the kind of woman she was so afraid of becoming, yet the story ends with John. She reads his letter and knows that he has had a good life, and that his faith has never wavered in all this time.
"I know that a stranger's hand will write to me next, to say that the good and faithful servant has been called at length into the joy of his Lord. And why weep for this? No fear of death will darken St. John's last hour; his mind will be unclouded, his heart will be undaunted, his hope will be sure, his faith steadfast. His own words a a pledge of this- "My Master," he says. "has forewarned me. Daily He announces more distinctly,- Surely I come quickly! And hourly I more eagerly respond, 'Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus."
We see that, although, Jane has struggled so much with religion, and what people do in the name of religion, John is a living example of a person really living his faith. He has no fear of the death that is right around the corner, yet, he longs for it. In his own way, John has found his own happiness and if Jane had been with him, maybe that happiness wouldn't have been there. Jane ends with St. John to show us that, even though, John is alone, his life was full of joy, just as Jane's has been.
While much emphasis has been placed—and rightly so—on the feminist aspects of Jane Eyre, at the end of the novel Charlotte Bronte hopes to draw reader attention back to her main theme. The main lesson Bronte wants the reader to learn, one more akin to Victorian times than today, is not that Jane achieves marital bliss, but how: through living with integrity by being true to her Christian values.
In many ways, St. John is the closest character to her because he too lives with iron integrity. That is why he can't be her true soulmate. In the end, she needs someone different from her, someone who needs her, who will lean on her, and who will rely on her strength. This is just what the wounded and emotional Rochester does. St. John, as the ending shows, works wonders merely by relying on his own faith. He never really needed Jane.
Jane applies these words from Mark 8:34 to St. John, words of the highest praise from her:
His is the exaction of the apostle, who speaks but for Christ, when he says—“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”
It should be noted, as this is important and likely would have been known to the more Bible literate Victorian audience, that what introduces these above words from Mark is:
And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them...
Jane too is calling the "people," her readers "unto" her, so she can leave them with this final message about renunciation as the core of the Christian faith. In the end, Jane says, the deepest satisfaction and fulfillment come from self denial and following Christ. They don't come from the hypocritical can't of people like Mr. Brocklehurst, who pile suffering and humiliation on others while living in ease and comfort, but from people like St. John and Jane, who take up their crosses of personal suffering. Jane is too humble to use herself as the example, but clearly she too sacrificed her happiness by fleeing Rochester initially to be true to herself and her faith.
Bronte, a clergyman's daughter, doesn't want the reader to miss that message, nor the final message: that those who live in and through Christ need not fear death. Like St. John, Jane, though happy with Rochester and her children, knows she can die in peace, and the novel ends on these words:
‘Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!’