Last Updated on October 8, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1147
At Christmas, Jane leaves the school, though she promises to return to teach once a week. She takes great pains to clean and fix up Moor House before Diana and Mary arrive. Though Jane enjoys taking a break to focus on domestic life, St. John disapproves, considering her efforts a form of leisure. Diana and Mary arrive and are delighted with the improvements Jane has made to the house. The three of them quickly resume their close friendship and enjoy the holidays together, though St. John keeps his distance. Still intent on traveling as a missionary, St. John confides in Jane that Miss Oliver is now engaged to another man. St. John recruits Jane to aid him in his study of "Hindostanee," since he will be leaving for India in a matter of weeks. The more Jane interacts with St. John, the more he influences her personality; she takes care to never appear vivacious in his presence or complain about his exacting expectations, though she acknowledges that their closeness is making her miserable.
Jane’s depression is only worsened when tries and fails to find out how Mr. Rochester is: Mr. Briggs proves ignorant of Mr. Rochester’s affairs, and Jane’s two letters to Mrs. Fairfax go unanswered. One day, as Jane and St. John take a walk, he unexpectedly asks her to marry him and accompany him to India as a missionary’s wife. Knowing that he does not and can never love her, Jane tells him that she will accompany him to India as his sister but resolves that she will not marry him. St. John reacts poorly, telling her that because he is asking her to join him in God’s mission, to refuse his proposal is to refuse God. Later that night, St. John treats Jane coldly and refuses to kiss her goodnight like his sisters.
Over the next week, St. John treats Jane with deliberate coolness. When Jane tries to make amends and repair the friendship, St. John once again asks why she will not marry him. When Jane tells him that to marry him would kill her, St. John angrily calls her response “unfeminine and untrue.” St. John tells Jane that he cannot travel to India with her if they are unmarried but says that she may be “spared the dishonor of breaking [her] promise” to go to India by accompanying the wife of a fellow missionary instead. Indignant, Jane retorts that she made no unconditional promise to go to India and that she is certainly not obligated to travel there with strangers. St. John asks whether she still thinks of Mr. Rochester. When Jane remains silent, he angrily walks away.
Having watched their quarrel from afar, Diana urges Jane not to go to India for fear that she would perish quickly in such a harsh environment. Diana agrees that St. John’s expectation that Jane accept a marriage without love is unreasonable. Later that night, St. John reads aloud from the Bible, and Jane, awed by his forceful and persuasive speech, feels her resolve begin to soften. Just as Jane is considering giving in and accepting his proposal, an “inexpressible feeling” sweeps through her whole body. She hears Mr. Rochester’s voice calling her name, though his body is not there. Jane returns to her chamber and prays in “a different way to St. John’s, but effective in its own fashion.”
In these chapters, Jane must once again redefine her relationship with herself. As she spends more time with St. John, she realizes that he has the potential to be a powerful and destructive force in her life. Her desire for his hard-won approval leads her to stop laughing, speaking freely, and taking small pleasures in life. In short, Jane makes herself miserable in order to satisfy St. John’s exacting expectations. What's more, Jane’s willingness to suffer at St. John’s side appears to be the very quality that he seeks in her as his wife:
In the tractability with which, at my wish, you forsook a study in which you were interested and adopted another because it interested me—in the untiring assiduity with which you have since persevered in it—in the unflagging energy and unshaken temper with which you have met its difficulties—I acknowledge the complement of the qualities I seek.
Certain that romantic love is forever lost to her, Jane acknowledges that there is little left for her in England, a “loved but empty land.” She is sure that going to India would result in her premature death, but even this does not entirely deter her from becoming a missionary, an occupation she deems “the most glorious man can adopt or God assign.” What does give her pause is St. John’s insistence that they marry. Her reluctance recalls Mr. Rochester's refusal to enter into a loveless marriage with Blanche Ingram. Like him, Jane recognizes she cannot bring herself to marry St. John without the possibility of love.
St. John presents yet another type of Christian figure. Unlike the meek Helen Burns, St. John is ambitious and overbearing in his faith, yet he is not hypocritical or wicked like Mr. Brocklehurst. Despite St. John’s sincere determination to do what is good and moral, his unyielding determination to serve God leaves him indifferent to that which Jane values most: authentic human connection and affection. Though Jane fled Mr. Rochester out of fear that her passion would overcome her reason, she now faces the opposite problem with St. John. To follow St. John to India would mean forever stifling her inner passion, a course of action that Jane now realizes would be unbearable:
... as his wife—at his side always, and always restrained, and always checked—forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital—this would be unendurable.
St. John’s proposal allows Jane to truly visualize what a wholly principled life, without heart or passion, would be like. Though she categorically rejects St. John at first, Jane is undeniably tempted by his offer. After spending her entire life desperately fighting to retain her own sense of self (and often suffering for it), Jane is exhausted. As her will falters, she begins to see how easy it would be to simply give in and allow St. John to lead her: “I was tempted to cease struggling with him—to rush down the torrent of his will into the gulf of his existence, and there lose my own.” Jane is saved, however, by what she calls “the work of nature.” This mysterious voice reminds Jane of her capacity for passion, and she reclaims her agency: “It was my time to assume ascendency. My powers were in play, and in force.”
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