Chapters 30–31 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1006
Once she fully recovers, Jane is delighted to learn that she has much in common with Diana and Mary. All three of them are enchanted by nature, especially the moors that surround their tiny house. Jane finds that the sisters are even more well-read and talented than she is, and they delight in giving her new books to read. Diana—who Jane describes as the “leader” of their trio—begins to teach her German, and Jane observes that she is a superb teacher. Meanwhile, Jane instructs Mary in drawing (the only occupation at which Jane is more skilled than the two sisters). Together, they pass several enjoyable weeks in this manner.
Though Jane grows close with the Rivers sisters, that bond of friendship does not extend to their brother, St. John. Zealous in his work, St. John is rarely at home, and Jane observes that his reserved and “brooding nature” makes him difficult to befriend. To Jane, St. John appears rather depressed, and she senses that he has not yet found the “peace of God.”
After a month has passed, Diana and Mary begin preparations to return to their governess posts. Jane asks St. John whether he has found any employment for her, and he admits that he has had a position in mind for several weeks. He recently opened a village school for boys and intends now to open one for girls as well. Miss Oliver—a wealthy benefactress—has donated funds so that the mistress of this new school may have her own furnished cottage and earn thirty pounds a year. Jane immediately accepts his offer, though St. John warns her that it is a humble position. Diana and Mary are sad to leave their brother, who they fear will soon be traveling overseas as a missionary. Just before they depart, word arrives that their uncle John has died. Though the Rivers children did not know their uncle well due to a quarrel between him and their father, they are disappointed to learn that he has left nearly the entirety of his fortune to an unknown relative.
Jane moves into the modest cottage and holds her first day of class. To her disappointment, she does not enjoy teaching the students, most of whom cannot read. Jane admits that she feels dismayed by the poverty and ignorance surrounding her and is ashamed to realize that she feels “degraded” by her new position. Reflecting on what her life could have been like if she had consented to become Mr. Rochester’s mistress, Jane concludes that she would rather be living “free and honest” in her current position than be a “slave in fool’s paradise” in the south of France. Confident that she has made the correct choice, she thanks God for his guidance.
Jane’s reverie is interrupted by the arrival of St. John, who has come to deliver a package from his sisters. He counsels Jane to resist the temptation to dwell on her old life, advising she focus instead on the present. St. John reveals that he was extremely miserable a year ago and thought he had made a mistake in entering the ministry. Bored by his work, he longed for a more exciting occupation until he heard a “call from heaven” that told him to be a missionary. While they are speaking, a young woman approaches and addresses St. John. Jane describes this woman as “the ideal of beauty” and observes that St. John visibly starts at the sound of her voice. The woman is revealed to be Miss Oliver, the wealthy benefactress of the school. She entreats St. John to come visit her father, but he refuses. Though St. John tries desperately to appear remote and unaffected, Jane suspects that the pair have feelings for one another.
While Jane is able to find satisfaction in the company of the Rivers sisters, her feelings toward St. John are more complex. Jane sees in him a deep inner sadness and disappointment. St. John's sermon is filled with a “strictly restrained zeal” and “strange bitterness,” which suggests that he has not yet achieved peace, despite the apparent strength of his religious convictions. Jane’s description of St. John’s sermon also highlights their differing approaches toward faith: while St. John offers “stern allusions to Calvinistic doctrines,” Jane’s religiosity revolves more generally around living a good and moral life. The fact that St. John remains religiously unfulfilled while Jane is able to derive true comfort from God—as when she flees Thornfield—suggests that a heartfelt connection to God is perhaps more valuable than a strict but dispassionate adherence to doctrine. Despite their differences, however, Jane understands St. John’s inner turmoil, comparing his lack of spiritual peace to her own lingering regrets over her lost paradise with Mr. Rochester.
St. John proves similar to Jane in that he easily becomes restless. This trait makes him quick to focus on the isolation and humbleness of Jane’s new position, which, despite Jane’s claims of satisfaction, actually do bother her. Unlike Jane, however, St. John’s restlessness is motivated by ambition; it is this same sense of ambition that made him miserable in his position as a lowly local clergyman and now pushes him to become a missionary. St. John mentions that before leaving on his trip, he must resolve an “entanglement or two of the feelings,” suggesting that, like Jane, St. John has chosen principle over passion. It's suggested that the object of his feelings is the beautiful Miss Oliver, whose obvious affection for St. John is rebuffed throughout their brief conversation. Jane only left Mr. Rochester because circumstance rendered it necessary; by contrast, St. John sees romantic feelings themselves as a “human weakness” that must be overcome. Though St. John urges Jane to forget the temptations in her past, his interaction with Miss Oliver demonstrates the weakness of his advice; through him, Jane sees that to deny one’s passion and feeling completely is to be a non-human “automaton.”